Day 27 of Noirvember: Remembering David White

1916 – 1990

Hear the name “David White,” and you might offer a blank stare and a shrug to indicate your lack of recognition.

See a picture of David White, and you’re likely to instantly think “Larry Tate from Bewitched.”

But not me. I summon up a vision of Otis Elwell, that smarmy, unscrupulous, and just plain awful columnist White played in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). And boy, did he play that role!

White died of a heart attack on November 27, 1990. Today’s Noirvember post is dedicated to the life and career of this talented, underrated performer.

Born April 6, 1916, in Denver, Colorado, Daniel David White and his family moved several times before finally settling in L.A., where White studied drama at Los Angeles City College. After serving in the Marine Corps during WWII, White honed his acting craft at the famed Pasadena Playhouse and made his Broadway debut in 1949 in Leaf and Bough, in a cast that included Charlton Heston and Coleen Gray. It closed after only three performances. (“Leaf and Bough – it bowed and left,” Gray once quipped.) His later stage work included a run in the successful The Anniversary Waltz, starring MacDonald Carey and Kitty Carlisle. His first television appearance came in the early 1950s, with Grace Kelly in “Rich Boy” on the Philco Television Playhouse.

As the oily Otis Elwell (love that name) in Sweet Smell of Success.

White’s big screen debut was in Sweet Smell of Success, in which he played the small, but pivotal role of a columnist who plants a false blind item in his paper in exchange for sexual favors from a down-on-her-luck cigarette girl. He was in only a couple of scenes, but he made the most of them, impressively holding his own in a cast that included powerhouse stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. White’s other feature films included The Apartment and Sunrise at Campobello, both in 1960, but it was in television that he really made his mark. In addition to his eight-year run on Bewitched as Darrin Stevens’s ad exec boss, White enjoyed a small screen career that spanned four decades. His final role was in a 1986 episode of Dynasty.

Off-screen, White’s life was touched more than once by tragedy. In the mid-1950s, he married stage actress Mary Welch, and the two had a son, Jonathan, in 1955. Before the end of the decade, at the age of 35, Mary died of complications during her second pregnancy. White later found happiness with actress Lisa Figus, with whom he had a daughter, Alexandra, but in 1988, Jonathan was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. On route to New York from London, the plane exploded 35 minutes after take-off, and all aboard were killed. White retreated from public view after Jonathan’s death and died just two years later, at the age of 74.

White’s memorial niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

White’s remains are inured at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cathedral Mausoleum, which is a stately structure with a main hallway flanked by marble statues of the 12 apostles. Inside a glass-fronted niche, White’s ashes are alongside a memorial urn belonging to his son. The niche also contains photos of White and Jonathan, and a “Larry Tate” bust sculpture, which is a prop from a 1969 Bewitched episode. (I had the honor of viewing the niche in person, during a visit to L.A. for the TCM Film Festival several years ago.)

Next time you check out the dark and cynical Sweet Smell of Success, be sure to give an extra long look at the performance turned in by David White.

And remember his name.

(And join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember.)

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~ by shadowsandsatin on November 27, 2017.

One Response to “Day 27 of Noirvember: Remembering David White”

  1. Terrific character actor. You are right that he was amazing in his small role in Sweet Smell Of Success. I first saw him in Bewitched, and because of that he will always be Larry Tate to me. I did not know he had endured those tragedies in his life, utterly horrific what happened to his son.

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