Pearl White – Peerless, Fearless Girl

Day 89 of Colourisation Project – August 4

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born March 4, in 1889, Pearl Fay White was an American stage and silent film actress. Pearl White’s place in film history and the role of women played in its evolution holds an influential and legendary status.

White is best known for her role in the serial, The Perils of Pauline featuring a strong independent female protagonist acting in a sensational, action-packed context. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Serials,’ White did all her own stunt work until repeated injuries years later forced her to use a stunt double.

Pearl White

Photographer: Alfred Cheney Johnston c 1919 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

As a new genre, Serials had garnered immense popularity in the early part of the 20th century.  The Perils of Pauline produced by Pathé Frères in New Jersey consisted of twenty action packed, two-reel episodes that were released weekly. Over the next five years, White appeared in several more popular serials The New Exploits of Elaine (1915), The Romance of Elaine (1915), The Iron Claw (1916), Pearl of the Army (1916-1917), The Fatal Ring (1917), The House of Hate (1918), The Lightening Raider (1919) and The Black Secret (1919-1920). Throughout her extensive career she appeared in over two hundred titles, including split-reels and one-reelers, serials and features.

The Perils of Pauline is still the best-known production of the American serial craze. It made White a major celebrity and her trademark blonde hair made her instantly recognisable. In reality it was a wig, which she began wearing early in her career after she realised it photographed better than her own naturally dark hair. This made it easy for White to go out in public unnoticed, without the wig, using her own hair as a disguise.

White’s emblematic screen character defined her career in serials. She was commonly referred to as ‘Peerless Fearless Girl,’ and also ‘Heroine of a Thousand Stunts.’  At the time White was the most popular female star in silent films topping Mary Pickford at the box office.

Early in 1923 she left for Europe, where she would live until her death 15 years later. Her last film, Terreur, made in France in 1924 was released in the United States as Terror. White continued to perform in revues and music halls in Paris and London. White was an astute business woman; she owned the Hôtel de Paris in Biarritz, where she ran a casino; a nightclub in Paris; and a stable of racing horses.

Years of performing dangerous stunts took a toll on her body. She became addicted to pain killers and over the years, White gave in to alcohol to help numb the chronic pain from her many injuries.

After a long period of poor health and problems with alcohol, Pearl White died in Paris on August 4th, 1938 as a consequence of liver failure. She was 49 years old. She was buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.

Her autobiography Just Me was published in 1919. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6838 Hollywood Blvd.

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It is born to every Western girl to like outdoor life and to do all kinds of wild, daring things.”        Pearl White

 

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