Lovable, laid-back Jesse White made acting seem fun and easy. He was born Jesse Marc Weidenfeld in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in Akron, Ohio. He made his first amateur appearance on the local stage at age 15. Before breaking into professional theater in the 1940s, he held many different jobs, including selling beauty supplies and lingerie. Jesse got his start in vaudeville and burlesque, and eventually reached Broadway in 1943. The following year, he played the rascally, gruff-mannered asylum attendant in Harvey, starring Frank Fay. This role made him famous and he went on to appear with James Stewart in the movie version (Harvey (1950)). The 1950s was a decade of transition to the new medium of television. As a television regular, he did something that had never been done before – he appeared regularly in two series at the same time. In Private Secretary (1953) and The Danny Thomas Show (1953). This record stood for 13 years until Leo G. Carroll appeared simultaneously on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964) and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966)).
One of Jesse’s earliest television appearances is a 1961 episode of the sci-fi series The Twilight Zone: Once Upon a Time (1961) in which he played, prophetically enough, The Repairman. Jesse would make guest appearances on dozens of television series, and appear in 60 movies, almost always playing a lovable rascal. Some of his last movie appearances were in the sci-fi movies Pajama Party (1964) and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966). Then the 50-year-old Jesse seized a terrific career opportunity. From 1968-1989, he would be television’s second and longest running Maytag Repairman in a long series of commercials. For this, he made several hundred thousand dollars a year, for just a few days’ filming. Even though he was semi-retired during this time, Jesse appeared in a dozen movies, his last film being Matinee (1993), which was an homage to some of the 1950s-1960s sci-fi films of which he had been a part. Jesse always seemed to be having as much fun acting as the fans did watching him.
Jesse White died of a heart attack on January 9, 1997, only six days after his 80th birthday. He was interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.
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