May 15, 1917 - June 11, 2011
Mary (Pat) White, age 94, passed away June 11, 2011 in Shoreline, WA after a brief illness. Pat was born May 15, 1917 in New York City and moved to California at the age of four. Always an outgoing type, she won a Charleston contest on board the ship as they went through the Panama Canal on the way to Los Angeles. She got started in the movie business after attending a birthday party for Mary Pickford’s niece at “Pickfair”. All during her childhood and teens she worked in many movies as an extra. She described life in Hollywood in those days as more of less a village atmosphere where almost everyone worked in movies. While still in high school, she and two girl friends formed a singing trio and got a “gig” singing for the guests at the Roosevelt Hotel for several nights a week. That job lasted six months. She attended Hollywood High School and took a tap dancing class that had replaced a gym class. She learned dance well enough to be a chorus line dancer in many of the musicals produced in the 1940’s. She skated in some of the Sonja Henie movies and swam in some Esther Williams movies. Later on she worked as a well-respected executive secretary for the top executives in many industries, from entertainment to aerospace.
One of her early jobs was in assisting with the startup of the US operations of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines when they opened their Los Angeles office. Her boss was not very effective and she did everything, virtually starting the company from scratch. Another job she loved was working for Lew Wasserman at MCA (Music Corporation of America). Since this was the most dominant talent agency in the business, a steady parade of top name stars passed through the office on a daily basis. Not all the stars were pleasant. Joan Crawford was very insistent on getting a certain director’s personal phone number from Pat. But the director had asked that it be kept private so it was not given out to Joan. The big star became very irate and let Pat know about it in no uncertain terms. Later, Lew called Pat into his office and there was Joan Crawford swathed in mink and looking very haughty. Lew asked to know what the problem was because Miss Crawford was demanding that Pat be fired. After Pat told her side of the story, Lew told Crawford that no one would be fired for just doing their job. Crawford was not happy about that but Pat was pretty pleased. Neither Pat nor Lew Wasserman was pushed around by the big egos of the day.
On another occasion Lew asked her to deliver his personal car to one of his big clients. The car was brand new and was a very expensive European model. The client was Ogden Nash, a very famous poet and humorist of the time. Nash was visiting and staying in Wasserman’s mansion in Beverly Hills. When Pat arrived, she was ushered into the great man’s presence and then Mr. Nash and Pat went out to the car so that she could drive the car back to the office and he would take the car. She was a good driver but this time made a small mistake and bumped the car parked ahead. The bumpers became completely locked together. This is probably why cars today don’t have these kinds of bumpers. So, in order to get free, Ogden Nash got out and stood on one of the bumpers and proceeded to jump up and down while she tried to back away. The image of this big celebrity jumping up and down on the bumper had her feeling that, this time, she would be fired for sure. But, Mr. Nash was a complete gentleman and didn’t say a word to Wasserman about it. Pat never did forget that sight and loved telling the story.
When Pat was still in high school, she and her parents lived across the street from the McCann family; Jim, Loretta and their two children, Cary Jim and Colleen. The two kids were also in show business and performed as a dancing/singing duo that was quite successful. One day, Loretta called Pat’s mother Anne and told her that her cousin Paul Hill and his friend Art Johnson had arrived in town recently from Minneapolis and she wondered if Pat and her friend Marie would like to go on a double date. That was the first meeting between Pat and Paul but it would be a number of years of friendship and dating (not always to each other) before romance would bloom and they married. They moved to San Diego and settled down. While expecting their first and only child, war in the Pacific began. After a time, Paul was drafted into the army and was sent off to serve his country. Pat was a new mother without enough money to make ends meet so moved back to Los Angeles to find work. Paul’s sister Doris and her family lived near Los Angeles and were able to help out a lot with caring for the new baby. Dick and Doris Barkoski were also from Minneapolis and had two girls, Barbara and Deanne. Pat found work and did well for herself, eventually buying a house and car and was able to save money.
At the end of the war, Paul returned and things were not the same between them. Pat had changed and had become much more self-reliant and independent. They clashed a bit but finally separated in a moment of anger they seemed to both regret later but it was too late. Paul went back into the army and became a career soldier, achieving Master Sergeant level before finally retiring.
After the divorce, Pat met an entertainer named Danny White. He was playing with Phil Harris’s band at a club in Hollywood and they connected. Loving the entertainment business the way she did, this was probably a natural fit. Eventually, they performed together with Pat doing a lot of the singing and Danny playing the guitar and also vocals. Pat learned to play guitar and became capable of playing rhythm while Danny took the lead. They also performed comedy skits and even got young Kevin into the act for some of these bits.
Their last job in California was in Fresno before they left on a road trip to go back to Kentucky and meet Danny’s family in the hills of Kentucky. Along the way, they played in roadhouses and made enough to pay their way. Upon arrival in Hazard, KY, they boarded a train (no roads where they were going) and traveled to Wolf Coal where they disembarked and proceeded to carry their bags along a “mule trail” to get to the family farm belonging to Danny’s parents, Julia and Harrison. There was no electricity, running water or inside plumbing. Julia killed a chicken for dinner and they had a nice feast but Pat was too much of a city girl for this life. The next day, she left for Hazard where she got them both a job on a local radio station. They hosted the “Pat and Danny in the morning” show for the rest of that summer. They also played a couple of roadhouses where the miners spent most of their pay. One was called the “Blinky Moon” and the other was the “Dipsy Doodle”. Pat began to question this lifestyle when a jealous miner’s wife pulled a gun on her because her coal miner husband had spent too much time watching Pat sing and play. That was when Danny re-enlisted in the navy and was assigned to a ship at the Brooklyn navy shipyard. Pat packed up her son and moved to Manhattan.
From there the family moved fairly regularly, following the peripatetic life of the navy family. Pat always found work wherever she went and seemed happiest keeping busy and productive. She became very active in the social life of a navy wife and was a big force in the various wives clubs wherever she went.
In 1960, she became very enthused about the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and volunteered to serve on his local organization. Her energy and organizational skills led her to become a key member of the local campaign group in Sunnyvale, CA. She was thrilled to be able to meet Kennedy and members of his entourage, which included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and others. This was her only foray into politics except for on a much more local level. She did continue doing volunteer work with the Navy Wives Club, the Elks and the Sierra Belles. She always volunteered to put on shows of various types, including giving hula lessons. She and Danny had spent quite a lot of time in Hawaii and Guam on the various assignments.
Danny was destined to serve over 30 years in the Navy and his last assignment was at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. This was also special for Pat since her civil engineer father had participated in building the island for the Golden Gate Exposition of 1939-1940 in celebration of the two new bridges connecting the city to the north and east. Pat had been living in the city when the Golden Gate Bridge was first opened and had walked across on opening day along with thousands of others. Their housing provided by the Navy was on Yerba Buena Island which was the mid-span anchor point for the Bay Bridge. From their living room window, they looked down on the bridge and over to the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was quite spectacular. One of their notable neighbors who often walked by was Retired Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during the war. At one point, Danny was one of three final candidates for the top enlisted man in the Navy.
After retirement, they moved to the foothills of the Sierras, to a town called Ione. They bought eight acres of land with a creek running through it and built a home with a pool. It was a beautiful place and they loved it but it was too much to maintain as age began to take its toll. Eventually, they sold it and moved to nearby Jackson and settled into a smaller, low maintenance home more suitable to their needs. Pat spent much of her time doing volunteer work, putting on shows and having fun with all her many friends. She and Danny also enjoyed driving their RV up to Lake Tahoe and spending time in the casinos. They enjoyed the shows and also played the games, but very carefully.
Danny passed away from heart failure in 1997. He was ten years younger than Pat but she lived another 14 years. This was something she never expected to happen. After spending a period of time alone in the house in Jackson, she finally sold it to move into a retirement community in Lodi, not too far away but in a much more developed area. She was, after all, a city girl at heart. After a few years, she decided she needed to be closer to family members, most of who were living in the Seattle area. So, she moved to Seattle. She took an apartment in the Grosvenor House (now renamed Wall St something but everyone still calls it the Grosvenor) right next to the monorail with a view of the Space Needle. She still kept her big old Cadillac but one trip on the downtown hills of Seattle convinced her she should sell it.
There was a Cadillac dealer a few blocks away so she went there and made the deal. As was usual for Pat, she also made friends. One of the owners liked her and invited her to visit Emerald Downs and gave her a complimentary pass. But now she had no car. She could have rented one easily but she decided to take the bus. It took her three changes and several hours but she made it. Then she found that the pass was for VIP status and she found herself in very sumptuous surroundings with everything provided for her. She had a wonderful time but never took another bus in Seattle again.
She hadn’t been in the Grosvenor more than a few weeks before she ended up on television being interviewed by a news team on some issue. The same thing happened again when the elevators shut down at the Grosvenor and another TV news team showed up as she walked out of the building, having walked down eleven flights of stairs with her walker in tow. Not long after that she made a phone call and got a wrong number. The party on the line seemed interesting so she struck up a conversation that went on for about a half hour. She had accidentally called former Governor Rosellini and he seemed to like her quite well. She was in good company because everyone who ever met her was very positively affected by her. She was very congenial and outgoing and always quick to compliment people around her. She would always look for something positive and then remark on it. Some people notice positive things but don’t say anything. That wasn’t Pat. She spoke up and usually in a positive way.
She lived in a number of retirement communities in and around Seattle over the remaining years of her life and made many friends in all of them.
Pat is survived by her son, Kevin Hill, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
There will be a Memorial Service at Evergreen-Washelli, 11111 Aurora Ave N at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 19, 2011 and a celebration of her life at Merrill Gardens at the University, 5300 24th AVE NE, Seattle at 3:00 p.m.