Jane White, New York Stage Actress, Dies at 88

Obituaries   Jane White, New York Stage Actress, Dies at 88
Jane White, a stage veteran who created the role of Queen Aggravain in Once Upon a Mattress, died on July 24 in New York. She was 88.

Jane White
Jane White

Ms. White, a New York City native who grew up in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, attended Smith College and the New School. She landed her first Broadway role in the 1945 play Strange Fruit. She would go on to act in the Broadway productions The Insect Comedy (1948), Razzle Dazzle (1951), The Climate of Eden (1952), Take a Giant Step (1953), Jane Eyre (1958) and The Power and the Glory (1958), all of which had short runs.

Her luck changed with Mattress, Mary Rodgers' lightly comic tale of the famous fairly tale, which began life Off-Broadway. As Queen Aggravain, she was nemesis to the ungainly, would-be princess played by Carol Burnett. Brooks Atkinson called her "a queen with the evil smile of a dragon." She repeated her work in a 1964 television movie of the musical.

Off-Broadway, she frequently appeared at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, where she benefited from the producer's devotion to color-blind casting. She won a 1966 Obie Award for roles in Coriolanus and Love's Labour's Lost at Central Park's Delacorte Theater—a stage she frequently performed upon. In 1971, she was given an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement.

In 1989, she won a Los Angeles Critics Circle Award for her role as the Mother in Lorca's Blood Wedding. Later New York work included Michael John LaChiusa's The Petrified Prince at the Public Theater in 1995. More recently, she was one of the veteran stars who was cast in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies, in which she played Solange LaFitte.

In 1979 Jane White starred in a one-woman cabaret show, written by friend and librettis Joe Masteroff, entitled Jane White, Who? "Her voice is full of warm rich colors," wrote the New York Times, "and she has a very positive delivery that gives emphasis and shadings to songs that do not always get such perceptive treatment." She continued to perform it throughout the years. Her films included "Klute" and "Beloved." Jane White was born to Gladys Leah Powell and Walter Francis White, a civil rights leader and the national secretary of the NAACP from 1931–1955. Her childhood home was a gathering place for prominent political and social figures. The couple later divorced.

In 1962, White met and married the New York restaurateur Alfredo Viazzi. They moved to Europe in 1965, but moved back to the U.S. in the late 1960s. Viazzi died of a heart attack in 1987.

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