As of Feb. 16, 2006, people were still emailing the Jack Benny fan club Web site with requests for information about their beloved "Harlow." Little did they know they had lost their "Harlow" that day. Dale White passed away at age 74 from a second heart attack.
In his short but sparkling television career he appeared on stage with Frank Sinatra, Connie Stevens, Carol Burnett, Ronald Regan, Charleton Heston and many other Hollywood legends.
"Imagine that," quipped grandson, Robbie White at his granddad's funeral. "Rubbing shoulders with the someday president of the United States and also with 'God.' My grandfather kept some pretty amazing company."
White grew up in Casper, Wyo., where he met his wife of 55 years, Marie Maughan. She grew up in Idaho and just happened to be in Casper for the summer working.
"He sang in church, I played the piano for him," says Marie. "We fell in love that summer, waited until we graduated, then got married in 1950. It was his personality, his smile, that endeared him to me and his fans too."
It was kismet, though neither knew they were headed for a life in the spotlight as they headed to BYU for White to get his education. While at the "Y" White decided he wanted to go into engineering and transferred to Utah State University. That's when the acting bug got him and it wasn't long before he and Marie were in sunny California with White attending classes at the Pasadena Playhouse.
The Playhouse was the springboard for many of the great actors of the day. Established stars would often do shows there, giving the up-and-coming actors a rare opportunity to spend time in rehearsal and on stage with seasoned professionals. It would have been easy for the young couple to loose their sense of priorities in the seduction of the glamour, but they did not.
"We attended all the parties with the stars," laughed Marie, who with White are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "But we always held our cans of 7-up in our hands so we wouldn't be offered drinks. We were part of the crowd, but not in it."
They decided to leave "the crowd" when the Jack Benny Show left the television air waves. White had always wanted to direct, so he opened White Productions producing commercials, training films and feature films. Even that full-time occupation wasn't enough to satiate his love of drama, so he and Marie also opened and ran a live theater in Sierra Madre.
"It was who he was," Marie smiled. "I knew that when I married him. We were lucky to share the same life, the same loves."
Just 15 years ago, the couple relocated to Bountiful to be near their children in retirement. Two sons, Frank and Christopher, live in Utah. A daughter, Stephanie, lives in Iowa. Retirement didn't last that long.
"I got a phone call one day, just out of the blue, that he was interested in helping me build a theater," says Phill Wright, president of the Bountiful Performing Arts Center in Bountiful. "He was an older gentleman, but I thought he might have some good ideas. We met to talk in person at the Black Box Theater in the Bountiful/Davis Art Center (BPAC). He told me about his life of TV and theater. He was so packed full of life experience that I immediately wished I had a bigger theater to recreate some of his shows."
Long story short, even though BPAC's theater was about one-fifth the size of White's, he was eager to become a board member of the organization.
BPAC had always dreamed of doing a big epic show and Wright joked with White that he'd love to have him direct it, but that he was too good and too thorough to be able to do that in BPAC's small Black Box Theater. That's when they decided to produce one in the Bountiful/Woods Cross Regional Center, the old Valley Music Hall, in North Salt Lake. White wrote and directed BPAC's 2004 production, "Saints and Strangers," a historic epic about the passengers on the Mayflower and their settlement in America. BPAC funded the project.
"It takes a really good actor to be so confident that they can do the really funny, off the wall stuff," says Wright. "Dale taught me to be able to be that kind of actor -- not to think about what people would think of my talent. He was also that kind of a director. His first priority was to give the audience a great experience. He never let his ego get in the way of a great product."
"He loved people," says Marie. "He wanted to mold them into great actors and into better people. He would want to be remembered for the great influence he had on youth. He helped so many shy kids blossom." In the weeks following her husband's death, Marie would get many letters from people whom White had influenced as either adults or teens.
"We got really close," says Wright. "Dale became my 'West Coast Dad.' We talked at least once a week through email, visits or by phone. He gave great fatherly advice. He always made you feel like you were the most special person. It actually made me a little depressed at the funeral because I found out that every person in that room knew they were Dale's 'special friend.' I wasn't the only one who was special."
Family members memorialized White as "an instrument to bless the lives of others." Son, Frank says his dad often quoted his mottoes, "Rest is Rust" and "Don't just endure to the end -- enjoy to the end!"
"Dale always had a project going," says close friend, Lynn Chatterton, another well-known local actor. "We had several projects we wanted to do. My heart is broken that we won't do those projects.
"Dale had a great sense of humor. He would laugh -- hard -- at funny things. He had a sense of life. He could redirect you to what he wanted you to be as an actor without you even knowing.
"I love him. I miss him. I think I would follow him anywhere."
Son, Frank, thinks his dad has an "express ticket" to Heaven. So do most of White's "special friends." Though his passing marks the end of an era, Dale White's legacy of love and acceptance and his passion for life live on.