Jules White (Julius Weiss)

Jules White

In 1933, Jules White was appointed head of Columbia Pictures’ short-subject division, which became the most prolific comedy factory in Hollywood. In a time when theaters were playing more double-feature programs, fewer short comedies were being made; by the mid-1930s the three major comedy producers — Hal Roach, Educational Pictures and Universal Pictures — scaled back their operations. In contrast, by 1938 Columbia’s two-reel-comedy department was so busy that White split it into two units. White produced for the first unit and Hugh McCollum (former executive secretary for Columbia head Harry Cohn) for the second. The Columbia comedy stars alternated between the White and McCollum units. With McCollum shouldering some of the administrative burden, White was free to pursue his first love: directing. Jules White began directing the Columbia shorts in 1938 and would become the department’s most prolific director. His sound films were made using an approach that was rooted in silent comedy. Visual action was paced very fast, and actors were coached to gesture broadly and react violently. This emphasis on cartoonish slapstick worked well in the right context, but could become blunt and shocking when stretched too far. White was generally under pressure to finish his productions within a few days, so very often White the producer did not tone down White the director, and the outlandishly violent gags stayed in. Still, moviegoers loved these slam-bang short comedies, and Columbia produced more than 500 of them over a quarter-century. Physical comedy was the norm for Jules White’s short features. Some of his personal favorite gags were used repeatedly over the years: a comedian being arrested always protests, “I’m gonna get myself a cheap lawyer!” Or the star comedian accidentally collides with the villain and apologizes, “Sorry, mister, there was a man chasing me… you’re the man!” White’s most familiar gag is probably the one where an actor is stuck in the posterior by a sharp object, and then yells, “Help, help! I’m losing my mind!”

JulesWhite’s style is most evident in his string of two-reelers starring comics Wally Vernon and Eddie Quillan. Vernon and Quillan were old pros whose dancing skills made them especially agile comedians. White capitalized on this by staging the kind of rough-and-tumble slapstick not seen since silent-movie days, with the stars and supporting players doing pratfalls, crossing their eyes, getting hit with messy projectiles, having barehanded fistfights and being knocked “cuckoo” in film after film. These comedies were pet projects for White: he kept making Vernon and Quillan shorts long after most of his other series had ended. By the 1950s, Jules White was working so quickly and economically that he could film a new short comedy in a single day. His standard procedure was to borrow footage from older films and shoot a few new scenes, often using the same actors, sets and costumes. A “new” 15-minute comedy could contain clips from as many as three vintage comedies. Though most of White’s comedies of the 1950s are almost identical to his comedies of the 1940s, he still made a few films from scratch, including three 3-D comedies, Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire (1953), both starring The Three Stooges, and Down the Hatch, starring dialect comic Harry Mimmo. In 1956, when other studios had abandoned short-subject production, Jules White had the field to himself and experimented with new ideas. Many of his Stooge comedies now consisted of all-new material, featuring science-fiction or musical themes, and often including topical references to rock and roll and then-current feature films. White even launched a new series, “Girlie Whirls,” as musical-comedy vehicles for plump comedian Muriel Landers; only one film was made before White reassigned her to one of the Stooge comedies. Jules White died of Alzheimer’s disease on April 30, 1985. His interment was at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Born

  • September, 17, 1900
  • Budapest, Austria-Hungary

Died

  • April, 30, 1985
  • USA
  • Van Nuys, California

Cause of Death

  • Alzheimer's disease

Cemetery

  • Hollywood Forever Cemetery
  • Hollywood, California
  • USA

323 profile views