“I don’t think there is a perfect life, really. You’ve just got to make do with what you’ve got, and be happy” – Joy (Carol White) in ‘Poor Cow’.
Known as the ‘Battersea Bardot’, Carol White used her working class background to enable her to give several natural performances in British dramas, which sometimes mirrored her own turbulent life. Unfortunately, a later problem with alcohol and drug abuse would harm her career, and ultimately end her life.
Born Carole Joan White in Hammersmith, London, on April 1st 1943, Carol studied drama at the Corona Stage Academy. This led to early minor appearances in many of the UK’s best known products at the time. There were ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ parts in ‘Doctor at Sea’(1956), ‘Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s’(1957), ‘Carry on Teacher’, and ‘The 39 Steps’( both 1959). After another dozen or so bits in mainly sexy background roles, Carol’s breakthrough came in Ken Loach’s 1966 social drama ‘Cathy Come Home’, a ground-breaking production, shot as part of ‘The Wednesday Play’ television series. White’s performance was so realistic that for many years afterwards, Carol would quite often be stopped in the streets by people believing her to be Cathy, and offer her money to help her out.
Following ‘Cathy Come Home’, Ken Loach cast Carol as Joy in what would become White’s signature film, the mostly improvised ‘Poor Cow’ (1967). Carol was superb once again as a struggling young mother, married to an abusive criminal (John Bindon). Carol’s final scene where her character gives an interview to camera is astonishingly real and powerful, leaving the viewer with a slight hope of optimism for the much put-upon Joy. The success of ‘Poor Cow’ had everybody knocking on White’s door, with Frank Sinatra and Warren Beatty just two of Carol’s famous new fans.
Travelling to America, White’s Hollywood career got off to an interesting start. Taking the lead role in Mark Robson’s stalker flick ‘Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting’ (1969), the film has gained a cult reputation over the years. A pretty good thriller, it tells the exciting story of a woman who is menaced by the man whose baby she once aborted.
Carol’s career continued apace, with co-starring roles in the under-rated tragedy ‘Dulcima’ with John Mills, and the muddled western spectacle, ‘Something Big’ with Dean Martin, (both 1971). A rather bizarre movie followed with ‘Some Call It Loving’ (1973), a strange variation on the Sleeping beauty myth. Directed by ‘Lolita’ producer James B. Harris, it starred Tisa Farrow as a carnival attraction who has been asleep for eight years, and is one day bought by a lonely man with a role-playing obsession.
Bad relationships coupled with her addictions caused Carols’ once promising career to wain in the Seventies. Back in the UK, her last significant role was that of a kidnapped wife, in Michael Apted’s excellent gritty gangster flick ‘The Squeeze’ (1977). Her character is certainly put through the mill, including being subjected to a humiliating strip-tease. Carol’s final movie was the 1982 drama ‘Nutcracker’ with Joan Collins. It was at this time that Carol was also appearing in the West End play ‘Steaming’, but would often turn up late, causing her to be sacked. Soon after, White moved back to America.
With her career long over, but her problems remaining, Carol White sadly died in Florida on September 16th 1991, aged 48. The cause of her death is still disputed, with some saying she took a drug overdose, and others saying it was liver disease. Whatever the real cause, Carol was a natural talent who unfortunately got caught up in a whirl of excess. As she herself put it shortly before her death:
“I came to America thinking I was at the very top,” But pimps, pushers, liars and ex-husbands brought me crashing down”
Married three times, White left behind two sons from her first marriage. A natural performer, I always thought Carol worked best in British cinema and especially television, as the more polished products from Hollywood did not suit her talents. Had she not gone to Hollywood maybe Carol’s life would not have ended so tragically.
Favourite Movie: The Squeeze
Favourite Performance: Poor Cow