White began working in motion pictures in the 1910s, as a child actor, for Pathé Studios. By the 1920s his brother Jack White had become a successful comedy producer at Educational Pictures, and Jules worked for him as a film editor. Jules became a director in 1926, specializing in comedies.
In 1930 White and his boyhood friend Zion Myers moved to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. They conceived and co-directed M-G-M's gimmicky "Dogville" comedies, which featured trained dogs in satires of recent Hollywood films (like The Dogway Melody and So Quiet on the Canine Front). White and Myers co-directed the Buster Keaton feature Sidewalks of New York, and launched a series of "Goofy Movies," one-reel parodies of silent-era melodramas.
White appears in a small role as a Confederate soldier in the controversial film The Birth of a Nation. In 1933 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 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; Hugh McCollum for the second. The Columbia comedy stars alternated between the White and McCollum units.
With McCollum now shouldering some of the administrative burden, White was free to pursue his first love: directing. He 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 of a century.
Physical comedy was the norm for White's short features. Some of his personal favorite gags were used again and again over the years: a comedian being arrested always protests, "I demand 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!"
White's style is most evident in his string of two-reelers starring veteran comics Wally Vernon and Eddie Quillan. Vernon and Quillan were old pros whose dancing skills made them especially agile comedians. Jules White capitalized on this by staging the kind of rough-and-tumble slapstick unseen 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 been discontinued.
By the 1950s 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, White still made a few films from scratch, include his 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 comedienne Muriel Landers; only one film was made before White reassigned Landers to one of the Stooge comedies, Sweet and Hot (1958).
Retirement and deathEdit
Columbia closed its comedy-shorts department at the end of 1957. White dabbled in television at Columbia's Screen Gems subsidiary in the early 1960s, working on the sitcom Oh, Those Bells but soon retired, saying, "Who needs such a rat race?"
Almost 40 percent of Jules White's output stars The Three Stooges; the other films feature such screen favorites as Buster Keaton, Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, Hugh Herbert, Vera Vague, and El Brendel. To date, only the Stooges and Keaton material has been released to home video.
White died of Alzheimer's Disease on April 30, 1985. He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, CA
- Bruskin, David. Behind the Three Stooges: The White Brothers ISBN 1882766008. (Interviews with Jules White and his brothers Jack and Sam)
- Okuda, Ted and Edward Watz. The Columbia Comedy Shorts, ISBN 0786405775. (Discussion and filmography of the Columbia comedies; Jules White is quoted throughout)