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Actress Alice White dead at 76

HOLLYWOOD -- Alice White, a Charlie Chaplin discovery who made 36 movies between 1927 and 1949, including 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' and 'Flamingo Road,' has died of a massive stroke, it was reported Friday. She was 76.

Miss White was a bouncy, temperamental star with a large following in the late 1920s and 1930s who gained notoriety in two stormy marriages, first to actor Sidney Barlett and later to film writer Jack Roberts.

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After her second divorce and last film appearance, both in 1949, she lived quietly in the Hollywood Hills home where she died.

The Los Angeles Times reported Miss White's death late Friday, but a coroner's spokesman said he had no further details because the actress died from natural causes, allowing a doctor to sign the death certificate.

In a 1958 interview, Miss White said, 'I wasn't a real madcap. I just married the wrong guys -- three of 'em. Now it seems like one big dream.'

A Superior Court judge held her in contempt of court in 1950 - along with her estranged husband Roberts, musician William Hinshaw and his estranged wife, Barbara -- and threatened to throw them into jail unless they ironed out their mate swapping problems on their own.

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After her 1938 divorce from Bartlett, Miss White placed a gold band, which she called a 'divorce ring,' with 'Liberty and Freedom' engraved on it, on the little finger of her left hand.

Born in Patterson, N.J., on August 28, 1907, Miss White moved with her grandmother to Hollywood when she was 14. A year later while working as a script girl at Chaplin's studio, she stumbled into a career as an actress.

'I was so stubby and fat and pink-looking that everybody there called me 'Peter Rabbit.' I had no thought of becoming a movie actress,' she recalled in 1958. 'One day the still cameraman had a new lens he wanted to test and he said 'Peter Rabbit, how about posing for me?'

'So I put on an act with gestures, like I thought movie actresses did, and he snapped the shutter. The pictures turned out fine. When Mr. Chaplin saw them he said 'Peter Rabbit, you ought to go into the movies.''

She restyled herself, losing 38 pounds off her 5-foot, 138-pound frame and had her dark hair bleached. Her rise to stardom was rapid. She was featured in 'Harold Teen,' the 1928 version of 'Gentleman Prefer Blondes' and 'American Beauty.'

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Next came 'Naughty Baby,' 'Playing Around,' 'Show Girl,' 'Hot Stuff' and 'Broadway Babies.'

Her stardom, however, was short-circuited.

'I earned $150 a week,' she once recalled. 'I needed $1,500 to keep my end of the parade. I was a star and I was paid like a bit player.'

She got into an argument with movie executive over money and her name quickly vanished from theater marquees. After 10 months in vaudeville, she returned to Hollywood and resumed her film work, appearing in such films as 'Employees Entrance,' 'Picture Snatcher' and 'Luxury Liner.'

'I never made a great deal of money, and I lost a lot on the stock market, but I'm not destitute,' she recalled in 1958.

In her 50s, she was still performing, making an occasional television appearance. She was hurt that many of her old movie friends had forgotten her, but never bitter.

'Skip the 'Hearts and Flowers,'' she said in 1958. 'Show business is my racket. I was brought up in it.'

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