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Jane White papers, 1924-2001 (ongoing)
5 boxes (3.75 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 262

Actress. Papers include scripts, newspaper clippings, notes, publicity, correspondence, audiotapes, interviews, scrapbooks, and photographs. These materials, enhanced by White's eloquent self-reflections in interviews generated by her work on stage, document the career of a versatile performer. While the collection primarily documents White's professional career and the challenges she faced as an African American actress, her husband Alfredo Viazzi and her prominent parents, Walter and Gladys White, are also represented.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

This collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.

Restrictions on use:

The SSC owns copyright to Jane White's writings. Copyright to materials authored by persons other than Jane White may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Jane White was born on October 30, 1922 to Walter and Leah Gladys (Powell) White. The Whites stood among the elites of the Harlem Renaissance. Walter White, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, rose through the ranks of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to become national secretary of the organization in 1931. He published several acclaimed works, including Rope and Faggot (1929), an analysis of lynching funded by a Guggenheim fellowship, the novels The Fire in the Flint (1924) and Flight (1926), and his autobiography A Man Called White (1948). By many accounts an exceptionally beautiful woman, Gladys White had been employed as a stenographer at the New York office of the NAACP and had a rich musical heritage from her father, a Jubilee singer, which she put to good use as a performer in a Broadway musical Deep River (1926). Known as the "White House of Harlem," their apartment in the fashionable Sugar Hill neighborhood served as the setting for a range of cultural and social evenings. As children, Jane and her brother Walter Carl Darrow, born in 1927, absorbed the artistic and intellectual influence of their parents as well as such regular guests as James Weldon Johnson, Paul and Eslanda Robeson, Carl Van Vechten, and George Gershwin. Jane's career as an actress and her brother's work as an opera singer and television writer indicate the lasting impact of this creative milieu.

Jane White's education reflected Walter White's political philosophy. Looking to integrate elite educational institutions, which often remained exclusively white in the socially separate 1920s, 30s, and 40s, he negotiated admission of his daughter to the Ethical Culture Schools of New York City and later, with the cooperation of Smith President Emeritus William Allan Neilson, to Smith College. In college, Jane majored in Sociology in order to follow in the path of her father's social activism, but she maintained a stronger passion for the arts. She minored in music, studying classical voice with Anna Hamlin, and participated in extracurricular dance and fencing. In 1943 she also served as the president of the student House of Representatives, making her the first African American elected to serve in a government position at Smith.

She was graduated in 1944 and worked for a short time as a proofreader for the Research Institute of America while she also attended beginners' acting classes at New York's New School. In 1945 she secured her first stage role, the lead in a high profile Broadway production. José Ferrer was staging Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit, a controversial novel about interracial love in the South, and sought an actress for the role of Nonnie, a light-complexioned, small-town black woman whose white lover ultimately spurns her. Paul Robeson, a friend of the White family, suggested Jane for the part, and her inexperience did not hamper a successful audition. Though critical response to the play was mixed, it did well, particularly after Eleanor Roosevelt praised it-and White's performance-in her column, "My Day." In the fifteen years following this debut, White pursued the time-honored learning arc of an acting career with stints in summer stock, on Broadway and off, and acting instruction under various teachers, including Uta Hagen. Her broad recognition in the theatre world ultimately came with the highly successful off- Broadway to Broadway run of Once Upon A Mattress, the musical comedy that served as a launching vehicle for Carol Burnett. A role as the domineering queen showcased White's commanding stage presence and ushered in a spate of portrayals of similarly powerful women in Shakespearean and classical pieces throughout the 1960s and into the 1990s. She won the 1965-66 Obie award for her performances in the New York Shakespeare Festival as the Princess of France in Love's Labor's Lost and Volumnia in Coriolanus, and the 1988-89 Los Angeles Critics Circle Award for the Mother in Lorca's Blood Wedding.

Despite these critical successes, White grew dissatisfied with the range of roles offered to her, a problem particularly complicated by her skin tone, which made her "too black for white roles-and this really hurt-too white for black roles." Her light complexion, shared with her father who had used it to his advantage by crossing the color line to investigate crimes against blacks in the South, often worked against her in the literal-minded American theatre, compelling her to use make-up to create a distinctly Anglo-Saxon look for the stage. Even so, White found that she was often not considered for roles because she did not fit the cliché image of a black woman. Frustrated, she and her husband Alfredo Viazzi, an Italian-born restaurateur and writer whom she had wed in 1962, relocated to Rome in 1965. In Europe, her roles ironically included a critically acclaimed stage performance in Trumpets of the Lord, a piece about the black church based on the writings of Walter White's mentor, James Weldon Johnson. In the late 1960s, the Viazzis returned to the U.S. In addition to work in the theatre, Jane White (who continued to use her maiden name in her profession) began a series of cabaret performances in her husband's restaurants. The genre highlighted White's versatility and led to her one-woman show, Jane White, Who?... (1979-80), which was interspersed with songs and autobiographical reminiscence. In the 1980s, the Kool Jazz Festival featured her as a soloist, and Bobby Short presented her at Town Hall for a cabaret evening.

In her personal life, White experienced the loss of many of those dear to her. Her father ended his career with the NAACP in a scandal brought on by his divorce of Gladys and remarriage to white food expert Poppy Cannon in 1948, and he died of a sudden heart attack in 1955. Her mother died in Germany in 1979 at age 85. Her brother was killed in a mountain climbing accident in 1975 at the age of 48, and her beloved husband Alfredo Viazzi succumbed to a heart attack in 1987 when he was 66.

These tragedies, however, did not slow her career. From the 1970s to the 2000s, she filled roles of imposing, strong-willed women in a gamut of productions: comedies and musicals including A Little Night Music and Follies, and such classical and dramatic works as Ghosts, Pygmalion, and Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. The Metropolitan Opera presented her, in the 1983-84 and 1993-94 seasons, in spoken roles in Les Troyens and La Fille du Regiment. She also worked in television, memorably as a villain on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and in film, playing the role of a Park Avenue Madam in Klute and the Schoolteacher in Beloved.

Critical response to Jane White's career since her Strange Fruit debut has ranged from pans to raves but has enabled a long and varied life's work. She has been honored by the NAACP for that work. She has counted among her fans such notables as Bobby Short, playwright Moss Hart, maestro James Levine, and theatre impresario/actor Jean-Louis Barrault, as well as the numerous performers and directors with whom she has worked. Jane White died in 2011.

Scope and contents of the collection

The Jane White Papers consist of 3.75 linear ft. dating from to 1924 to 2001. Types of materials include scripts, newspaper clippings, notes, publicity, correspondence, audiotapes, and photographs.

The bulk of the papers concern Jane White's theatrical career. These materials, enhanced by White's eloquent self-reflections in interviews generated by her work on stage, document the career of a versatile performer. Her tenuous place on the color line brings into relief the shifting perceptions of racial identity over the span of the civil rights era and beyond, particularly as they emerged and developed in the professional theatre. Documents in the collection reveal White's thoughts about her personal life and political activist heritage as well as the craft of her work. There is evidence of how she constructed her characters and executed performances. A small amount of biographical information highlights White's life outside the theatre, and the many photographs show her onstage as well as in more candid poses. While the collection documents Jane White's life and work and, to a lesser extent, that of her husband Alfredo Viazzi, her perspective on her prominent family lends insight into studies of parents Walter and Gladys White.

Note: This collection has not been fully processed and additions are expected.

Organization of the collection

This collection is organized into three series:


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

This collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.

Restrictions on use:

The SSC owns copyright to Jane White's writings. Copyright to materials authored by persons other than Jane White may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Jane White Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

History of the Collection

Jane White donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1989 and continued to send additions until her death in 2011.


Periodic additions to collection are expected and may not be reflected in this finding aid.

Processing Information

Preliminary processing done by Amanda Izzo, 2005.

Additional Information
Contact Information
Smith College Special Collections
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886


Series Descriptions
.5 linear ft.

This series contains written overviews of White's life, including materials from the 1992 autobiographical performance she staged at the Sophia Smith Collection's fiftieth anniversary celebration, as well as writings and correspondence. Correspondents include Jean-Louis Barrault, Jerome Robbins, and Henry Denker. A 1958 speech on racial justice delivered to Actors' Equity and various projects undertaken by Alfredo Viazzi can be found here.

1.7 linear ft.

This series covers the span of White's work in theatre and onscreen, and the period from the 1960s to the 1980s is documented most extensively. Scripts, music, programs, publicity, and clippings and other printed material can be found as well as correspondence, including many congratulatory telegrams. The series also includes White's handwritten notes and reel-to-reel audiotapes from her cabaret performances. Photographs from performances are located in SERIES III. PHOTOGRAPHS, and a scrapbook that contains correspondence, clippings, and photographs documenting her work in the 1940s and 1950s is located among the oversize materials.

1 linear ft.

This series contains staged and candid photos from performances, publicity shots of Jane White, and snapshots of Jane White alone, in groups, and with family and friends.

Contents List

Biographical writings and stage credits,
circa 1993, undated

Box 1: folder 1
Actors' Equity speech: correspondence and clipping,

Box 1: folder 2
"Life as an Actress: A Mystery Story": script, photograph photocopies, program, and publicity from White's performance at Sophia Smith Collection's "Revealing Life Stories" fiftieth anniversary symposium,

Box 1: folder 3
Oral history transcripts and publicity,

Box 1: folder 4
Fredi Washington memorial service: typescript and program,

Box 1: folder 5
Correspondence (includes Jean-Louis Barrault),

[see also OVERSIZE MATERIALS--scrapbook]

1967-70, 1989-95

Box 1: folder 6
Clippings: general,00, n.d.



Box 1: folder 7

Box 1: folder 8
Alfredo Viazzi projects: includes correspondence, clippings, and screenplay synopsis,

[see also SERIES II. PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES -White and the Black and cabaret performances]

1967-75, undated

Box 1: folder 9
"Mean Anthony": story by Jane White and correspondence,

Box 1: folder 10

Ah, Men: script, program, and clippings,

Box 1: folder 11
Amen: script,

Box 1: folder 12
Blood Wedding: programs, publicity, award, notes, script, and clippings,

Box 1: folder 13-16
Brittanicus: program,

Box 1: folder 17
Burnt Flowerbed: program and clippings,

Box 1: folder 18
Butcher's Daughter: correspondence, program, clippings, script, and notes,

Box 1: folder 19-21
Cabaret performances: programs, publicity, clippings, and reel-to-reel audiotape

[Please use cassette copy of audiotape]

1976-77, 1979

Box 1: folder 22-23
Caucasian Chalk Circle: correspondence, program, clippings, script, and music,

Box 1: folder 24-26
Cleopatra: research material,

Box 1: folder 27
Coriolanus: correspondence, clippings, programs, program notes, research material, and script,

[see also New York Shakespeare Festival]


Box 1: folder 28-30
Cuban Thing: program and clippings,

Box 1: folder 31
La Fille du Regiment

[see Les Troyens]


Correspondence (includes Judith Ivey), programs, and clippings(includes program to Stephen Sondheim celebration), 2001

Box 1: folder 32
Script, notes, and research material

Box 1: folder 33
Ghosts: program and clippings,

Box 1: folder 34
God's Trombones (tribute to James Weldon Johnson): program,

Box 1: folder 35
Greeks: notes, programs, script, and clippings,

Box 1: folder 36
Heartbreak House: script, notes, and research material,

Box 1: folder 37-39
Hop, Signor!: correspondence, program, and clippings,

Box 1: folder 40
I Hate Hamlet: correspondence, program, clippings, script, and notes,

Box 1: folder 41-43
Iphigenia in Aulis: correspondence, programs, and clippings,

Box 1: folder 44
Jane Eyre: correspondence, programs, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 1-2
Jane White, Who?...


San Francisco management,

Box 2: folder 3
New York lawyers,

Box 2: folder 4
Opening night telegrams, congratulations, fan mail,

Box 2: folder 5
Programs, publicity, and award,



Box 2: folder 6

Box 2: folder 7-8
Scripts, song lyrics, corrections,
1979, 1985

Box 2: folder 9
Reel-to-reel audiotapes,

[please use cassette copies]


Box 2: folder 10
King Lear: clippings,

Box 2: folder 11
Kool Jazz Festival: programs,

Box 2: folder 12
Life and Death of King John: program, script, notes, and research material,

Box 2: folder 13
Liliom: includes correspondence from Jane White to Gladys White, program, clippings,

Box 2: folder 14
Little Night Music: clippings,

Box 2: folder 15
Lola: script, music, notes, and research material,

Box 2: folder 16-18
Love's Labor's Lost

[see New York Shakespeare Festival (1965)]

Madwoman of Chaillot: contract and publicity,

Box 2: folder 19
Master of Thornfield

[see Jane Eyre]

Box 2
Nefertiti: clippings,

Box 2: folder 20
New York Shakespeare Festival (1965): correspondence, programs, and clippings from Troilus and Cressida, Love's Labor's Lost, and Coriolanus,

Box 2: folder 21
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad: correspondence, programs, and clippings,



Box 2: folder 22
Once upon a Mattress: correspondence, programs, and clippings,
1959-64, 1972

Box 2: folder 23-24
Petrified Prince,

Correspondence (includes Harold Prince), program, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 25
Script, notes, and music,

Box 2: folder 26-27
Pleasure of Honesty, correspondence, programs, and research material,

Box 2: folder 28
Power and the Glory: correspondence (includes Carl Van Vechten), programs, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 29
Put Your Hands Together: correspondence, photograph, and program,

Box 2: folder 30
Pygmalion: program, correspondence, clippings, and script,

Box 2: folder 31-32
Razzle Dazzle: clippings,

Box 2: folder 33
Rosmersholm: programs, clippings,

Box 2: folder 34
Search for Tomorrow: clippings,
1969, 1979

Box 2: folder 35
Strange Fruit: clipping,

[see also OVERSIZE MATERIALS--scrapbook and script]


Box 2: folder 36
Take a Giant Step: program,

[see also OVERSIZE MATERIALS--scrapbook]


Box 2: folder 37
Taming of the Shrew: correspondence, programs, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 38
Tennessee Williams: A Celebration: program,

Box 2: folder 39
Tributes to Bobby Short,correspondence, programs, and clippings, 1992-93

Box 2: folder 40
Trojan Women: correspondence, programs, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 41
Troilus and Cressida

[see New York Shakespeare Festival 1965]

Tropical Breeze Hotel: correspondence, clippings, notes, and research material,

Box 2: folder 42
Les Troyens and La Fille du Regiment: correspondence, programs, clippings, schedules, script, and music,
1983-84, 1993-94

Box 2: folder 43-44
Trumpets of the Lord: correspondence, script, program, and clippings,

Box 2: folder 45
White and the Black: programs and clippings,

Box 3: folder 1
You Never Know: programs,

Box 3: folder 2
Miscellaneous performances,

Box 3: folder 3

Jane White alone, with family, and Alfredo Viazzi,


1924-circa 1970s

Box 3: folder 4
Jane White in groups, includes Tennessee Williams, Carrie Nye, and Gael Greene,

Box 3: folder 5
Publicity shots, s
circa 1940s-90

Box 3: folder 6-9

Box 3: folder 10
Blood Wedding,

Box 3: folder 11
Burnt Flowerbed,

Box 3: folder 12
Butcher's Daughter,

Box 3: folder 13
Cabarets, concerts and clubs,
1975-79, undated

Box 3: folder 14-16
Come What May,

Box 3: folder 16a
1965, 1991

Box 3: folder 17-18
Caucasian Chalk Circle,

Box 3: folder 19
circa 1970

Box 3: folder 19a
Follies, 2001

Box 3: folder 20

Box 3: folder 21

Box 3: folder 22
Heartbreak House,

Box 3: folder 23
Hop, Signor!,

Box 3: folder 24
I Hate Hamlet,

Box 3: folder 25
Iphigenia in Aulis,

Box 3: folder 26
It's Only a Play, 2000

Box 3: folder 27
Jane Eyre,

Box 3: folder 28
Jane White, Who?...,

Box 3: folder 29-30
King Lear,

Box 3: folder 31

Box 3: folder 32
Little Night Music,

Box 3: folder 33

Box 3: folder 34
Love's Labor's Lost,

Box 3: folder 35

Box 3: folder 36
Madwoman of Chaillot,

Box 3: folder 37
Man of Destiny,

Box 3: folder 38
Oh Dad, Poor Dad,

Box 3: folder 39
Once Upon a Mattress: photographs and album,
1961-61, 1964

Box 3: folder 40-41
Petrified Prince,

Box 3: folder 42

Box 3: folder 43

Box 3: folder 43a
Search for Tomorrow,

Box 3: folder 44
Strange Fruit

[see OVERSIZE MATERIALS-photograph and scrapbook]

Taming of the Shrew,

Box 3: folder 45
Trojan Women,

Box 3: folder 46
Tropical Breeze Hotel,

Box 3: folder 47
Les Troyens and la Fille du Regiment,

Box 3: folder 48
Les Troyens,

Box 3: folder 49
Trumpets of the Lord,
1967, 1969-70

Box 3: folder 50


Box 4
Biographical materials: clippings,, n.d.; Obie award, 1965-66
1978, 1999-2000

Box 5
Professional activities

Strange Fruit script, 1945; clippings, 1991; and publicity,

Box 5
Jane White, Who?...: publicity and posters,

Box 5
Photographs and artwork: Photographs (includes White family, 1939),; and charcoal drawing of Jane White, 1967

Box 5
Oh Dad, Poor Dad: poster,

Flat File

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Actresses--United States--Biography--Sources
  • African American actresses--Biography--Sources
  • Theater--United States--History--20th century--Sources
  • White, Jane
  • White, Walter Francis, 1893-1955
  • Women in the theater--United States--History--Sources

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