Christine White, the actress who played along side William Shatner in the Twilight Zone show Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, an episode that has become an icon of early television, has died at age 86.
This episode and this actress were, along with Bill Shatner and the “gremlin” on the plane’s wing, instrumental in helping to scare the life out of me when I watched the program, against my mother’s orders, when I was seven.
Shatner plays Robert Wilson, a man who has just recently suffered a nervous breakdown…On a plane. His wife, Julia is the picture of a 1950’s loving and supporting spouse and she is the calm to his personal storm. She reassures him that his doctor would never have told him to go on the flight if he was not cured.
Cured, he may well be, but once the plane is in the air, he looks nervously out the window by his seat and sees a furry, and damned scary looking, creature ripping metal off the engine casing. He panics, only a little at first, and asks his wife to look.
She of course sees nothing, but, she believes in him and gamely stays at his side throughout his ordeal. Her character was what made this trip into the Twilight Zone so effective. Had she acted any differently, we wouldn’t have reacted nearly so well to Shatner’s meltdown and his violent reaction to the creature on the wing.
This episode of the long running show became a classic, remade, in a movie, honored in song and spoofed on Saturday Night Live, 3rd Rock From the Sun and The Simpsons.
Christine’s role in the 25 minutes that make up Nightmare at 20,000 Feet may not have been as prominent as that of Willaim Shatner’s or Nick Cravat’s who in case you didn’t know, played the gremlin. But her role was central to the episode and quite possibly the most memorable part she played in her almost a quarter-century acting career.
Christine Lamson White may have had a career in Hollywood spanning over 20 years, but to many people she will always be known as “the woman on the plane next to William Shatner.”
According to TODAY Entertainment, Christine was born in 1926 and acted in plays while studying English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned a Masters degree in speech and drama from the Catholic University. By the 1950s she had relocated to Hollywood and appeared in many television programs including Perry Mason, The Loretta Young Show and Bonanza. According to the New York Times, she appeared in more than 50 television shows and movies during her acting career.
Eventually she left acting to return to Washington, D.C to help care for her aging mother, and wrote, produced and distributed a quarterly bulletin called “The Rampart Papers.”
Her obituary indicated that she “became acquainted with several celebrities” including James Dean; in a biography of the actor by Val Holley White who admitted their relationship “did become romantic at times.” She appeared in a 1976 dramatization of Dean’s life, “James Dean” as a secretary; according to the IMDb it was her last acting credit.
By Michael Smith