I Passed for White (1960)

91-93 mins | Drama | March 1960

Director:

Fred M. Wilcox

Writer:

Fred M. Wilcox

Producer:

Fred M. Wilcox

Cinematographer:

George Folsey

Editor:

George White

Production Designer:

David Milton

Production Company:

Fred M. Wilcox Enterprises, Inc.
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HISTORY

While the novel on which the film was based was written by Mary Hastings Bradley under the pseudonym of Reba Lee, Bradley's own name appears in the onscreen credits. I Passed for White marked the first film of Fred M. Wilcox Enterprises, Inc., and Sonya Wilde's screen debut. According to reviews, producer-director-writer Wilcox saw the Caucasian actress on Broadway in West Side Story and chose her because of her "Southern quality." In a Feb 1960 interview in LAMirror-News , Wilde speculated that the producers "couldn't find any light-skinned colored girls of the right age who had the acting qualifications." According to the LAMirror-News article, black actors were irritated by her casting. Although a 4 Nov 1959 HR news item includes Michael Keith, Jeff Carlyle and Bob Peoples in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to Jul 1960 DV articles, the film, which cost $250,000 to make, was refused ad space by newspapers, and advertising time by radio and television stations because of its title in a number of northern cities, including Providence, RI and Columbus, OH. After a number of first-run theaters and regional circuits in both the North and South were reluctant to book the film, fearing racial incidents, distributor Allied Artists released it to drive-ins and "sub-run" theaters. Subsequently, when no incidents were reported after more than 250 engagements, first-run theaters and regional circuits booked the film in some ... More Less

While the novel on which the film was based was written by Mary Hastings Bradley under the pseudonym of Reba Lee, Bradley's own name appears in the onscreen credits. I Passed for White marked the first film of Fred M. Wilcox Enterprises, Inc., and Sonya Wilde's screen debut. According to reviews, producer-director-writer Wilcox saw the Caucasian actress on Broadway in West Side Story and chose her because of her "Southern quality." In a Feb 1960 interview in LAMirror-News , Wilde speculated that the producers "couldn't find any light-skinned colored girls of the right age who had the acting qualifications." According to the LAMirror-News article, black actors were irritated by her casting. Although a 4 Nov 1959 HR news item includes Michael Keith, Jeff Carlyle and Bob Peoples in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to Jul 1960 DV articles, the film, which cost $250,000 to make, was refused ad space by newspapers, and advertising time by radio and television stations because of its title in a number of northern cities, including Providence, RI and Columbus, OH. After a number of first-run theaters and regional circuits in both the North and South were reluctant to book the film, fearing racial incidents, distributor Allied Artists released it to drive-ins and "sub-run" theaters. Subsequently, when no incidents were reported after more than 250 engagements, first-run theaters and regional circuits booked the film in some cities. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Mar 1960.
---
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1959.
---
Daily Variety
1 Mar 60
p. 3.
Daily Variety
5 Jul 60
p. 1, 3.
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1960.
---
Film Daily
14 Mar 60
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 191-92.
Harrison's Reports
13 Aug 60
p. 130.
Hollywood Citizen-News
16 Jun 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1959
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 59
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 59
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1960
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Mar 60
p. 3.
LAMirror-News
9 Feb 1960.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
16 Jun 60
Section 2, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
17 Jun 1960.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Mar 60
p. 613.
New York Times
18 Aug 60
p. 19.
The Exhibitor
16 Mar 60
p. 4685.
Variety
2 Mar 60
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Cam op
Head grip
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
2d prop man
Const
COSTUMES
Ward
DANCE
Dances by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Dial coach
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel I Passed for White by Mary Hastings Bradley (New York, 1955).
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1960
Production Date:
November 1959
Copyright Claimant:
Allied Artists Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
7 March 1960
Copyright Number:
LP15537
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
91-93
Length(in feet):
8,375
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19518
SYNOPSIS

Bernice Lee, a light-skinned black student, attends a nightclub in Los Angeles where her dark-skinned brother Chuck performs with his own jazz group. Chuck gets into a fight when a white man calls him "Rastus" and insults Bernice, thinking she is a white girl dating Chuck. The next day, Bernice talks to her grandmother about the incident and about school, where she has been snubbed by both white and black students after a white girl, whom she thought was her friend, told everyone she was passing for white. Bernice wants to quit school and get a job, and she asks why she cannot pass for white. Gram, whose husband was white, says that if she had to do it over, she would not intermarry because of the problems it creates for the children. Bernice assures her that she does not want to marry, but only get a job as a white girl. Gram still advises against living a lie. At an office building, Bernice is offered a job as an elevator girl and is told that if she had not written "Negro" as her race on her application form, she could have gotten secretarial work. She then packs her things and flies to New York, where, using the name "Lila Brownell" and passing for white, she gets a job as a secretary for an ad agency. One night, she attends a company cocktail party and runs into Frederick "Rick" Leyton, who earlier tried to flirt with her on the plane. He admits he had tracked her down and they begin to date. Bernice soon learns that Rick is from a wealthy old New England ... +


Bernice Lee, a light-skinned black student, attends a nightclub in Los Angeles where her dark-skinned brother Chuck performs with his own jazz group. Chuck gets into a fight when a white man calls him "Rastus" and insults Bernice, thinking she is a white girl dating Chuck. The next day, Bernice talks to her grandmother about the incident and about school, where she has been snubbed by both white and black students after a white girl, whom she thought was her friend, told everyone she was passing for white. Bernice wants to quit school and get a job, and she asks why she cannot pass for white. Gram, whose husband was white, says that if she had to do it over, she would not intermarry because of the problems it creates for the children. Bernice assures her that she does not want to marry, but only get a job as a white girl. Gram still advises against living a lie. At an office building, Bernice is offered a job as an elevator girl and is told that if she had not written "Negro" as her race on her application form, she could have gotten secretarial work. She then packs her things and flies to New York, where, using the name "Lila Brownell" and passing for white, she gets a job as a secretary for an ad agency. One night, she attends a company cocktail party and runs into Frederick "Rick" Leyton, who earlier tried to flirt with her on the plane. He admits he had tracked her down and they begin to date. Bernice soon learns that Rick is from a wealthy old New England family. During a dinner party with Sally Roberts, Bernice's co-worker, and Jay Morgan, Rick's friend, Bernice is overcome by her feelings for Rick, but when he calls at three in the morning to propose marriage, she tells him it is too soon and that there is much he does not know about her. In love with Rick, Bernice confides in Sally, who advises her not to tell Rick that she is black, because despite his feelings, he will have to tell his family, and they, Sally believes, will not allow the marriage. Bernice tries to avoid Rick, but he insists that what matters to him is whether she loves him, and she admits that she does. Bernice tells Rick's parents a number of lies about her family, who, she says, live in Richmond and cannot attend the wedding because they are leaving the country. After the wedding, Mrs. Leyton starts to suspect that Bernice has lied about her family. At a nightclub, Bernice nervously looks away after seeing that her brother Chuck is in the band. When Chuck approaches and takes her hand, Rick viciously hits him and orders him to take his hands off his wife. Bernice explains that Chuck is a musician she knew from school, but begins to cry when Rick argues that she left Richmond before the schools there were integrated. As she leaves the club, Chuck sadly shakes his head. When Bernice becomes pregnant, she worries that the baby will have brown or black skin. After her doctor prescribes exercise and even drink to calm her, she goes to a club with Rick and his parents and dances with a number of men. Rick explodes and berates her for acting like a "cheap dance hall dame," and when she acknowledges a black piano player, Rick says one would think she were friends with "those black cats." Bernice now plans to go away with Sally to have the baby, and if the baby looks black, give Rick the opportunity to have nothing more to do with her or the child; however, after she goes through a night of pain, she is taken to the hospital, where she delivers the baby. In a semi-delirious state, she asks the nurse if the baby is black, unaware that Rick is in the room. Rick then tells her that the baby did not live, and later, she is allowed to see the dead baby, which looks white. Bernice explains to Rick that she was afraid the baby might have been black from choking, then cries hysterically. At home, Bernice learns from her black maid Bertha that Mrs. Leyton has discovered that the picture Bernice has identified as her mother is a fake, and that Mrs. Leyton has also seen books on intermarriage in Bernice's dresser. Bertha reveals that she told Mrs. Leyton that the books are her own. Rick finds Bertha comforting Bernice and angrily orders her to take her hands off his wife and get out, then queries Bernice about her fascination with Negroes. He accuses her of having slept with the black musician and violently throws her on the bed. She admits to lying, but says that the baby was Rick's. Unable to believe her, Rick leaves for town to stay overnight and think about their situation. Bernice goes to the airport accompanied by the still loyal Sally and reasons it is just as well that the Leytons do not know the truth about her. When Bernice arrives back home, she embraces Gram and Chuck. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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