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Character actor Jesse White, TV’s Maytag repairman, dead at 79

January 10, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jesse White, a dour-faced character actor known to millions of television viewers as the lonely Maytag repairman, has died. He was 79.

White died Wednesday night following surgery for an undisclosed ailment at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, said spokeswoman Charlie Lahaie.

He appeared in more than 60 films, including the 1950 film version of ``Harvey″ starring Jimmy Stewart, and dozens of television shows.

But he was best known as the stir-crazy Maytag repairman who had nothing to do, or so the television ads claimed, because Maytag appliances were so well-built, they never broke.

White appeared in 68 of the ads between 1967 and 1989, succeeded by actor Gordon Jump, who played bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson on the sitcom ``WKRP in Cincinnati.″

Born Jesse Marc Weidenfeld in Buffalo, N.Y., White got his start in vaudeville and burlesque. He reached Broadway in 1944 with a supporting role as a love-struck asylum attendant in the Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ``Harvey.″ He played the same role in the film version.

Often cast as a cigar-chomping, whiny-voiced thug, and sometimes as a pushy agent, White also appeared in such films as ``Bedtime for Bonzo,″ ``Marjorie Morningstar″ and ``Death of a Salesman.″

His television series credits included agent Cagey Calhoun in the 1950s show ``Private Secretary″; Oscar Pudney in ``The Ann Sothern Show″ and Jesse Leeds, the agent of Danny Thomas, in ``Make Room for Daddy.″

He was a hard worker, supplementing his television and film roles with commercials. For Chung King, he peddled chow mein. For Italian Swiss Colony, he hawked wine.

Ill health in the last years of his life kept him from working steadily, and his final film role was in 1993′s ``Matinee,″ starring John Goodman.

For his entry in ``Who’s Who in America,″ White supplied this:

``At age seven I knew what I wanted in life _ to bring a little laughter and joy to the world. I’ve been blessed twice _ to be able to do the thing I know and do best and to make a decent and respectable living at it. I have had a good life in show business and feel sorry for people who are not in it.″

White was married in 1942 to Cecelia Kahn and had two daughters, Carole and Janet. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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