The Life of Claretta White

These galleries contain photos, press clippings and other mementos from Claretta's life


The Biography of Claretta White

Photo of ClarettaClaretta White’s life certainly prepared her for a career in the arts.  And that preparation culminated in her being an outstanding and well known painter. Born into a family long active in architecture, music, stage, design and dance on three continents, her mother, Elizabeth Ellis, was a couture designer whose clothes were worn by many movie stars. In the 1970s, her cousin, Lareen Fender, created The Ballet School in Lafayette California, which has a national reputation for its excellence and has trained some of the ballet world’s top performers. And she married Sam White, a famous film director and producer.


Claretta (Ellis) White grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and studied dance dramatics, violin and piano with Betty Anne Putter. She began participating in numerous theater and performing arts productions while still a child. In high school, to earn money for singing and dancing lessons, she posed as an artists model as well as modeling clothes. Her major talent as a performer easily paved the way for her to become a professional singer and dancer in the Midwest while continuing her art studies at Tulsa University and the Kansas City Conservatory of Art. As a young woman, she was the lead singer with several bands, including Nick Fiorito and Bernie Kane, and danced professionally with dance partners Zarek and Louis Da Pron, as well as dancing solo.


After moving from Tulsa to Los Angeles, she soon became represented by an agent and began receiving contracts as an actress and dancer with Twentieth Century-Fox, MGM, RKO, Paramount and Columbia, where she appeared in many motion pictures, including, The Last Days of Pompei, Flying Down to Rio and Top Hat, which is when she met her husband to be, the director of the film. 


Sam and ClarettaMrs. White married Sam White, a successful motion picture producer and director in Santa Barbara in 1937. They celebrated 63 years of marriage together and had two daughters, Steffani – a teacher, who died in 1974, and Sharleen Cooper Cohen, author, playwright and theater producer. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren still reside in Los Angeles.


Claretta PaintingWhile raising a family, she became consumed with finding another outlet for her creativity and turned to painting. Her love of ballet furnished Mrs. White with subject matter for many of her canvases. In rich color and a graceful style she interprets ballet as a way of life of which she has unique personal experience. Her dancers are not mere units in a public spectacle, they are real people. Mrs. White was able to bring to her art both a sound technical skill and a rich store of remembered experience.  She knows how dancers feel and move, knows the emotions musicians must express and how these decide their gestures and the appearance in their faces.  It is noteworthy that most of her awards were for figure, portrait and genre painting. 


Mrs. White studied various painting techniques with the late Ruby Usher, Leon Frank, Nicolai Fechin, and Sergei Baumgarten. In response to popular demand, when she began teaching painting herself she took over the studio of her teacher, Leon Frank, on Hollywood Boulevard.  Later she moved her art school to Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.  Mrs. White was very active in local art circles and devoted herself full time to painting and teaching.  Her rendering of the human figure in nude, in portrait and in dance, reveal a sensitivity and empathy with the spirit within as well as a sense of physical strength, intelligence and independence. Her studies of flowers, landscape, and her clown portraits, express not only her joy in life, but the angst of inner sadness. Her portraits of children, especially those of mother and child, express a deep maternal connection as well as the innocence of childhood. Juan Jose Segura, noted Mexican artist, said of her paintings: “She has real talent, she has the grace of motion, she will go far.”


Claretta Painting in Her StudioIn 1965, Mrs. White was honored by an invitation to be one of the artists published in a series of educational books on painting by Walter Foster Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing.  Walter T. Foster, himself a well-known artist, instructor, and collector—began producing self-help art instruction books from his home in Laguna Beach, California which were sold in most every art store in America and many on the continent. Even today, Walter Foster Publishing still provides how-to books and kits to millions of enthusiastic artists worldwide who enjoy the rewards of learning to draw and paint.


Claretta White exhibited her vast array of paintings over the course of many years and won multiple awards from The Valley Artist’s Guild and from Las Artistas.  Her paintings have held their value and appreciated over time and yet they are quite reasonably priced.


Claretta White


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