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Slappy White; Gained Fame in Black-White Comedy Act

November 09, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Slappy White, the comedian and dancer who became a fixture with his self-deprecating storytelling on Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other nightclub stages, as well as on television and film, has died. He was 74.

White, who lived for many years in Los Angeles, died Tuesday night of a heart attack in Brigantine, N.J., an island community north of Atlantic City where he was spending his retirement years.

"We look like two cups of coffee. One with cream and sugar and one black," said White in 1969 in introduced his act with Steve Rossi, considered the first major white-black nightclub team in show business. "He's Rossi. I'm white. [Pause for laughter]."

Times entertainment writer John L. Scott, in announcing the daring integrated pairing, described White as "an engaging storyteller . . . [with] thoroughly professional timing [whose] mobile features add to the monologue."

The team performed in clubs from Baltimore and Miami to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and on popular television variety shows, including those hosted by Merv Griffin, Donald O'Connor, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson.

Born Melvin White in Baltimore, White began his career by dancing for pennies on city streets. In his youth, he danced with Redd Foxx, and the two later appeared together after both had become successful comedians. He was a guest on Foxx's television variety show and played Fred's friend Melvin on the popular 1970s series "Sanford and Son."

White's other television roles included Slappy the bartender in the 1979 special "My Buddy," Benjamin White in the 1981 special "White and Reno," and Sam on the 1995 series "Fudge." He also frequently guest-starred on Dean Martin televised roasts.

On the big screen, White starred with Moms Mabley in the 1974 film "Amazing Grace," and as Joey in the 1992 Billy Crystal movie "Mr. Saturday Night." White's other screen credits included "The Man from O.R.G.Y." and its sequel "Amazon Women on the Moon."

White was featured in an anthology of stand-up comedians published last year by author Mel Watkins, "Laughing, Lying and Signifying--The Underground Tradition of African American Humor That Transformed American Culture, From Slavery to Richard Pryor."

In his act, White drew his humor from his own poor beginnings:

* "We was so poor my uncle invented the limbo by slipping under the pay toilet."

* "My landlord said he's gonna raise the rent. 'Good,' I said, 'cuz I can't raise it.' "

He also joked about black stereotypes without ever putting down his race:

* "They sent the black astronaut up at night. They figured if there was any night life, he'd find it."

* "Jus' remember, if Adam had been born black, there'd be no woman. Can you imagine anyone takin' a rib from a black?"

White had been married to entertainers Pearl Bailey and LaVern Baker. He is survived by two sisters.

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