Young Actress in ‘White Christmas,’ Dies at 85

Anne Whitfield, who appeared in the beloved holiday classic White Christmas and on dozens of TV shows, from Father Knows Best, 77 Sunset Strip and Perry Mason to That Girl, Ironside and Emergency!, has died. She was 85.

Whitfield died Feb. 7 at a hospital in Yakima, Washington, after suffering an “unexpected accident” while on a walk in her neighborhood, family members announced.

“She was a powerhouse in life, and we hope her immense positive energy flows out to those who had the pleasure of knowing her,” they wrote.
Whitfield was 15 and had done lots of acting on the radio when she was cast as Susan Waverly, the granddaughter of Dean Jagger’s Major Gen. Thomas F. Waverly — “The Old Man” — in the Michael Curtiz-directed Paramount musical White Christmas (1954). The film starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.
An only child, Anne Langham Whitfield was born on Aug. 27, 1938, in Oxford, Mississippi. Her father, Richard, was the orchestra and marching band director at the University of Mississippi, and her mother, Frances, taught speech and drama at a junior college. (Later, she would tutor the kids on The Brady Bunch.)

Whitfield and her mom moved to Los Angeles, and when the actress was 7, she found regular work as a Holocaust survivor on the soap opera One Man’s Family. She would also perform on such other radio programs as The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, Our Miss Brooks and Mr. and Mrs. Blandings.

After working in The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) and Peter Pan (1953), she landed on White Christmas while still attending Hollywood High School.

“I think I originally had a bigger part, but they almost wrote me out entirely,” she recalled in a 2020 interview. “And then during shooting, I think Curtiz kind of liked me and felt I would add a certain element of innocence as a sort of Greek chorus watcher. He started dragging me into every scene that took place in the lodge.”

Her résumé also included the movies Juvenile Jungle (1958) and Tick, Tick, Tick (1970) and TV’s The Donna Reed Show, One Step Beyond, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Cheyenne, Bonanza, Peter Gunn, Rawhide, Ben Casey, Hawaiian Eye and The Six Million Dollar Man.
Whitfield moved to Washington in the 1970s and went back to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in communications. She also worked at the Department of Ecology for the State of Washington, ran a bed and breakfast, and served as an activist and community organizer.

An avid hiker, she loved the outdoors, and to celebrate her 85th birthday, she and a friend hiked in the Dolomite Mountains of the Italian Alps.

Survivors include her children, Julie, Evan and Allison, and grandchildren Emery, Luke, Alex, Quinn, Logan, Frances and Aviva. A celebration of life is set for March 22.

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