Rise Above It, Darling: The Story of Joan White, Actor, Director, Teacher, Producer and (Sometimes) Mother
Written by her daughter, Judy White Staber
The Troy Book Makers
It’s an odd thing, writing a biography of someone you know well, yet barely know at all. Judy White Staber has constructed a book about her actress mother, and she has done a great deal of research about her mother’s family background, her mother’s life, and her career. She has had to do the work of a researcher as her mother, Joan White, played a very small role in Staber’s formative years, having placed her in the Actors’ Orphanage when she was just a bit over four years old. In Staber’s first book, “Silverlands: Growing Up at the Actors’ Orphanage,” published in 2010, she recounted those years and experiences in great detail. This book, which discusses her childhood, is more about what happened to her in subsequent times.
While the book recounts her mother’s achievements in work and marriage, it veers away from its subject to reveal more about Staber’s own theatrical career that took her from New York City’s Equity Library Theater, across America as a stage manager on the national tour of “A Man for All Seasons,” and through her very vital work in The Berkshires as press representative to Tina Packer and Shakespeare & Company. Mother and daughter, it seems, though little known to one another, are impossible to separate.
Both women lived fascinating lives, and though one was a beauty and one was not, the inner beauty of the latter far exceeds the lack of same in the former. Joan White was a star of the London theater, an accomplished comedienne who starred in West End productions, primarily playing children and teenagers until her late 30s. She translated those skills in America with character roles such as Mrs. Higgins in “My Fair Lady.” She was the artistic director at the Berkshire Playhouse from 1960–1964, partnered by her third husband. As Judy White, her daughter played several roles at the theater in Stockbridge which came to be known as the Berkshire Theatre Festival (now Berkshire Theatre Group). In this biography of her mother, Staber wipes away the lines between herself and her mother and their stories flow diligently from her pen, or computer.
It’s fascinating to witness the parallels between them, blood-strangers, as Staber’s own tale crowds out her more famous mother’s story. For anyone interested in how a theatrical career progresses and what to anticipate in pursuing such a life, this is an invaluable source of information. If you are interested in the back-story of a local life in the arts, this is also an interesting book to read. Having known Judy Staber for nearly 30 years, it is illuminating to learn of her history and her life and loves in the professional world she inhabited. In fact, the book has the feeling of a long night in front of a fire, brandy in hand, and stories related. There are moments when you want to ask questions of her, but she is circumspect and you have to live with what she is willing to tell you. You might call this book a cosy revelation, a welcome experience with all the warmth the author missed during her childhood.