Ted White’s introduction to the movie industry would be somewhat unconventional. Having played football for the University of Oklahoma in his youth, White served with the Marine Corps and, whilst stationed in San Diego in 1949, was asked to volunteer as an extra during a scene for a movie entitled Sands of Iwo Jima. The picture followed a squad of Marines during the Second World War as they prepared for combat against the Japanese army at Iwo Jima in 1945. This experience would mark the start of a friendship between White and the film’s star, John Wayne, who would be nominated for an Academy Award. White’s early credits would mostly consist of television shows, during which time he began to take an interest in stuntwork on the likes of Sheriff of Cochise and Maverick.
White would team up once again with Wayne on a series of westerns, in which he would either take small, uncredited roles or act as Wayne’s stunt double. These pictures would include Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic Rio Bravo, The Horse Soldiers, The Alamo (which Wayne would also direct) and Hitari!. During this era, White also served as a double for several other big stars, including Clark Gable (1961′s The Misfits, which co-starred screen beauty Marilyn Monroe) and Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, Point Blank). Although he would gain more acclaim for his stuntwork, White continued to act in minor or supporting roles on a variety of shows; mostly crime dramas (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Kojak) and westerns (Wagon Train). He would serve as stunt coordinator on NBC’s popular show Daniel Boone; doubling for lead actor Fess Parker and occasionally making an appearance in various minor roles.
Although the 1970s would see White restricted to television, the following decade once again saw him working on numerous successful features, ranging from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York to Disney’s sci-fi thriller Tron. His experience with elaborate stunts would ultimately lead Paramount Pictures and filmmaker Joseph Zito to offer White the role of Jason Voorhees for their latest sequel, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. White was reluctant to have an association with such a movie and declined the offer but soon reconsidered when he was advised that it would take around six weeks for the effects team to design all the necessary components for the character, during which time he would be paid in full. It would be this part of the deal that would eventually convince White to accept the role.
When White signed on to the picture, the special effects were to be handled by Greg Cannom, who at that time was working with rock star Ozzy Osbourne on his music video for the track Bark at the Moon. The head for the character would be sculpted by James Kagel, who had performed similar duties for Stan Winston on Dead and Buried and The Entity, and had also worked with Rob Bottin on The Thing. But during pre-production, Cannom would quit the project and was replaced by Zito’s first choice, Tom Savini, who had worked on the first movie. Much like his predecessors, White would be subjected to an unpleasant application process in the make-up chair, taking approximately four hours to complete each morning before filming began.
Although White had little interest in a movie such as Friday the 13th, he soon found that once he had been transformed into Jason Voorhees it was easy to get into character. During the shoot he remained distant from his co-stars, in an effort to avoid becoming overly familiar with his victims and thus provoking genuine fear once the cameras began rolling. His performance would improve upon that of Richard Brooker (from Friday the 13th Part 3), taking various characteristics of the previous movie and improving on them. Jason would become far more aggressive and predatory in The Final Chapter than he had been in the earlier films, whilst Savini’s trademark gore allowed for machetes in the face and heads crushed against wall.
White would take issue with Zito during a sequence in which a young woman is impaled whilst lying naked in a raft. Actress Judie Aronson was forced to strip and stand in freezing cold water, whilst a fake body was attached to her back that would be stabbed from underneath by Jason’s machete. Aronson soon became too cold to perform due to the temperatures of shooting in the winter and White, disgusted at how Zito was treating his actors, threatened to quit the production if the young actress was not taken out of the water. This experience would be one of the key reasons that White would insist that his name be taken off the credits of the movie. Following The Final Chapter, White made a brief appearance as a deer hunter in Carpenter’s fantasy Starman, whilst other notable roles would include Magnum, P.I. , Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Hidden and an episode of the cult show The X Files. Despite distancing himself from Friday the 13th, over recent years White has attended numerous movie conventions to meet his fans and celebrate his part of the Jason Voorhees legacy.