Whitney Blake died in her home on the Edgartown Great Pond at the age of 76 in the early hours of Sept. 28. At the time of her passing she was attended by the Hospice of Martha's Vineyard and in the presence of family members.
Ms. Blake enjoyed a long and varied career as an actress, television host of talk shows and filmmaker.
She was a staple of the "golden age" of television, guest-starring on all of the premiere shows of that era including Playhouse 90, Bonanza, Route 66 and others. She starred on the initial episode of Perry Mason and was the first performer to repeat starring roles on that show, once as a "black-eyed blonde" and later as a "restless redhead," and she enjoyed the same status on Maverick. Ms. Blake was perhaps most known for co-starring with Shirley Booth in the hit situation comedy Hazel.
Her career as a performer began on the stage, her arena of choice, at the noted Pasadena Playhouse, and whenever she had a hiatus in film work she would return to that and other stages around the country, playing roles as varied as Ophelia to John Carradine's Hamlet and a gay divorcee in Chin Chin. Her film work included starring in the first Mickey Spillane novel to be translated to the screen and as the wife of Jack Webb in :30 and opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in The Betsy. Her peers demonstrated their respect for the quality of her work by electing her as member of the board of directors of Women In Film.
When TV and film work became less abundant, and less attractive to her, she charted her own turn in the road and for a year co-hosted a talk show on the Los Angeles flagship station of CBS. Following that she reinvented herself again, this time as the writer, director and producer of an award-winning documentary about a California teacher and his "dropout" students. The film, Reno's Kids, 87 days plus 11, honored at the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Chicago Film Festival and the recipient of a Cine award, has been seen in theaters and on TV in more than a dozen countries. Following the success of that venture she showed even further versatility by co-creating the long-running situation comedy One Day At A Time with her husband, writer and producer Allan Manings.
Throughout her adult years, Ms. Blake was an activist for civil rights as a speaker for the A.C.L.U. and open housing. The role of women in our society was vital to her, and she devoted her energies in the causes of equal rights and a women's right to choice. She was unstinting in her willingness to travel far for political candidates who worked to make those beliefs a reality.
Nothing in her life was more important to Ms. Blake than family and friends, but music figured strongly as well. On the Vineyard she sang with the community chorus and the choir of the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury as well as playing recorder with small groups here. Her love of music went with her to her off-Island home in Malibu, Calif., where she sang in the choir of St. Aiden's Episcopal church and was a member of the Westside Ancient Music Group.
Mr. Blake first came to the Island in the wake of Hurricane Bob, and although she did not see the Vineyard at its best, she was immediately taken by the beauty and serenity of the Island and almost at once instituted a search for a site to make a place for her family. This culminated in the building of a home on the pond in Edgartown that has been a haven for her, her husband and their family.
Whitney Blake was born in Eagle Rock, Calif., the oldest offspring of Martha Mae Wilkerson and Harry Whitney. She was preceded in death by her parents and her brother, Harry. Although in her early years her family moved around the country extensively, she attended 16 schools in as many different cities before her high school years, Whitney considered herself a Californian. She completed her education at Pasadena City College.
She is survived by her husband, Allan; three children, Richard of Beverly Hills, Calif., Brian of Minneapolis, Minn., and Meredith of Santa Monica, Calif.; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The family suggests that any donations in Whitney's name be made to the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust or the Vineyard Conservation Society.