Glimpse Into 'The White Shadow' Cast Life 42 Years Since Fan Famous Series Premiere
It was one of the longest-running TV dramas with a cast of predominantly black actors, and it has surprising ties to Gwyneth Paltrow and the show Sopranos. From tragic deaths to Emmy awards, find out what happened to the cast of “The White Shadow”, along with some intriguing facts about the show that will surprise you.
Nathan Cook as Milton Reese
Nathan Cook played Milton Reese in two seasons of “The White Shadow”, from 1978 to 1980. He was 28 when he played the role, the oldest between the actors playing the teen basketball players, and only 6 years younger than Ken Howard, who played Coach Ken Reeves. The youngest was actor Timothy Van Patten who was 19 at the time.
After “The White Shadow”, Nathan went on to play bellhop Billy Griffin on the primetime drama “Hotel” from 1983 to 1988. He was also a regular on several game shows such as "Super Password", "The $10,000 Pyramid", "Body Language”, “The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour" and “Win, Lose, Or Draw".
In addition to TV roles, he also appeared in several movies such as "The Last Word" (1980), "Scared Straight! Another Story" (1980), "The Ambush Murders" (1982) and "Popular Neurotics" (1984). He passed away in 1988 due to an alleged allergic reaction to penicillin.
Byron Stewart as Warren Coolidge
Byron Stewart was immediately chosen by Ken Howards to play the role of player Warren Coolidge after he saw his performance in the movie “Fire Sale”. Howards was looking for an actor taller than himself to play one of the players and 6’8” Stewart fitted the role perfectly.
After “The White Shadow”, Stewart went on to play character Warren Coolidge once again for the show “St. Elsewhere”. Supposedly, Coolidge had to retire from basketball due to an injury in college and became an orderly at St. Eligius Hospital, where the show is set.
In 1995 he was awarded the “Actor in a Principal Role in a Play” award at the Joseph Jefferson Awards, for his role in “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” at the Touchstone Theatre in Chicago. He is currently working as an account manager for a security firm but still trying out occasionally for acting roles.
Jason Bernard as Principal Jim Willis
Famous for frequently playing roles of stern authority figures, actor Jason Bernard played Principal Jim Willis in the 1978 pilot of “The White Shadow” and was actually one of the first African-American actors to play a high school Principal on TV.
He had several TV appearances as a guest star and recurring character, played the role of Preston Wade in the popular TV drama “Days of Our Lives” and was nominated for a Cable Ace award in 1995. His last feature-film role was as a judge on Jim Carrey’s “Liar, Liar” movie before dying of a fatal heart attack in 1996.
Ed Bernard as Principal Jim Willis
Ed Bernard went on to replace Jason Bernard as Principal Jim Willis in “The White Shadow” season one and two, from 1978 to 1980. Although not family-related to Jason Bernard, who played the same role on the show’s pilot, they were actually best friends in real life.
After the show ended, Bernard went on to fill his acting portfolio with roles in several noteworthy films such as “Blue Thunder” in 1983 and 1993’s “Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey” as well as popular TV shows like “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “NYPD Blue”.
Joan Pringle as Vice-Principal (later Principal) Sybil Buchanan
Sybil Buchanan, the vice-principal of Carver High School, was played by actress Joan Pringle. In the third and final season, she became Principal. After “The White Shadow” she became known for her roles in the daytime drama “Generations” (which won her a nomination at the Soap Opera Digest Awards) and the 2001 feature film “Original Sin”.
Kevin Hooks as Morris Thorpe
Kevin Hooks played basketball player Morris Thorpe on “The White Shadow”, a role that would make him a popular TV star from then on. His character was reportedly voted one of America's 100 favorite characters in the history of television.
After the show ended, Hooks went on the appear on several TV shows and feature films, but he is actually better known as a director for several popular tv shows such as “24”, “Prison Break” and more recently “This is us”, as well as a producer for feature films such as "Innerspace" (1987), "Passenger 57" (1992) and "Last Resort" (2012).
Thomas Carter as James "Hollywood" Hayward
Thomas Carter played the troubled but very intelligent teenager James “Hollywood” Hayward, from 1978 to 1981. He also directed 4 episodes of the show, which led him to pursue a career as a director from then on.
After the show ended, Carter directed several TV shows such as “Fame”, “St. Elsewhere” and “Hill Street Blues”, and feature films “Equal Justice” (1990), “Metro” (1997), “Save the Last Dance” (2001), “Coach Carter” (2005), and more recently “When the Game Stands Tall” (2014).
Timothy Van Patten as Mario “Salami” Petrino
After playing Mario “Salami” Petrino, Timothy Van Patten, the show’s youngest cast member, appeared in several movies and TV shows such as “The Master” in 1984, “St. Elsewhere” in 1985 and “True Blue” from 1989 to 1990, but was better known for his career as a director.
He has directed episodes for highly popular TV shows such as “Sex in the City”, “The Sopranos”, “The Pacific” and “Boardwalk Empire”, which have won him several awards as a director from The Edgard Allan Poe Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards and the Emmy Awards.
Ken Howard as Coach Ken Reeves
The main character in “The White Shadow”, coach Ken Reeves, was played by actor Ken Howard. After the show ended, Howard went on to develop an incredible career as an actor, appearing in a number of TV shows and feature films.
In 1982 he won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming – Performers for “The Body Human: Facts for Boys” and in 2009 a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in “Grey Gardens”, the same year he was elected President of The Screen Actors Guild. He passed away in 2016, at the age of 71.
Some fascinating facts about “The White Shadow” that you probably didn’t know
It was one of the first shows in which a major character was killed
Although nowadays it is actually quite common to see main characters being killed on TV shows, it wasn’t so a few years ago. “The White Shadow” was indeed one of the first shows to get away with it, when character Curtis Jackson, played by Erik Kilpatrick, was shot and killed during a robbery in the episode “The Death of me Yet”.
Some of the cast members went on to become accomplished directors
There were quite a few actors that starred in the show, that actually went on to pursue highly successful careers as talented directors. Such is the case of Timothy Van Patten, Kevin Hooks and Thomas Carter, who became famous for directing several highly popular TV shows and feature films.
Timothy directed a few popular HBO series such as “The Sopranos”, “The Wire” and “Game of Thrones”, Kevin Hooks directed episodes for “24”, “Prison Break” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, and Thomas Carter directed “Coach Carter”, “Save the Last Dance” and the inspiring sports film “When the Game Stands Tall”.
The theme was written by song legend Mike Post
Mike Post, known for composing some of the most popular instrumental theme songs on TV, was also responsible for "The White Shadow"’s funky main song. The “A-Team”’s triumphant intro, the slap bass of “Law and Order”, and the music of “The Rockford Files”, “Magnum P.I.” or “N.Y.P.D. Blue” were some of his other incredible hits.
Gwyneth Paltrow's dad created the show
“The White Shadow” was Bruce Paltrow’s first major network show, which ended up launching his career as a producer. The show’s basketball team uniforms actually had the same colors like the ones from his former high school. From there, Gwyneth Paltrow’s dad went on to create the highly acclaimed medical drama “St. Elsewhere”.
Some of the characters were featured in a few ESPN "This is SportsCenter" ads
ESPN’s comedic This is SportsCenter ads featured some of the show’s characters such as Coach Reeves and Warren Coolidge. In the ad “Don’t Walk”, Coolidge is seen singing in a parody of the hit song “We Are the World” and he also appears in the "Small World" ad alongside Coach Reeves.
The show crossed over with “St. Elsewhere”
The character Warren Coolidge, played by Byron Stewart, would, later on, appear as an orderly on the show “St. Elsewhere”, also produced by Bruce Paltrow. Actor Timothy Van Patten, who played "Salami" on “The White Shadow”, also made a guest appearance on St. Elsewhere, although not playing the same character.
In high school, Ken Howard was known as "The White Shadow"
Ken Howards, who played Ken Reeves, the former Chicago Bulls star turned high school basketball coach, actually was known as “The White Shadow” while playing for the Manhasset High School 's basketball team as the only white starter on the team.
Were you a fan of “The White Shadow” and was it one of your favorite shows back in the days? And which was your favorite character? Let us know your thoughts on this memorable show and what you most liked about it.