Geneviève Waïte, who entered controversial cinematic territory in 1968 when she played the title role in “Joanna,” a film about a young white woman in swinging ′60s London who has an affair with a black man, died May 18 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 71.
Her daughter, actress Bijou Phillips, announced the death. She gave no cause.
“She was a beautiful soul, and born from another planet,” Phillips said. “She was a light, a fairy, and a gift of a creature.”
As Joanna, a waifish, promiscuous art student, Waïte bed-hopped through mod London and fell in love with a black nightclub owner, played by Calvin Lockhart. They had a love scene, and Joanna had his baby.
It was not the first movie to depict an interracial romance; it followed movies like “Island in the Sun” (1957) and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), with Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. But the theme remained a daring one in those years.
Waïte had recognized that the film would not be met with favor in her native South Africa, which at the time still had a policy of apartheid. And it wasn’t: Theaters there refused to show it.
“If it happened in real life at home, I would be jailed for it,” she was quoted by Jet magazine as saying of her onscreen romance. “As it is, I don’t know whether I will be able to return. There is already considerable anger that I should have agreed to do the picture. But I don’t regret doing it.”
Waïte’s time in the spotlight lasted only a few more years.
Richard Avedon photographed her for Vogue in 1971. A year later she married John Phillips, a founder of the Mamas and the Papas. Phillips composed most of the songs on her only album, “Romance Is on the Rise” (1974), which she sang in a dreamy, babyish, Betty Boop-like voice; she was also credited with writing four of the songs with him.
“I always wanted to sing, but everybody always told me to shut up before,” she told The Associated Press in 1975. “My family threw things at me when I opened my mouth. But I can’t help it. This is me.”
An album release party that July featured invitations to the “christening of Miss Geneviève Waïte, the Glamour Queen of Rock.”
In 1975 she was cast in “Man on the Moon,” a Broadway musical written by Phillips, produced by Andy Warhol and featuring a cast that included Denny Doherty of the Mamas and the Papas and Monique Van Vooren. It closed after 10 performances.
Geneviève Weight (she later changed the spelling of her last name) was born on Feb. 13, 1948, in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved with her family to Johannesburg when she was a baby.
She had acted in a few films in South Africa as a teenager before moving in 1966 to England, where she became a fashion model. Two years later, she was cast in “Joanna.”
“Geneviève Waïte casts a spell as Joanna which haunts you long after the film is over,” Bernard Drew, a critic for the Gannett newspaper chain, wrote, adding that she “creates an indelible portrait and ineradicable memory — not of a real girl, but an essence.”
She had roles in only a few other films, including “Myra Breckinridge” and “Move,” both in 1970. Her last movie was “Short Distance” (1989).
Her marriage to Phillips, which ended in the late 1980s, had its share of tribulations, in particular drug abuse.
“I had an insatiable cocaine habit,” Phillips told People magazine in a 1981 interview. “Geneviève and I were doing a quarter-ounce or half-ounce a day. We were taking 60 Dilaudids a day, 160 milligrams of morphine, heroin and everything else.” The couple and Phillips’ daughter Mackenzie, who had been a star of the sitcom “One Day at a Time,” all went for treatment at a New Jersey facility in 1980.
In addition to her daughter, Bijou, and her stepdaughter, Mackenzie, Waïte’s survivors include a son, Tamerlane; another stepdaughter, singer Chynna Phillips; and a stepson, Jeffrey Phillips.
In 1995, Waïte castigated Calvin Klein for canceling an advertising campaign for a line of high-priced jeans for which her daughter was one of the teenage models. A group of child welfare authorities and conservative groups had called the campaign overly suggestive.
“The kids are crushed,” Waïte was quoted as saying in The Daily News. “They’re hurt because they’re just kids. It took them a year to prepare for this. I think he should have stood by them.”