Mike White, the mind behind HBO hit “The White Lotus,” has a local connection: His dad, Mel White, grew up in Santa Cruz in the 1950s and ‘60s, and his grandfather Carl White was the city’s mayor.
Is there a Santa Cruz angle to the lurid HBO drama “The White Lotus”? You bet there is. The show’s lead writer and showrunner is actor/screenwriter Mike White, one of Hollywood’s biggest players these days, thanks to the buzz generated by “White Lotus.” Mike White’s dad is Mel White, who grew up in Santa Cruz in the 1950s and ’60s (Mel’s father, and Mike’s grandfather, was former Santa Cruz mayor Carl White). If Mike White’s story of rising to fame in Hollywood is amazing, Mel’s story might be even more so. Mel White was a conservative evangelical who was a ghostwriter and advisor to some of the biggest names in the Christian right, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
But White had a secret. He was gay. For years, he tried to “cure” himself with aversion therapy that included electric shock treatment. Finally, he had an epiphany, embraced his sexuality, and walked away from the Christian right, earning him condemnation from both religious conservatives who thought of him as a heretic and progressive LGBT activists who viewed him as an apologist for homophobic religious leaders. Eventually, he devoted his life to opening the church to gay people and preaching tolerance and acceptance to conservative Christians. He has also written several books on the struggles of being gay and Christian.
Mel White is now 82 and lives with his husband, Gary Nixon, in the Palm Springs area. He is suffering from several medical maladies, most prominently dementia. His life bridging two mutually suspicious communities would make a great movie, and it’s a safe bet that’s crossed the mind of his son, the big Hollywood showrunner. Memo to Mike: Maybe it’s time to expend a bit of that “White Lotus” capital and get a film about your father made. We here in Santa Cruz will be the first in line to see it.