NEW YORK — Julia Wilson wore pearls and a face of reassurance as she and her husband, Robert, took their seats on an airplane half a century ago. Robert Wilson had just been released from a sanitarium. Six months earlier he had suffered a mental breakdown — on an airplane.
‘‘Honey, you are cured,’’ Julia Wilson told her anxious husband. ‘‘That Dr. Martin wouldn’t let you fly if you weren’t — would he?’’
The Wilsons believed they were heading home. Viewers that night in 1963 were forewarned of their real destination: ‘‘The Twilight Zone.’’
The episode, ‘‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’’ based on a short story by Richard Matheson, portrays a man’s descent from anxiety into startling but possibly lifesaving violence as he takes action to stop a ‘‘gremlin’’ that only he can see on the plane’s left wing tampering with an engine. The episode became a classic.
The show was dominated by the increasing terror of Robert Wilson, played by William Shatner; the ghoulish camp of the gremlin, played by Nick Cravat; and the increasingly strained composure of Julia Wilson, played by Christine White.
Ms. White died April 14 at 86 in a Washington nursing home, according to a death notice published May 11 in The Carroll County Times in Maryland.
Her role in ‘‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’’ may not have been as prominent as those of Shatner or Cravat. But it was central to the episode.
Christine Lamson White was born on May 4, 1926, in Washington. She received a degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1947. She performed in plays in college and moved to New York after she graduated to pursue a career in theater. By the early 1950s she was in Hollywood, where she appeared in movies and television shows well into the 1970s, including ‘‘Bonanza,’’ “The Rifleman,’’ “The Untouchables,” and ‘‘Father Knows Best.’’