Jane Withers was an American actress and children’s radio show host who lived from April 12, 1926, to August 7, 2021. In the 1930s and early 1940s, she was one of Hollywood’s most popular child stars, with her films ranking in the top 10 for box office gross in 1937 and 1938.
She began her career in the entertainment industry at the age of three, and in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, she had her own children’s radio programme during the Golden Age of Radio. She and her mother relocated to Hollywood in 1932, where she worked as an extra in a number of films until obtaining her breakthrough part in the 1934 picture Bright Eyes as the pampered, unpleasant Joy Smythe opposite Shirley Temple’s angelic orphan Shirley Blake.
She worked on 38 films until retiring in 1947 at the age of 21. In the 1950s, she returned to cinema and television as a character performer. She played Josephine the Plumber in a series of television ads for Comet cleaner from 1963 until 1974. She provided voice work for Disney animated films in the 1990s and early 2000s. She was included in a number of Golden Age of Hollywood documentary retrospectives. She was also known for her enormous doll collection and charities.
Jane Withers Bio/Wiki[table id=3384 /]
Jane Withers was born on April 12, 1926, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Walter Edward Withers and Lavinia Ruth (née Elble). She was the only child of Walter Edward Withers and Lavinia Ruth (née Elble). Ruth’s own ambitions to be an actress had been squashed by her parents. She decided before Jane was born that she would have one daughter who would pursue a career in show business, and picked the name Jane because “it would fit on a marquee even with a long last name like Withers.”In their local Presbyterian church, Ruth taught Sunday school and Walter taught Bible studies. Throughout Jane’s life, the family repeated blessings at mealtime and dedicated themselves to humanitarian deeds.
The family would bring “six busloads of orphan youngsters” to their house for lunch and afternoon entertainment after church and Sunday school in both Atlanta and Hollywood. Ruth put Jane in a tap dancing school when she was two years old, and she also trained her to sing. Jane began her career in show business at the age of three, when she won a local amateur competition named Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop. She was cast in Aunt Sally’s Kiddie Revue, a Saturday morning children’s programme broadcast on WGST radio in Atlanta, in which she sang, danced, and imitated movie stars such as W. C. Fields, ZaSu Pitts, Maurice Chevalier, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, and Greta Garbo. She had her own radio show, Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop, at the age of three and a half, when she interviewed celebrities who were visiting Atlanta.
Ruth moved Jane to Hollywood before her sixth birthday in 1932, after two years of radio employment, to investigate film chances. Walter stayed in Atlanta and sent them $100 a month to survive. Jane did cartoon voice-overs, modelled, and performed on children’s shows on KFWB radio in Los Angeles. She obtained her first film job as an extra when their next-door neighbour invited her to her daughter’s Handle with Care audition (1932). While the other youngsters talked with director David Butler, Withers stood to the side. The assistant director approached her and inquired as to why she was not standing with the rest of the group. “Sir, I did not get an invitation to the interview. I travelled with a group of pals “, she answered.
Butler had seen her and wanted her to interview as well, according to the assistant director. Withers had her first film appearance in Handle with Care, however, she and the other youngsters were photographed with their backs to the camera. Withers went on to participate in a number more films as an uncredited extra, but she did occasionally get a line of dialogue. Her look at tryouts set her apart from the other girls: she had a Dutchboy hairstyle and preferred fitted clothing to fancy outfits. “Every interview I ever went on, I was the only one wearing a fitted dress with straight bangs and a straight haircut, no curls or frills,” she recounted. Butler was the one who initially noticed anything odd about her.
He said to her, “You’re unlike any other youngster in Hollywood that I’ve ever seen. You have a unique quality, and one day you will be a famous little star “. W. C. Fields chose Withers from a group of juvenile extras to do a pantomime hopscotch sequence with him when she was working as an extra on It’s a Gift (1934). Following that, he commended her timing and summoned Jane’s mother to congratulate her on her skill and forecast that she would go far. Withers’ major break came two years later when she received a supporting role in Butler’s Shirley Temple picture Bright Eyes (also 1934).
Butler asked her if she could replicate a machine gun during her interview, and she agreed. Her impersonations also captivated the casting director. Her character, Joy Smythe, is privileged and unpleasant, making her the ideal counterbalance for Temple’s charming demeanour. Withers was worried that audiences would resent her for being so cruel to Temple, yet the movie was a box office success. “You stole the film,” director Butler confessed in Withers, according to Withers.
Withers got a seven-year deal with Fox Film Corporation after production concluded. Her contract gave her the authority to pick the crew members who would work on her shows. All of her future films were produced by her staff, called the “Withers Family.” After Withers signed her contract with Fox, her mother put $10,000 into learning new talents to help her become more versatile as an actor, with the goal of investing $20,000 over the next eight years. “Ice skating classes, voice training, horseback, dance, French, Spanish, and swimming instruction” were among the activities.
Jane Withers Personal Life
While Withers was known for playing a brat onscreen, she was described as “one of Hollywood’s most pleasant and well-behaved adolescents” off-screen. Her parents kept a watchful eye on her upbringing to ensure she didn’t become spoilt or entitled. Ruth highlighted how she and her husband urged Jane to develop a charitable disposition rather than succumb to the egoism and self-centeredness that a child celebrity may acquire as the target of loving fans and studio “sycophants” in a 1942 newspaper story. For example, when Withers began receiving dolls as gifts from admirers to add to her collection, her parents asked that she give away one doll for every two she got.
Her parents insisted that she spend her allowance money to buy identical dolls for less fortunate children when she started buying dolls to expand the collection. Despite her substantial earnings from film parts, the money was put in trust funds and annuities, and Withers had to use her allowance money to buy things she wanted, which frequently required weeks of saving. Her weekly allowance was stated to be $5 in 1938, it was doubled to $10 in 1941. To help Withers cope with the pressures of being a child celebrity, her parents made sure she had fun while keeping her activities monitored and close to home.
Withers joined the Girl Scouts and the meeting was held at her parents’ house. The Withers’ house, a 4-acre (1.6 ha) model home at 10731 Sunset Boulevard that they bought in 1936, included a swimming pool, badminton court, and a 78-foot (24-meter)-long playroom that Withers and her fellow Hollywood child performers used often. Her afternoon pool parties lasted far into her adolescence, and she was featured in several fan magazines. Her parents added a second-floor extension with a beauty shop and soda fountain for Withers to entertain her friends when she was a teenager.
She also had two horses, three kittens, “eight turtles, three baby alligators, 24 white Leghorn chickens, 12 turkeys, 2 Chinese hens,” a rooster, six bantams, two ducks, seven frogs, and six dogs when she was a youngster. At the family’s Lake Arrowhead cottage, where they spent weekends and vacations.
The media covered Withers’ birthday parties every year, describing them as “the social event of the season for movie town’s little fry.”Her parents spent $18,000 on a 21-seat cargo plane to give party attendees a low-altitude flight for her twelfth birthday. At Withers’ thirteenth birthday celebration, 60 young guests dressed up and competed in a balloon dance and jitterbug contest; the event was featured in a two-page Life magazine story.
Withers’ “sweet sixteen” celebration, which had 150 people and included a hayride and barn dance, was shot by Paramount Pictures for the Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood series in 1942. During World War II, the short was adapted to 16 mm film and shown to US troops stationed overseas. Withers invited U.S. troops and their dates to her eighteenth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, which had a circus theme. Withers’ twenty-first birthday celebration was supposed to be held in a nightclub with 200 people, but due to the flu, she instead served cake and ice cream and watched movies with 12 close friends in her own suite at home.
In her early teens, Withers was allowed to go on chaperoned dates with guys her age; at the age of 16, she was allowed to go on solo dates. Since 1936, when she was threatened with kidnapping, she has always been escorted by round-the-clock guardians. Ruth “handled all talks with producers, monitored publicity, and entirely managed Jane’s off-screen life” throughout Withers’ first 15 years in cinema.
Ruth, on the other hand, was not your average stage mother. She was frequently on the sound stage, but she didn’t watch Jane record her sequences, and she didn’t give any studio staff any directions or complaints. Walter Withers, on the other hand, did not work in the film industry at all, instead of working as a salesperson for a California wholesale furniture company.
Jane Withers Religion
Withers was a faithful Christian despite her divorce. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church, just like her parents. She co-taught Sunday school with actresses Eleanor Powell and Gloria Hatrick McLean at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. She was a trustee of the Los Angeles Church of Religious Science.
Jane Withers Professional Career
On her ninth birthday, Withers began filming her first leading role in Ginger (1935). On the set that day, she got two bouquets of flowers: one from Fields, who had written about her casting in Bright Eyes, and the other from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had seen her mimic him on a newsreel. She had a small appearance in The Farmer Takes a Wife and then featured in This Is the Life the following year. Her day of production in The Farmer Takes a Wife coincided with Henry Fonda’s cinematic debut, and she encouraged him and prayed for his success, recognising his trepidation.
Withers featured in three to five films each year during the rest of the 1930s. Paddy O’Day, Gentle Julia, Little Miss Nobody, and Pepper were among her 1936 films. In 1937, she starred in The Holy Terror, Angel’s Holiday, Wild and Woolly, Can This Be Dixie?, 45 Fathers, and Checkers, among other comedies, dramas, and Westerns. She starred in three Fox comedies in 1938: Rascals, Keep Smiling, and Always in Trouble. The Arizona Wildcat, Boy Friend, Chicken Wagon Family, and Pack Up Your Troubles were among her four comedic appearances in 1939. Even over other well-known artists, Withers was frequently given first billing.
Withers didn’t learn her lines word for word, preferring to think about them and extract the “meaning” from them; she frequently improvised when she became lost in a scene. She was a natural mimic who did on-set and off-set impersonations of movie stars. Darryl Zanuck, the studio boss at Twentieth Century Fox, reportedly barred her from performing her Shirley Temple impersonation in public. Withers openly shared her thoughts and opinions with screenwriters and directors. She sat in on authors’ conferences since she was a youngster, suggesting alterations in a speech that would be more suitable for a child to say.
She also recommended Jackie Searl, whom she had met at tryouts, and 16-year-old Rita Cansino (later became Rita Hayworth), whom she had seen dancing on an adjoining sound stage and recommended for a supporting role in Paddy O’Day. By acting as a go-between between 20th Century Fox studio president Joseph M. Schenck and Republic Pictures chief Herbert J. Yates at the age of 13, she took the initiative to create a picture with Gene Autry. Though neither studio was ready to lend its top player to the other, Withers proposed that Fox transfer three other contract actors to Republic Pictures in exchange for Autry, who was paid $25,000 to co-star in Shooting High with Withers (1940).
Withers was the first and only child celebrity to sign a seven-year deal. Most studio contracts featured a series of six-month option periods during which the company might cancel the contract if the actor’s films were no longer profitable. Withers was held to a lesser standard than an A-movie performer whose films would cost the studio far more money because all but one of her films were low-budget B movies. Furthermore, Withers’ B movies were able to be exhibited in many more local theatres due to the reduced rental prices, which increased her appeal. Withers’ films topped the box office gross revenues list in 1937 and 1938. Withers earned $5,000 per week for personal appearance tours in addition to her studio contract.
Withers slimmed down to 100 lb (45 kg) and a size 12 dress in 1938–1939 by following a balanced diet and doing stretching exercises. In the 1939 picture Boy Friend, she experienced her first on-screen kiss. She starred in the teen flicks High School, The Girl from Avenue A, and Youth Will Be Served and co-starred with Gene Autry in the 1940 picture Shooting High. However, as she got older, she and her fans became disillusioned with the immature parts that were being presented to her. Withers penned the screenplay for Small Town Deb (1941), in which she also appeared, under the alias Jerrie Walters.
“Her personal experiences of not being allowed to grow up by the studio were transferred into the tale of a young girl whose mother isn’t letting her grow up, to be herself, and to discover herself,” Withers said in a 2003 interview. Withers requested that the studio offers fifteen $1,500 scholarships for youngsters to pursue music and acting, as well as two upright pianos for her Sunday school groups, as payment for the script.
Withers got her second seven-year deal with 20th Century Fox in 1941. In the first year of the contract, she was expected to earn $2,750 per week, rising to $3,000 per week in the second year. Golden Hoofs and A Very Young Lady were her other comedies for 20th Century Fox this year. Young America, a military drama, and The Mad Martindales, a comedy, were her final pictures for Fox, both released in 1942. For Columbia Pictures, she also directed Her First Beau (1941).
Withers signed a three-year, $225,000 deal with Republic Pictures in 1942. Johnny Doughboy (1942), My Best Gal and Faces in the Fog (all 1944), and Affairs of Geraldine (1945) were her Republic pictures (1946). Her other films in the 1940s were RKO Pictures’ The North Star (1943) and Paramount Pictures’ Danger Street (1947).
In the 1930s, Withers and Shirley Temple were two of the most prominent child actors contracted to 20th Century Fox. Unlike Temple’s sweet and endearing roles, Withers was frequently cast as a wayward little girl or “a tomboy rogue,” earning her the moniker “America’s favourite problem kid.” According to Zierold, Withers’ characters “are frequently in difficulty, or fixes,’ and prone to brawls.” Withers was hailed as “a natural clown” by Hollywood gossip journalist Louella Parsons. Temple’s “pudgy yet delicate” physique and blonde ringlets contrasted with Withers’ “stocky and strong” frame and straight black hair as a toddler. Withers and Temple were frequently cast as orphans, and their presence had a transformational impact on others around them.
But, while Temple was usually looked after by father figures, Withers was usually looked after by uncles, both real and imagined; this, according to Pamela Wojcik, author of Fantasies of Neglect: Imagining the Urban Child in American Film and Fiction, introduced the narrative of queerness through alternative family structures. Withers’ sassy movie character lasted far into her adolescence. Withers was “cast as the rude, smart-aleck youngster as opposed to Deanna Durbin’s or Judy Garland’s spunky and lovely teenager,” according to Farley Granger.
Withers worked as a voice actor for Disney animated films in the 1990s. She was requested in 1995 to record certain lines of speech in the style of Mary Wickes, who had recorded the voice of Laverne the gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) but died during post-production. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Withers reprised his role (2002). Withers narrated audiobooks, including a rendition of Mary Pickford’s Why Not Try God? for a Christian institution in Southern California.
She was interviewed on various television documentary retrospectives of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1990s. She was the subject of a 45-minute A&E Biography that aired in 2003. In 1990, Withers began to show signs of lupus. She was diagnosed with the condition at the age of eleven and went into remission after ten years. In 2007, she began to experience vertigo.
Withers made her theatrical debut in Busby Berkeley’s musical comedy Glad To See You in late 1944. After seven weeks of tryouts in Philadelphia and Boston, the Broadway production was cancelled. Withers performed the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn torch ballad “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” which was composed specifically for the production and was shortly sung by Frank Sinatra and Kate Smith, and went on to become a jazz and pop standard.
In 1971, Withers featured alongside Shirley Temple Black in the Broadway musical comedy Sure, Sure, Shirley, which drew her out of retirement. The show, which included a tap dancing routine with 50 chorus dancers, was put on as a benefit for diabetes on opening night.
Withers died on August 7, 2021, in Burbank, California, at the age of 95.
After a two-year flirtation, Withers announced her engagement to William (Bill) Moss, a Texas entrepreneur and film producer, in May 1947. On September 20, 1947, they married. With their three children, the couple resided on ranches in Midland, Texas, and New Mexico. They divorced in July 1954, with Withers claiming her husband’s “excessive drinking and gambling” as the reason for their separation. [She was awarded a $1 million property settlement, which included monthly alimony and child support, a trust fund and insurance fund for the kids, and a half-interest in Moss’s Texas oil fields, as well as full custody of the kids.
Withers was hospitalised for five months in 1953 with severe rheumatoid arthritis and gained total paralysis due to mental stress about the upcoming divorce. She was able to heal without any long-term consequences.
On their wedding day in 1955, Withers and Errair Withers wedded singer Kenneth Errair of The Four Freshmen in October 1955, and they had two additional children. Errair perished in an aircraft crash in Bass Lake, California, in June 1968. One of Withers’ sons died of cancer later in life.
Jane Withers Net Worth
Jane Withers was an actress from the United States with a net worth of $5 million when she died.
She was known for portraying “Josephine the Plumber” in a series of advertisements for Comet cleaner in the 1960s and 1970s, and for being one of the most popular child cinema stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Jane Withers, who lived to be 95 years old, died on August 7, 2021.
August 7, 2021