Jane Withers, a legend of Hollywood’s Golden Age and former child star died Saturday in Burbank, California, surrounded by loved ones.
Withers’ daughter Kendall Errair said,
“My mother was such a special lady.
She lit up a room with her laughter, but she especially radiated joy and thankfulness when talking about the career she so loved and how lucky she was.”
Withers began tap lessons at age 2, and she was cast in the Saturday morning children’s show Aunt Sally’s Kiddie Revue after winning a local contest. By age 3, she landed her own radio show, in which she sang, danced, joked, and impersonated movie stars, in addition to interviewing celebs that passed through Atlanta.
She and her mother moved to LA just before her 6th birthday to pursue a career in Hollywood. Withers told People back in 1974.
“Mother was determined to have only one child, a girl, who would go into show business, which she had wanted to do so much herself.”
Withers big break came in 1934 starring opposite Shirley Temple in the film Bright Eyes where she stole scenes as Joy Smythe, the spoiled 8-year-old daughter of a family who employs the mother of Temple’s character as a maid.
The the young actress signed a seven-year contract with Fox, appearing in three to five films a year. She got her first starring role in the 1935 feature Ginger. It began filming on her 9th birthday. Withers played an orphan who’s taken in by a rich family after her uncle gets arrested.
She became one of the most popular child stars in Hollywood in the 30s 40s, with her films ranking in the top ten for box-office gross in 1937 and 1938.
She later wrote and starred in the 1941 teen movie Small Town Deb, which she penned under a pseudonym in attempt to get more mature roles in Hollywood.
At the ripe old age of 21, Withers retired from Hollywood to focus on starting a family, marrying twice and raising five children. She later returned to LA in 1955, where she attended UCLA to study film. She later went on to star in Giant, opposite Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor and for a decade she was in ads for Comet as the friendly female plumber, Josephine.
Withers was born in Atlanta on April 12, 1926. Her mother named her Jane, so that
“even with a long last name like Withers, it would fit on a marquee.”
In fact, Mother turned down several marriage proposals because the men wouldn’t go along with the plan. When she was carrying me she’d study movie marquees trying to decide on a name to go with Withers. She taught me to sing, although she doesn’t sing on pitch herself. Luckily I do, although I never know what key I’m singing in.
She’d take me to the movies when I was 2 and 3 so I could learn.”
Jane Withers was 95.
(Photos, YouTube, Warner Bros; via People)