Child Actor Jane Withers Dead At 95
Jane Withers, a child star of the 1930s and 1940s who specialized in impish roles, an antidote to the cloying sweetness of Shirley Temple, and who later became a TV fixture as Josephine the Plumber in advertisements for Comet scouring powder is dead at 95.
Her daughter Kendall Errair confirmed the death to the Associated Press but did not provide additional details.
“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.”
Driven by her mother, a thwarted actress, Ms. Withers debuted on the vaudeville stage at 2 and by 4 had her own radio show in Atlanta billed as “Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop.” She specialized in impressions of newsmakers and noted actors, from Greta Garbo to Maurice Chevalier.
Her mother, she said, was convinced the dimpled child would be a sensation. Two years later, Ms. Withers had her breakthrough as Temple’s bratty, apple-cheeked nemesis in “Bright Eyes” (1934): a spoiled rich girl who tries to mow down Temple with a tricycle, demands a machine gun as a present, and rips the arms off dolls.
“I had to play the meanest, creepiest little girl that God ever put on this planet,” Withers recalled in 2000. “I ran over Shirley with a tricycle and a baby buggy. And I thought, ‘Oh dear, everybody’s going to hate me forever because I was so creepy mean to Shirley Temple!'”
Quite to the contrary, audiences loved Withers. The young actress signed a seven-year contract with Fox Film Corporation, appearing in three to five films a year.
Her first starring role, in the 1935 film “Ginger,” began filming on Wither’s 9th birthday. She played an orphan adopted by a rich family after her uncle’s arrest.
Other titles included “Paddy O’Day,” “Little Miss Nobody,” “Wild and Wooly” and “The Arizona Wildcat.” A theater owners poll named Withers one of the top money-making stars in 1936 and 1937.