Jane Withers, child actor turned commercial star, dies at 95 – NBC Boston



Jane Withers, the former child actress who tormented Shirley Temple onscreen and starred in a series of B movies that made her a box office champion, has died, her daughter has said. She was 95 years old.

Withers, also known as “Josephine the Plumber” in television commercials of the 1960s and 1970s, died on Saturday, her daughter Kendall Errair said. Withers was one of the last stars of the 1930s and 1940s, the height of Hollywood studio domination.

After a series of minor roles as a child actress, Withers was cast by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1934’s “Bright Eyes” as the archenemy of the lovable Temple, then the most popular star of Hollywood.

“I had to play the meanest, scariest little girl God ever put on this planet,” Withers recalls in 2000. “I ran over Shirley with a tricycle and a stroller. And I thought,” Oh my God, everyone is going to hate me forever because I was so scary with Shirley Temple! ‘”

It didn’t happen that way. Critics claimed she stole the photo from Shirley. The kids wrote letters from fans admiring what she did to Shirley “because she’s so perfect.”

Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck figured there was room for another child actress at the studio, and she signed a contract. She played the anti-Shirley, a bright, talkative and silly prone girl with big eyes, chubby cheeks and straight dark hair that contrasted with Shirley’s curly blonde top.

For four years, Fox produced three or four Withers films a year at budgets well below Temple specials. Among the titles: “Ginger”, “Paddy O’Day”, “Little Miss Nobody”, “Wild and Wooly” and “Arizona Wildcat”.

Even though B-frames were aimed at the bottom half of double bills, a survey of movie theater owners named Withers one of the top-grossing stars in 1936 and 1937.

While the Temple films were shot at Fox’s modern Westwood field, Withers shot his at the old Sunset Boulevard studio in Hollywood.

“I was not allowed to shoot at Westwood until Shirley left the studio,” she said.

Withers turned out to be less bad as a teenager, and his career declined.

As an adult, she appeared in a few films and on television.

His greatest notoriety came from portraying “Josephine” in TV commercials for the Comet cleaner for 12 years.

“Oh, the money is fine, okay,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1963. “I got five numbers for eight of these ads, and I’m doing four more.”

The main advantage, she said, was that unlike the Broadway offers she was receiving, the job did not interfere with her family life in Hollywood.

She said in a later interview with The Times that she thought Josephine’s original character was “too smart, too brash,” but she believed “any woman who went on to become a plumber” would be proud of her job and care. of its customers. .

Fame started early for Jane Withers. Born April 12, 1926 in Atlanta, she appeared as Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop on local radio at the age of 3.

Her mother had bigger ambitions and she persuaded her husband to move the family to Hollywood.

Jane has played small roles in films and provided vocals for the Willie Whopper and Looney Tunes cartoons.

His experience with WC Fields in “It’s a Gift” (1934) belies the legend – encouraged by Fields himself – that the comedian hated children. Fields chose her for a scene in which she was playing hopscotch outside her store, frustrating her exit. He coached her and then praised her professionalism.

When she landed her first lead role, he sent her two big bouquets and a note saying, “I know you’re going to knock them out in ‘Ginger’ and you’re going to have a fantastic career.”

Its popularity led to Jane Withers dolls and other merchandise. At her peak, she was earning $ 2,500 per week and $ 50,000 per year in endorsements. Unlike other child stars, her earnings did not disappear.

She explained in 1974: “Fortunately, my father really liked the Californian land. He got a little into real estate in a wonderful way.

During her childhood, she began to collect dolls and teddy bears, and she continued throughout her life. In 1988, she stated that she owned 12,000 dolls and 2,500 teddy bears that were packed and crated in a 27,000 square foot warehouse.

Withers’ movie appearances as an adult were sporadic, in part due to three marriages and five children. His most notable credits were “Giant” (1956) and “Captain Newman, MD” (1963).

In 1947, Withers left Hollywood to live with her first husband, oil producer William Moss, in Midland, Texas. The marriage produced three children and ended after seven years.

She returned to Hollywood and was crippled by arthritis. She recovered after spending five months in the hospital.

She had two more children with her second husband Kenneth Errair, one of the group’s four first-year singers, who died in 1968. In 1985, she married Thomas Pierson, a travel agency executive.

An interviewer in 1974 asked Withers how she managed to escape the issues that plagued many child stars as adults. A longtime Presbyterian, she commented, “I have always presented my problems to the good Lord, and I have never failed to get an answer.

The late AP Entertainment writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material for this story.


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