Jane Withers, the introductory child actor who bedevilled Shirley Temple on the screen and went on to feature in a series of B movies that made her a box-office hero, has passed away, her daughter explained. She was 95.
Withers also realized as ‘Josephine the Plumber’ from TV commercials in the 1960s and ’70s, perished Saturday, her daughter Kendall Errair said. Withers was one of the last remaining celebrities from the 1930s and 1940s, the height of Hollywood studio dominance.
After a cycle of minor roles as a child actress, Withers was cast by Twentieth Century-Fox in the 1934 “Bright Eyes,” as the vigilante of lovable Temple, then Hollywood’s most prominent celebrity.
“I had to play the meanest, creepiest little girl that God ever put on this planet,” Withers remembered 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!”
It didn’t turn out that way. Critics alleged that she snatched the image from Shirley. Children wrote fan letters admiring what she did to Shirley “because she’s so perfect.”
Fox boss Darryl F Zanuck estimated there was room for another child actress at the studio, and she was approved to an agreement. She played a bright, talky, mischief-prone girl with wide eyes, chubby cheeks and upright black hair that differed from Shirley’s blonde curly top.
For four years, Fox published three or four Withers films yearly at budgets far lower than the Temple specials. Among the titles: “Ginger,” “Paddy O’Day,” “Little Miss Nobody,” “Wild and Wooly” and “Arizona Wildcat.”
Even though B pictures were conducted for the bottom half of double bills, a theatre holders poll named Withers one of the top money-making celebrities in 1936 and 1937.
While the Temple movies were made on Fox’s modern Westwood lot, Withers made hers at the old studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
“I wasn’t allowed to shoot in Westwood until Shirley left the studio,” she said.
Withers verified less of a draw as a teenager, and her career decreased.
As an adult, she emerged in a few movies and on television.
Her biggest prestige came from portraying “Josephine” in TV commercials for Comet cleanser for 12 years.
“Oh, the money is nice, all right,” she said the Los Angeles Times in 1963. “I got five figures for eight of those commercials, and I’m doing four more.”
The main benefit, she said, was that unlike the Broadway gives she was getting, the job didn’t impede her home life in Hollywood.
She said in a Times interview that she believed the actual Josephine character was “too smart-alecky, too brash,” but she thought “any lady who was going to become a plumber” would take dignity in her work and care about her clients.
Fame began early for Jane Withers. Born April 12, 1926, in Atlanta, she had emerged as Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop on local radio by the age of 3.
Her mother had greater intentions, and she convinced her husband to move the family to Hollywood.
Jane played handful roles in films and provided voices for the Willie Whopper and the Looney Tunes cartoons.
Her knowledge with W.C. Fields in “It’s a Gift” (1934) misleads the legend that the comedian hated children. Fields chose her for a scene in which she played hopscotch in front of his store, discouraging his exit. He tutored her and afterwards honuored her professionalism.
When she won her first featuring role, he sent her two large flowers and a note saying, “I know you’re going to knock them dead in ‘Ginger’ and you’re going to have a fantastic career.”
Her popularity led to Jane Withers dolls and other product. At her peak, she was receiving $2,500 a week and $50,000 a year in authorizations. Unlike other child celebrities, her earnings did not vanish.
She clarified in 1974: “Fortunately, my dad had a great love of California land. He kind of dibble-dabbled in real estate in a marvellous way.”
During her childhood, she commenced compiling dolls and teddy bears, and she continued throughout her lifetime. In 1988 she reported that she possessed 12,000 dolls and 2,500 teddy bears which were boxed and crated in a 27,000-square-foot warehouse.
Withers’ film arrivals as an adult were periodic, somewhat because of three marriages and five children. Her most notable prestige were “Giant” (1956) and “Captain Newman, M.D.” (1963).
In 1947, Withers departed Hollywood to reside with her first husband, producer-oil man William Moss, in Midland, Texas. The marriage generated three children and ended after seven years.
She came back to Hollywood and was disabled with arthritis. She recouped after finishing five months in a hospital.
She had two more children with her second husband Kenneth EError one of the Four Freshmen singing group, who dorished in 1968. In 1985 she married Thomas Pierson, a travel agency executive.
An interviewer in 1974 inquired Withers how she survived to exit the troubles that afflicted many child celebrities in adulthood. A lifelong Presbyterian, she commented: “I always took my troubles to the good Lord, and I never failed to get an answer.”