Withers, Jane (1926—)
Withers, Jane (1926—)
American vaudeville, radio, film, and television actress. Born on April 12, 1926, in Atlanta, Georgia; daughter of Walter Withers and Lavinia Ruth Withers; educated at Boston Academy, Atlanta, and Lawlor's Professional School; married William Moss, Jr., in 1947 (divorced 1954); married Kenneth Errair, in 1955 (died 1968); children: (first marriage) Wendy, William III, and Randy; (second marriage) Kenneth and Kendall.
Handle with Care (1932); Bright Eyes (1934); Ginger (1935); The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935); This Is the Life (1935); Paddy O'Day (1935); Gentle Julia (1936); Little Miss Nobody (1936); Pepper (1936); Can This Be Dixie? (1936); The Holy Terror (1937); Angel's Holiday (1937); Wild and Woolly (1937); Forty-five Fathers (1937); Checkers (1937); Rascals (1938); Keep Smiling (1938); Always in Trouble (1938); The Arizona Wildcat (1939); Boy Friend (1939); Pack Up Your Troubles (1939); Chicken Wagon Family (1939); Shooting High (1940); High School (1940); Youth Will be Served (1940); The Girl from Avenue A (1940); Golden Hoofs (1941); A Very Young Lady (1941); Her First Beau (1941); Small Town Deb (1941); Young America (1942); Johnny Doughboy (1942); The Mad Martindales (1942); The North Star (1943); My Best Gal (1944); Faces in the Fog (1944); Affairs of Geraldine (1946); Danger Street (1947); Giant (1956); The Right Approach (1961); Captain Newman, M.D. (1963); Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Also portrayed "Josephine the Plumber" in a series of television commercials (1963–75).
Jane Withers was born in 1926, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her parents, who wanted her to have a career in the arts, placed her in Boston Academy of Atlanta at age three, where she studied dance. Following a move to the West Coast, she studied at Lawlor's Professional School and worked in vaudeville and radio when not in class. After a screen test at Twentieth Century-Fox, Withers made her screen debut with a small role in Handle With Care (1932) and went on to have an extensive career as one of Hollywood's leading child stars.
After Shirley Temple (Black) , Withers is considered one of the leading child actors of the 1930s, typically starring in two to four releases a year. Although she was chubby and not especially pretty, she had endless vitality and charm that communicated well on the silver screen. In her first major role, opposite Temple in Bright Eyes (1934), Withers won over audiences as a bratty child who, after Temple has requested a doll, tells Santa she wants a machine gun. From then on, her popularity grew, and she was one of 1937's top-ten box-office draws. As was the case with numerous popular child actors, when she matured into teen and ingenue roles, her box-office appeal dropped. She retired from films in 1947 when she married millionaire oil man William P. Moss, Jr., with whom she had three children. Following a severe bout of rheumatoid arthritis after divorcing Moss in 1954, she returned to act in character roles and married Kenneth Errair, a member of the Four Freshmen singing group, in 1955. They had two children, a son and a daughter, before Errair's death in a plane crash in 1968.
Surprisingly, Withers added to her fame in 1963, when she won the role of Comet Cleanser's "Josephine the Plumber," a character that became one of television's most popular advertising icons; the series of ads lasted until 1975. Her subsequent work was of a lower profile, although she did voice-over work for the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996.
Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperPerennial, 1998.
Ragan, David. Who's Who in Hollywood, 1900–1976. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1976.
Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California