Jane Withers was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 12, 1926 and became one of the most popular child film stars of the 1930's and 40's. By the age of three, she was taking singing and dancing lessons and at 4, was starring on her own radio program Dixie's Dainty Dewdrop in Atlanta. A spot-on mimic, she was simply uncanny when it came to impersonating the superstars of her day (W.C. Fields, Marie Dressler, Charles Chaplin) and was a veteran pint-sized performer by the time her family moved to Los Angeles.
Jane began her career at 8 years old when she won the plum role of the spoiled, obnoxious, doll-ripping, bicycle-riding brat who terrorizes sweet Shirley Temple in Twentieth Century-Fox's Bright Eyes (1934). The infamy earned Jane a contract at Fox and for the next seven years she turned out close to 50 "B" level films. Her first major success came in the form of the title role in GINGER (1935). THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE (1935) and LITTLE MISS NOBODY (1936) followed.
When Jane was 10 years old, Walt Disney took her to Orange County, which at the time was just a great expanse of orange groves. Disney told Jane of his dream to build a vast "amusement world" that would bring people together from all over the world. Jane recalls that she was delighted at the idea and exclaimed, "How wonderful! It is a small world, after all." Inspired by her words and her love of dolls, Walt Disney designed "It's a Small World" one of the most popular Disneyland attractions, featuring dolls from all over the world.
As critic Leonard Maltin has observed, "She endeared herself to audiences with her seemingly limitless energy and impish charm." In 1937, Withers' films ranked sixth among the top ten box-office attractions in U.S. theaters. Her parents also licensed her image and name for a series of dolls and, in the early 1940s, for a series of mystery novels in which Withers was portrayed as a young sleuth.
Under the name Jerrie Walters, the fifteen-year-old Withers created the story line for the film that became SMALL TOWN DEB (1941), in which she also starred.
It was Jane who was responsible for SHOOTING HIGH at Fox in 1940. The 13 year old coordinated an unprecidented deal directly with Joseph Schenck, the head of 20th Century Fox and Herbert Yates, the head of Republic Pictures to be able to work with Gene Autry.
In the early 1940s Jane signed a three-year picture deal with Republic Pictures, and did 6 films for Republic from 1940-1946 including MY BEST GAL, FACES IN THE FOG and AFFAIRS OF GERALDINE.
As a young star Jane often visited orphanages and hospitals, where she performed in more than 100 bond and camp tours within the United States. She sent her extensive collection of 3,500 dolls, most received as gifts from her fans, on tour to raise money for the war effort.
In 1947, the same year as her last picture of the decade, Jane married a Texas oil man, William Moss, and had three children with him, William, Wendy, and Randy. The couple divorced in 1954, and the next year Withers married Kenneth Errair, one-quarter of the harmonizing group "The Four Freshmen." They had two children, Ken and Kendall Jane and were married until Errain's death in 1968.
In 1955 Withers returned to Hollywood and while studying directing at the USC film school, she met producer/director George Stevens who cast her in an enviable character role in the epic-sized GIANT (1956) with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Other film roles followed with THE RIGHT APPROACH (1961) and CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. (1963).
Jane became a household name as a pitchwoman playing Josephine the Plumber for Comet cleanser. She made guest appearances on THE MUNSTERS, THE LOVE BOAT, MURDER SHE WROTE, HART TO HART and in the 1990s she began doing voice-overs for Walt Disney animation. She created the voice of a gargoyle named Laverne in Disney's version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996) and reprised the role in its sequel (2002).
Jane Withers is an actress, writer, entrepreneur, businesswoman, doll and teddy bear collector, humanitarian and an enthusiastic, eternal optimist. Her talent, faith and love of life brings joy to others and her buoyant, indefatigable nature is still, at age 80+, highly infectious.
REPUBLIC FILM CREDITS
Chinese Garden Festival