R.I.P. Jane Withers, Golden Age child actor and beloved star of 1960s commercials

She costarred with Shirley Temple and received a teddy bear from President Roosevelt.

The Everett Collection

Read to Me

Jane Withers was born to be a star and her mother saw to it that her destiny was fulfilled. The short name “Jane” was picked so that coupled with the longer “Withers” the full moniker could still fit on a movie theater marquee.

As soon as she could walk and talk, Withers was performing on Vaudeville stages. At four-years-old, she was hosting a local Atlanta radio show called “Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop” where she nailed impressions of famous actors like Greta Garbo. By age six, she had grown too big for Georgia.

But Hollywood was a tougher racket. Her first on camera gig was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in the 1932 film Handle with Care, directed by David Butler. She continued playing small parts for the next two years until Butler cast her again in the film Bright Eyes, this time as a costar to Shirley Temple. Withers played the bratty bully terrorizing America’s favorite curly-haired sweetheart and audiences loved her for it.

In 1935, Withers got her own movie – playing the title character in Ginger. She also acted alongside Henry Fonda in his debut film The Farmer Takes a Wife that same year. She continued to star in multiple films a year into the 1940s.

Withers’ strong-willed personality wasn’t put on just for the cameras. Behind the scenes, she suggested dialogue in writers’ meetings, helped cast other actors and even negotiated deals with studios. All while still a kid! She completed her full seven-year contract, the only child star of that era to do so.

Withers had friends in high places during her early days onscreen. She did a spot-on impression of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a newsreel and he became an instant fan. However, the young actress was so busy in those days, she didn’t even have time to answer calls from the White House. Withers told The Los Angeles Times in 2004 that Roosevelt “would call me and leave a message because I was always busy.” When the president and first lady learned Withers had a growing toy collection, Eleanor Roosevelt visited the set to personally deliver a teddy bear. But that wasn’t all. “About six weeks later in the mail arrived this sweet French doll from [Mrs. Roosevelt’s] doll collection that her mom had given her,” Withers said.

By the time she was 21, Withers had over 40 projects to her name. She took a break from show business and started a family with her first husband, William Moss. They divorced eight years later. She then tied the knot with Ken Errair, member of the harmonic music group The Four Freshman. In 1956, she returned to the screen in the movie Giant, stealing scenes from huge names like Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.

In the 1960s and '70s, Withers introduced herself to a new generation as Josephine the Plumber in commercials for Comet cleanser. She also acted in shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as Bob Newhart’s ill-fated spouse in the episode “How to Get Rid of Your Wife,” and The Munsters. She continued to appear on the small screen in later series like The Love Boat, Hart to Hart and Murder, She Wrote.

Beyond her time on set, Withers was an extensive collector of Hollywood memorabilia. At one time she had 28 truckloads worth of items from 20th Century Fox. She was also instrumental in creating the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first people honored with a star in 1960, the year it was created.

Jane Withers passed away this week at the age of 95.

 
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vinman63 12 days ago
I never had a [acting] lesson in my life. All you have to do is read and think and do. You read the script, think about it, make notes if you're not sure, try it different ways until it feels natural. I don't know any other way".
–Jane Withers, 2013
vinman63 vinman63 12 days ago
She was the imp to all the sugar sweet co stars
TheDavBow3 1 month ago
🎵"Comet, will make your mouth turn green. Comet, tastes like gasoline, Comet, will make you vomit. So eat some Comet and vomit todayyyyy"🎵
1 month ago
I remember an interview with Ms. Withers, in which she said she hated "being mean" to Shirley Temple. Apparently, both young ladies were very sweet and well-liked in Hollywood.
LH 1 month ago
She was SUCH a GREAT BRAT!!!
One of her best lines was when she was asked what she wanted for Christmas
She answers, “I wanna MACHINE GUN!” and she imitates holding one and making machine gun noises. She was better than Shirley Temple…I thought so anyway!!!
jacko3 1 month ago
.. sure remember Jane in those special commercials and other guest appearances .. a very cute and likeable personality .. with GOD's Eternal Love on Ms. Withers - Amen - Alleluia!
Mannixishot 1 month ago
I didn't recognize the name "Jane Withers" so I had skipped over this article. I saw another picture of her on another site and realized I'd seen her on an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode! I realize this article even mentions that episode. She was terrific in that episode. RIP Jane.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
R.I.P. Jane. So many GREAT contributions from such a wonderful person. She will be missed.
UTZAAKE 1 month ago
Jane Withers' Josephine the Plumber was just too memorable. She spoke so excitedly fast that she could've easily been a resident of Stars Hollow, CT. Saying both Comet and Calumet rapidly makes the two words sound similar. The latter is a brand of baking powder. The house where I grew up had both Comet and Calumet...stored separately, of course.
CarolKelley 1 month ago
She and James Dean became great friends when they were making Giant. I've read that he liked the way she'd launder his shirts so she took them home everyday washed and ironed them for her friend James.
Lantern 1 month ago
It's hard to believe that she was just 30 when she appeared in "Giant". For some reason people looked older in those days.
MrsPhilHarris Lantern 1 month ago
I agree. Too many cigarettes and no sunscreen.
So true. Everybody smoked back then.
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Jane Withers was sorta Shirley Temple's evil twin as a child, yet she inspired such merchandise as paper dolls and even a Nancy Drew type mystery! One thing bothers me: A book collector said she hated the Withers book because it had a morbid twist! Anyone knows what it was?
No idea but it looks like there was more than one book.
All I can tell you is there were similar books for other child actresses of that era including Shirley Temple! Bonus Question: What actress played Nancy Drew in the '30's?
That would be Bonita Granville.
Peter_Falk_Fan 1 month ago
I certainly remember her as Josephine the Plumber. I also remember when she was on "The Munsters" episode of 'Grandpa's Lost Wife'. Great actress. RIP Jane Withers
15inchBlackandWhite 1 month ago
Interesting bit of Jane Withers trivia: She took over the voice role of Laverne in Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame after Mary Wickes passed away during production. The two of them did have awfully similar voices.

Jane the Plumber is another piece of my childhood passing on. R.I.P. Ms. Withers.
Michael 1 month ago
Someone mentioned her in the comments about Markie Post.
stephaniestavr5 Michael 1 month ago
That "someone" I'm assuming you are referring to,, (others commented after I had,) would be me. I just didn't think that METV would have done an obit. on her. Then, after I had typed it, I realized that they might, because of Josephine.
Michael stephaniestavr5 1 month ago
I thought it was important to acknowledge your comment here. Since you were first, maybe you influenced MeTV.
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
Only knew her from the Comet commercials. Quite an impressive career. R.I.P. Ms. Withers.
harlow1313 1 month ago
Goodbye, lovely plumber pinup gal. I do dig a lady plumber.
The 3 Stooges could've used a few pointers from Josephine, to help them out with their job in "A Plumbing We Will Go!" Knowing them, they would have botched up those pointers as well!
I know Josephine wasn't "born" until decades later. Just saying someone like her.
Ric 1 month ago
Greetings. It is sad to see such television icons leave us, yet their legacies live on.
May we be as fortunate.
GOD Bless.
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