Jane Withers, child star and ‘Giant’ actress, dead at 95

Jane Withers, a Hollywood golden age child star with Shirley Temple and veteran character actress opposite Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, died Saturday night at her home in Burbank, California. She was 95.

The Atlanta native’s death was confirmed by her daughter Kendall Errair. 

“My mother was such a special lady,” Errair said in a statement via Deadline. “She lit up a room with her laughter, but she especially radiated joy and thankfulness when talking about the career she so loved and how lucky she was.”

Growing up, Withers was a natural performer, taking singing and dancing lessons by the age of 3 — and by the age of 4 she had her own radio program in her hometown, according to her IMDB profile.

Her breakout role came in 1934 at the age of 8, when she starred alongside Hollywood’s box office golden child Shirley Temple in “Bright Eyes.” Her role as the antagonist to ringlet-topped Temple propelled her to childhood stardom and earned her a seven-year contract with 20th-Century Fox.

Her offbeat, irreverent non-child-star-style generated a string of starring roles in “Ginger” [1935], “This is the Life” [1935], “Paddy O’Day” [1936], “Pepper” [1936] and “Angel’s Holiday” [1937]. 

Withers made her transition from childhood scene-stealer to teenage ingenue before the 1940s, with her first on-screen kiss coming in the 1939 film “Boy Friend.” After completing her contract with Fox in 1942, she signed a three-year contract with Republic Pictures, where her stardom waned.

Withers’ big break in Hollywood started at the age of 8.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

She married wealthy Texas oil baron William Moss in 1947, and had two children in the short-lived marriage. They divorced in 1953.

In 1955, Withers remarried to Kenneth Errair, a musical performer. The couple had three children together.

Withers launched a major big screen comeback in 1956, starring opposite James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in acclaimed filmmaker George Stevens’ epic oil-rig soap opera “Giant,” an adaptation of the best-selling Edna Ferber novel.

She also worked in touring productions of the classic Broadway musicals “Mame,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “No, No, Nanette” while raising her family. However, she may have reached her widest audience away from the big screen on television, where she was known as Josephine the Plumber on Comet Cleanser commercials for a generation of viewers in the 1960s.

She would later make small screen guest appearances on ’70s and ’80s TV shows such as “The Munsters,” “The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Hart to Hart.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Withers also did voice-over acting for Disney films such as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and its sequel.

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