Jane Withers, Child Star of the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood,’ Dies at 95

by Matthew Memrick

Jane Withers, an Atlanta native who started as a child actor in the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” died at 95 on Sunday.

Withers got her start at age 3, pushed on by her mother’s determination for the child to be in show business. Withers took tap dancing classes at age two and soon learned how to sing. She won a local contest and earned a role on a Saturday morning kids’ show. After that, she left for Hollywood and made her big break in a supporting role with legendary actress Shirley Temple in “Bright Eyes.” 

Withers and Temple were the top two child actors of the 1930s. 

“My mother was such a special lady,” Kendall Errair told Deadline.com. “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.”

In 1935, she earned her marquee credit in the film “Ginger.” Withers started the movie on her ninth birthday. She starred with Peter Fonda in his first film, “The Farmer Takes A Wife.” 

For the next five years, she performed in 3-5 films a year and became an actress known for diving into her work. From suggesting dialogue to directors to sitting in writers’ meetings, Withers showed a lot of passion and dedication for her work. At the time, Withers was the only child star to complete a seven-year contract.

However, at 21, she retired from her work. With five kids between two marriages, she was busy. 

“I was never a pretty girl,” Jane told People.com in 1974. “Thank God for that, or I’d never have got anything.”

Jane Withers Made a Comeback

But in the second year of her second marriage to Kenneth Errair, she came back to acting with a role in the 1956 film “Giant.” She played Vashti Snythe in the Rock Hudson-Elizabeth Taylor flick. 

The film shot her into more movies and TV work. She had roles in “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “The Love Boat,” and “Murder, She Wrote.” She also voiced Laverne in two animated “Hunchback of Notre Dame” movies. 

Withers made numerous TV commercials, too. Her “Josephine The Plumber” spots are still found on YouTube.com. It ran for 12 years.

Behind the scenes, she was a philanthropist, a devout Christian, and taught Sunday School classes at her Presbyterian Church. One library in Thousand Oaks, California benefited from 800 books in her collection. She also was an avid doll collector with 42,000 dolls at one point. She also worked to create the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she was honored with her star in 1960.