Jane Withers

Jane Withers (born April 12, 1926) is an American actress, model, and singer. Beginning a prolific career as a child actress at the age of 3, Withers is a Young Artist AwardFormer Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award honoree, best known for being one of the most popular child film stars of the 1930s and early 1940s, as well as for her portrayal of "Josephine the Plumber" in a series of TV commercials for Comet cleanser in the 1960s and early 1970s, and probably best known for playing the obnoxious Joy Smythe in the film she paired with Shirley Temple, Bright Eyes. Also a singer, she debuted the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn torch song "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" in 1944 in Glad to See You, a musical intended for Broadway which closed out of town in Philadelphia.

Jane Withers
Withers in 1944
Born (1926-04-12) April 12, 1926
OccupationActress, model, singer
Years active19292002
William P. Moss Jr.
(m. 1947; div. 1955)

Kenneth Errair
(m. 1955; his death 1968)
Awards Hollywood Walk of Fame
Young Artist Former Child Star     "Lifetime Achievement" Award

Early life

Withers was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Ruth and Walter Withers who taught Bible class at the local Presbyterian church. Her mother gave her the name Jane so it would fit on a marquee. She began her career as a child actress at the age of three, first on local radio broadcasts in Atlanta under the sobriquet of Dixie's Dainty Dewdrop. In the early 1930s, Withers and her mother moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a child model and a bit part player in several films in 1932 and 1933.[1] Her big break came when she landed a supporting role in the 1934 Shirley Temple film Bright Eyes. Her character, Joy Smythe, was spoiled and obnoxious, a perfect foil to Temple's sweet personality.

Child stardom

Through the remainder of the 1930s, Withers starred in several movies every year, including Ginger (1935), Paddy O'Day (1936), The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), and Little Miss Nobody (1936). She was usually cast as a wholesome, meddlesome young girl in films less sugary than Temple's vehicles. Moviegoers flocked to see her films, and Withers became one of the top 10 box-office stars in 1937 and 1938. Her popularity was such that Fox gave her "name" co-stars: the Ritz Brothers (in Pack Up Your Troubles) and Gene Autry (in Shooting High).[2]

She wrote the original story filmed as Small Town Deb (using the pseudonym Jerrie Walters). In 1979, she was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its very first Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award recognizing her outstanding achievements within the film industry as a child actress.[3]

Depictions in fiction

Withers was the heroine of two novels, Jane Withers and the Hidden Room (1942, by Eleanor Packer) and Jane Withers and the Phantom Violin, (1943, by Roy J. Snell), published by Whitman Publishing Company, where "the heroine has the same name and appearance as the famous actress but has no connection ... it is as though the famous actress has stepped into an alternate reality in which she is an ordinary person."

However, in 1944's Jane Withers and the Swamp Wizard (1944, by Kathryn Heisenfelt), "the heroine is identified as a famous actress". The stories were probably written for a young teenage audience and are reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. They are part of a series known as "Whitman Authorized Editions", sixteen books published between 1941-47 that featured a film actress as heroine.[4]

Withers kept working in the 1940s; she made 16 films for Fox, Columbia, and Republic Pictures. Her "sweet sixteen" birthday party was filmed by Paramount for the Hedda Hopper's Hollywood series. She also had several paper doll sets released in her childhood and teen years, and was emulated for her on-trend fashions of the era.

Josephine the Plumber fame

Withers appeared in various television series in the early 1960s, including the CBS sitcom Pete and Gladys, in the role of Wilma in the 1962 episode "Step on Me"; the CBS anthology series General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald W. Reagan; and the CBS adventure series The Aquanauts, starring Keith Larsen and Jeremy Slate. She was cast in 1963 as Edith Swinney in the episode "How to Get Rid of Your Wife" on CBS's The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

By the middle 1960s, she gained recognition again as "Josephine the Plumber", a character in a long-running series of television commercials for Comet cleanser, and the veteran TV-ad pitchwoman's well-known character lasted into the 1970s, and even further in the 1980s when her niece, JoAnn or Jo, would show her customers a picture of her Aunt Josephine. During this time, she continued to do voice-over work and occasional guest-starring appearances on television. A December 15, 2008, Advertising Age article about Flo, the Progressive Insurance TV commercial character played by Stephanie Courtney, said that Flo "is a weirdly sincere, post-modern Josephine the Plumber who just really wants to help. She has: The brand is flourishing."[5]

Personal life

Withers married film producer William Moss on September 20, 1947.[6] They divorced in 1955, and she later married singer Kenneth Errair of the Four Freshmen. In June 1968, Errair died in a plane crash near Bass Lake, California.[7]



Year Title Role Notes
1932 Handle with Care Bit part Uncredited
1933 Zoo in Budapest Little girl at zoo Uncredited
Mary Stevens, M.D. Little girl in lobby Uncredited
1934 Tailspin Tommy Mary Elizabeth Uncredited
Imitation of Life Peola's front row classmate Uncredited
It's a Gift Little girl playing hopscotch Uncredited
Bright Eyes Joy Smythe
1935 The Good Fairy Girl in orphanage sequence Uncredited
Ginger Ginger
The Farmer Takes a Wife Della
Redheads on Parade Young girl Uncredited
This Is the Life Geraldine Revier
1936 Paddy O'Day Paddy O'Day
Gentle Julia Florence Atwater
Little Miss Nobody Judy Devlin
Pepper Pepper Jolly
Can This Be Dixie? Peg Gurgle
1937 The Holy Terror Corky Wallace
Angel's Holiday June 'Angel' Everett
Wild and Woolly Arnette Flynn
45 Fathers Judith Frazier
Checkers Checkers
1938 Rascals Gypsy
Keep Smiling Jane Rand
Always in Trouble Jerry Darlington
1939 The Arizona Wildcat Mary Jane Patterson
Boy Friend Sally Murphy
Chicken Wagon Family Addie Fippany
Pack Up Your Troubles Colette
1940 High School Jane Wallace
Shooting High Jane Pritchard
Girl from Avenue A Jane
Youth Will Be Served Eadie-May
1941 Golden Hoofs Jane Drake
Her First Beau Penelope Wood
A Very Young Lady Kitty Russell
1942 Young America Jane Campbell
The Mad Martindales Kathy Martindale
Small Town Deb Patricia Randall
Johnny Doughboy Ann Winters / Penelope Ryan
1943 The North Star Clavdia Kurin
1944 My Best Gal Kitty O'Hara
Faces in the Fog Mary Elliott
1946 Affairs of Geraldine Geraldine Cooper
1947 Danger Street Pat Marvin
1956 Giant Vashti Snythe
1958 The Heart Is a Rebel Grace
1961 The Right Approach Liz Fargo
1963 Captain Newman, M.D. Lt. Grace Blodgett
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Laverne Voice
replacing the deceased Mary Wickes
2002 The Hunchback of Notre Dame II Laverne Voice, (final film role)

Short subjects

  • Hollywood Hobbies (1939)
  • Meet the Stars #1: Chinese Garden Festival (1941)
  • Meet the Stars #6: Stars at Play (1941)
  • Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 2 (1941)
  • Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 4 (1942)
  • Screen Snapshots: Fashions and Rodeo (1945)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Small Fry (1956)
  • Boxes (2005)


  1. Nancy Anderson (December 7, 1973). "Jane Withers tells how she started". Lodi News-Sentinel.
  2. "In Our Shanty of Dreams", Gene Autry and Jane Withers, Shooting High, 20th Century Fox, 1940
  3. "1st Annual Youth in Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  4. Whitman Authorized Editions for Girls; accessed September 10, 2009.
  5. The Bobby Awards, Advertising Age, December 15, 2008.
  6. "Jane Withers Wed". Alton Evening Telegraph. September 22, 1947. p. 7. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  7. "Madera County Air Crash Kills 4 Valley Businessmen". Van Nuys News. June 16, 1968. p. 19. Retrieved July 3, 2016.

Further reading

  • Goldrup, Tom and Jim (2002). Growing Up on the Set: Interviews with 39 Former Child Actors of Film and Television. McFarland & Co. pp. 334–345. ISBN 1476613702.
  • Dye, David (1988). Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., p. 241.
  • Maltin, Leonard, ed. (1978). Hollywood Kids. New York: Popular Books.
  • Parish, James Robert (1976). Great Child Stars. New York: Ace Books.
  • Best, Marc (1971). Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen. South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., pp. 270–274.
  • Zierold, Norman J. (1965). The Child Stars. New York: Coward-McCann.
  • Willson, Dixie (1935). Little Hollywood Stars. Akron, OH, e New York: Saalfield Pub. Co.
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