Jane Withers, the former child actress who bedevilled Shirley Temple on the screen and went on to star in a series of B movies that made her a box-office champion, has died.
She was 95.
Withers died on Saturday, her daughter Kendall Errair said.
Withers was one of the last remaining stars from the 1930s and 1940s, the height of Hollywood studio dominance.
After a series of minor roles as a child actress, Withers was cast by Twentieth Century-Fox in the 1934 movie Bright Eyes as the nemesis of lovable Temple, then Hollywood’s most popular star.
“I had to play the meanest, creepiest little girl that God ever put on this planet,” Withers recalled in 2000.
“I ran over Shirley with a tricycle, and a baby buggy. And I thought, ‘Oh dear, everybody’s going to hate me forever because I was so creepy mean to Shirley Temple!’ ”
It didn’t turn out that way. Critics claimed that she stole the picture from Temple. Children wrote fan letters admiring what she did to Temple “because she’s so perfect”.
For four years, 20 Century Fox ground out three or four Withers films annually at budgets far lower than the Temple specials. Among the titles: Ginger, Paddy O’Day, Little Miss Nobody, Wild and Wooly, and Arizona Wildcat.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of former child actress Jane Withers.
A dear friend of ours at TCM, we are grateful to have spent time with her over the years and will never forget her wit and stories. @THR remembers her here: https://t.co/hpuuNEZDvm pic.twitter.com/1hv8zp6UC0
— TCM (@tcm) August 8, 2021
Jane Withers and Shirley Temple, lifelong friends pic.twitter.com/yChUymxvWr
— Aurora (@CitizenScreen) August 9, 2021
RIP Jane Withers, the last of the great 1930s child stars. Jane passed yesterday at 95 years of age. Here's Jane in 1935 with the equally young Judy and Mickey Rooney, plus Judy & Jane in the 40s & 50s.#judygarland #janewithers #mickeyrooney #childstars #thejudyroom pic.twitter.com/EkyqapHOG5
— The Judy Room – Celebrating Judy Garland (@TheJudyRoom) August 9, 2021
Even though B pictures were aimed for the bottom half of double bills, a theatre owners poll named Withers one of the top money-making stars in 1936 and 1937.
Withers proved less of a draw as a teenager, and her career dwindled.
As an adult she appeared in a few films and on television.
Her popularity led to Jane Withers dolls and other merchandise. At her peak, she was earning $2500 a week and $50,000 a year in endorsements. Unlike other child stars, her earnings did not disappear.
She explained in 1974: “Fortunately, my dad had a great love of California land. He kind of dibble-dabbled in real estate in a marvellous way.”
Withers’ film appearances as an adult were sporadic, partly because of three marriages and five children. Her most notable credits were Giant (1956) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963).
In 1947, Withers left Hollywood to live with her first husband, producer-oil man William Moss, in Midland, Texas. The marriage produced three children and ended after seven years.
She returned to Hollywood and was paralysed with arthritis. She recovered after spending five months in hospital.
She had two more children with second husband Kenneth Errair, one of the Four Freshmen singing group, who died in 1968. In 1985 she married Thomas Pierson, a travel agency executive.
An interviewer in 1974 asked Withers how she managed to escape the troubles that plagued many child stars in adulthood.
A lifelong Presbyterian, she commented: “I always took my troubles to the good Lord, and I never failed to get an answer.”