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Jane Withers Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (1) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (16) | Salary (3)

Overview (1)

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Mini Bio (1)

During the early times of the Depression when life was more famine than feast, child stars became the blue plate special of the day, served up by Hollywood to help nourish a nation besieged with troubles. Following 20th Century-Fox monumental success with Shirley Temple in the early 1930s, every studio was out searching for its own precocious little commodity who could pack 'em in the aisles despite the lean times. While Paramount whipped up "Little" Mitzi Green, MGM offered Jackie Cooper in the hopes of finding a similar box office jingle. Wildly talented Janie Withers fit the bill, too, and although she earned pint-sized prominence just like the others, it was also for Temple's Fox Studios. As such, Jane remained somewhat of a side course to Temple's main dish (what child star didn't?) throughout much her young "B" level reign. Nevertheless, she became a major bright star in her own right.

The freckled, dark-haired hellraiser was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 12, 1926. The daughter of Walter and Lavinia Ruth Withers, her parents wasted no time in prodding little Jane quickly into the world of entertainment. Jane was a natural--performing by the time she could walk and talk. By age three, she was taking singing and dancing lessons and at age 4, was starring on her own radio program in Atlanta. A spot-on mimic, she was simply uncanny when it came to impersonating the superstars of her day (W.C. Fields, Marie Dressler, Charles Chaplin) and was a veteran pint-sized performer by the time her family moved to Los Angeles after her father was transferred by his company. Jane was enrolled in Lawlor's Professional School and was soon modeling in shows, entertaining at benefits and making the usual rounds of the studios nabbing extra work while waiting for that one big film break.

She found it at age 8 when she won the plum role of the spoiled, obnoxious, doll-ripping, bicycle-riding brat who terrorizes sweet Shirley Temple in Twentieth Century-Fox's Bright Eyes (1934). The infamy earned Jane a sweet contract at Fox and for the next seven years she did it her way as the tyke star of close to 50 "B" level films. Where Shirley was cuddly and ultra huggable, brunette-banged Jane was fun, rambunctious and full of kinetic energy--a scrappy little tomboy who could take on any boy at any time. Her lively vehicles took full advantage of her talents for impersonating movie stars, too. Her first major success came in the form of the title role in Ginger (1935) in which Jane imitated the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and was rewarded by the studio with a contract of $125 weekly for six months. Her singing and dancing skills were utilized in such vehicles as This Is the Life (1935) and Paddy O'Day (1936). As the star, she was toned down, of course, from the all-out brat she played against Temple. Jane kept filmgoers entertained throughout the late 1930s with pictures like Pepper (1936) and Angel's Holiday (1937), in which she did an hilarious impression of Martha Raye. She ended 1937 with a bang when she was named one of Motion Picture's Poll's "Top Ten" (#6) box office favorites. Guess who was #1?

The early 1940s would tell the story as to whether Jane could survive the dreaded awkward teen transition that haunted every popular child star. She received her first screen kiss at age 13 in Boy Friend (1939) and was singled out for her work in The Ritz Brothers' Pack Up Your Troubles (1939), but Jane's antics simply didn't play as well and the studio began to lose interest. In fact, both Shirley and Jane felt the pressures of growing up and Darryl F. Zanuck let both of them go in July of 1942. Jane signed a three-year picture deal with Republic Pictures with lukewarm results. Her best dramatic role at that time came with The North Star (1943).

In 1947, the same year as her last picture of the decade, Jane married a wealthy Texas oil man, William Moss, and had three children by him--William, Wendy, and Randy. The marriage was not a happy one and lasted only six years. She also was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. In 1955, she remarried, this time to Kenneth Errair, one-quarter of the harmonizing group "The Four Freshmen." They had two children, Ken and Kendall Jane. At the same time, she attempted a Hollywood comeback. While studying directing at the USC film school, she met producer/director George Stevens who cast her in an enviable character role in the epic-sized Giant (1956) supporting Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. Other film roles followed with The Right Approach (1961) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963).

It was TV, however, that would turn Jane into a wealthy woman as a friendly household pitchwoman. Her decades-long job as the dress-downed Josephine the Plumber pushing Comet cleanser made her one popular gal when working in films became a non-issue. From time to time she would make guest appearances on such fun, lightweight shows as The Munsters (1964), The Love Boat (1977), Murder, She Wrote (1984), and Hart to Hart (1979). Known for her strong spiritualism and charitable contributions, Jane's buoyant, indefatigable nature is still, at age 80+, highly infectious. These days she has not only done voiceover work for Disney's animated features but is still popping up here and there for interviews and convention signings--as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as she was in her childhood heyday. A widow in 1968, (her second husband perished in a June 14th plane crash in California), she also lost one of her five children, Randy, to cancer when he was only 33.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Kenneth Errair (23 October 1955 - 14 June 1968) (his death) (2 children)
William Moss (20 September 1947 - 20 July 1955) (divorced) (3 children)

Trivia (16)

Born at 11:07pm-EST.
At the age of three she was singing, dancing and imitating W.C. Fields on a professional level, starring as Dixie's Dainty Dewdrop on the radio show "Aunt Sally's Kiddie Club."
Has known her share of sorrow over the years. Second husband Ken Errair perished in a plane crash in 1968; her mother died of cancer in 1983, as did her son Randy the following year.
She maintained several warehouses of movie memorabilia and boasted one of the world's largest doll collections with almost 8,000.
TV's A&E Biography series did a tribute to Jane and her career on September 25, 2003.
Second husband Kenneth Errair was one of the original members of the classic pop group the Four Freshmen. He had long since retired from performing to become a successful businessman at the time of his death in a 1968 plane crash.
Perhaps best-known to Baby Boomers for her role as Josephine, the Lady Plumber on TV advertisements for Comet cleanser, a role in which she appeared for more than a decade beginning in the mid-1960s.
She delivered the eulogy at Rita Hayworth 's funeral.
Her late husband, singer Ken Errair, came out with one solo LP on Capitol away from the Four Freshmen. It was accurately entitled "Solo Session." He also played several brass instruments and the bass.
Interviewed in "Growing Up on the Set: Interviews with 39 Former Child Actors of Classic Film and Television" by Tom Goldrup and Jim Goldrup (McFarland, 2002).
In 1955 she and her husband purchased the ranch of 'Lucille Ball and 'Desi Arnaz' in Chatsworth, Ca.
Her five children and their respective dates of birth are as follows: Wendy Leigh Moss, born September 26, 1948, Los Angeles County, California; William Paul Moss, III, born July 9, 1950, Los Angeles County, California; Walter"Randy" Moss, born January 29, 1952, Los Angeles County, California; Kenneth E. "Ken" Errair, Jr., born May 19, 1957, Los Angeles County, Califonia; Kendall Jane Errair, born March 3, 1960, Los Angeles County, California.
She took over the role of gargoyle Laverne in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) following the death of Mary Wickes and had to match Wickes' voice and performance so that audiences wouldn't be able to detect the difference. She repeated the role in the "Hunchback" sequel.
Though best known for children's roles and comedy numbers, she introduced the classic Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn torch song "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" in the 1944 stage flop, "Glad To See You," which closed in Philadelphia during its tryout engagement. It would have marked Withers' Broadway debut. Styne and Cahn had previously written songs for some of Withers' film hits.
Interviewed in "Amerian Classic Screen Interviews" by John Tibbett and James Walsh, 2010.
In a 1974 Hollywood Superior Court suit in which she contested that the plane crash in which her husband was killed was due to the Bass Lake Airport, outside Fresno, -now closed- was a death trap she was awarded $200,000 in settlement.

Salary (3)

The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935) $125 /week
Gentle Julia (1936) $2,000 /week
Small Town Deb (1942) $3,000

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