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Bright Eyes (1934)
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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 three, Withers is a Young Artist Award–Former 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 movie 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 Broadway-bound musical which closed out of town in Philadelphia.
Actor/Actress, Soundtrack, Writer
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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 (1935). 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
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