Jane Withers, Former Child Star Who Worked with Shirley Temple and James Dean, Dead at 95
Jane Withers, a legend of Hollywood's Golden Age, has died. She was 95.
The former child star died Saturday in Burbank, California, surrounded by loved ones, her daughter confirms to PEOPLE.
"My mother was such a special lady. 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," Withers' daughter Kendall Errair said in a statement.
Withers got her big break in the 1934 film Bright Eyes, starring opposite Shirley Temple. She stole scenes as Joy Smythe, the spoiled 8-year-old daughter of a family who employs the mother of Temple's character as a maid.
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The actress subsequently signed a seven-year contract with Fox Film Corporation, appearing in three to five films a year. She got her first starring role in the 1935 feature Ginger, which began filming on her 9th birthday. Withers played an orphan who's taken in by a rich family after her uncle gets arrested.
She later wrote and starred in the 1941 teen movie Small Town Deb, which she penned under a pseudonym in attempt to get more mature roles in Hollywood.
At 21, Withers retired from Hollywood to focus on starting a family, marrying twice and raising five children. She later returned to Los Angeles in 1955, where she attended film school at University of Southern California.
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Withers was born in Atlanta on April 12, 1926. Her mother named her Jane, so that "even with a long last name like Withers, it would fit on a marquee."
The young talent began tap lessons at age 2, and she was cast in the Saturday morning children's show Aunt Sally's Kiddie Revue after winning a local contest. By age 3, Withers landed her own radio show, in which she sang, danced, joked, and impersonated movie stars, in addition to interviewing celebs that passed through Atlanta.
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She and her mother moved to Los Angeles just before her 6th birthday to pursue a career in Hollywood. "Mother was determined to have only one child, a girl, who would go into show business, which she had wanted to do so much herself," Withers told PEOPLE in 1974.
"In fact, Mother turned down several marriage proposals because the men wouldn't go along with the plan," she continued. "When she was carrying me she'd study movie marquees trying to decide on a name to go with Withers. She taught me to sing, although she doesn't sing on pitch herself. Luckily I do, although I never know what key I'm singing in. She'd take me to the movies when I was 2 and 3 so I could learn."