TCMFF 2013…JANE WITHERS INTERVIEW…

The Vanity Fair party, 2013. The big hit of the evening? When Lulu sang “To Sir, With Love.”

In April of 2011, I was fortunate enough to meet Jane Withers, Anne Jeffreys and the late Ann Rutherford at the Vanity Fair party after the Gala screening of An American in Paris. Jane Withers and I chatted for quite awhile about our families and our rings, and how much fun we were having.


In April of 2013, I found myself having an extended visit with the gal who started out taunting Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes, and had a featured role in the George Stevens epic Giant. Jane Withers’ faith in God and humanity has seen her survive Hollywood, a severe bout with rheumatoid arthritis which led to her featured role as Vashti Snythe in the screen version of the popular Edna Ferber novel, and allowed her good health to attend the Vanity Fair party after the Gala Premiere screening of Funny Girl on Thursday, April 25.

During her introduction of Giant at the Turner Classic Film Festival 2013, Withers discussed with TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz how she would wash James Dean’s favorite pink shirt because when he would send out his laundry, his shirts would “disappear.” So she volunteered to wash his favorite pink shirt every night, and the last evening before he left on hiatus, he stopped by to leave her the shirt, but he never returned to retrieve it because of the fatal accident, and Withers stated she has kept it ever since, as well as her lovely memories of the young man she befriended in Marfa, Texas, in 1955.

Evidently while Jane lived in Marfa, she had a house, and would have parties almost every night with food, cards, Monopoly, and bridge, and “almost everybody” from the crew would come and enjoy the evening. She said that Rock Hudson came most of the time, but Elizabeth Taylor only came once because she liked to go to a country club about sixty miles away. The only night she did drop by, she said how much fun it was, and why didn’t she come by more often. But Withers did seen to form a bond with James Dean. One night after almost everyone else had left, she went into her bedroom, and he was lying down with his hat over his head. “Is that you, Jimmy?” Withers asked. She wanted to know why he hadn’t come through the front door, and he said he didn’t want to see all those other people, that he came just to see her. Well, Withers claimed she always carried a tool kit with her, and took her hammer, and nailed the window shut while Dean was watching so that the next time he came, he had to come through the front door.

When Withers left California for Marfa, Texas, she knew that she might be gone for over a year, so she brought lots of books to read, as well as her tool kit, and Dean would come over and read books from her makeshift “lending library,” and they would read aloud to each other, many times it would be plays. One night she was reading The Bible and quoted Matthew 21:22 to him, and told him that she tried to live by that verse: And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. She repeated this verse to me during our conversation, and said that it was one of her favorites.

Long before Withers ever signed a contract for Giant, she suffered a debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis, and had to be hospitalized for a lengthy stay. While she was cared for at the hospital, she became friends with a young orderly, and he invited her to his graduation. Once Withers was well enough, she was able to attend his graduation ceremony, and after the ceremony, a man tapped her on the back, and as she turned around, director George Stevens introduced himself, and said that he had wanted to talk to her about a part in his next movie, Giant. The next week, Stevens called, but Jane was busy fixing lunches for her children to take to school, and said, something like, “right, you are George Stevens. Well, I have to finish fixing these lunches. I can’t talk right now.” Later the next day, Stevens’ secretary called and told her that Stevens wanted to take her to lunch to discuss with her a part he had in mind for her. It turned out to be Vashti Snythe, the quintessential no-holds-barred Texas gal from Giant. And she again stated how she knew God had a hand in it.

Withers, supportive of the effort of Turner Classic Movies to continue to broadcast films and original programming without commercial interruption, exclaimed that “I am so thrilled that these people at TCM continue to air classic films, and I want you to tell everybody how grateful I am to them for what they have done and accomplished. They are all so wonderful, and they have been so good to me.” (Her eyes were tearing up when she said this.)


Friend and actress Anne Jeffreys stops by to say goodnight to Jane Withers before she leaves and gives her a peck on the cheek…

Miss Withers was also elated about the reissue of several of her films from the 1930s and 1940s. Her starring role opposite Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934)was secured after Director David Butler had auditioned thirty young girls, but when he heard Jane Withers imitation of a machine gun, he chose Withers to play nasty Joy Smythe.

Withers had a hand in the discovery of another Hollywood heartthrob, a young lady by the name of Rita Cansino. While Withers was on one set filming Paddy O’Day, she went to another adjacent set and saw a young dancer who fascinated her, and she talked about how wonderful the dancer had been that she had seen on another set. Withers was impressed, and told her director and others how this young lady had “it” and she needed to have her own films because she was going to be a star. So at eight years of age, she recognized the luminous qualities and talents that helped Rita Hayworth become a world-wide film queen, and remained ever in awe of that talent she discovered, finally delivering the eulogy at Hayworth’s funeral in 1987.

As one of several high-profile Presbyterians, Jane (and she asked me to call her Jane!) was also happy to remember how every Wednesday evening, fellow Hollywood Presbyterians would come over for a prayer meeting. Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, June Haver and Fred MacMurray, and several others often arrived on a Wednesday, and Jane said that Jimmy Stewart, whose father was also Presbyterian, would usually say the prayer. Jane stated several times during the course of our hour-long conversation that her faith has sustained her in times of deep trouble, and she felt that all the opportunities she had and all the “luck” that came her way existed because of her religious faith.

Spending time with Jane Withers is energizing and exciting, and I only hope I have that much energy when I am 87! She reveals that she and her friends, like Ann Blyth, get together at least once a month to go to lunch. Our delightful conversation culminated in a discussion of one of our favorite topics, jewelry!

Jane’s last role was as the voice of the gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she had to take over the role following actress Mary Wickes’ death in 1996, imitating her voice exactly. (Producers claimed that during the editing, they couldn’t tell when Wickes’ voice ended and Withers’ voice began. Withers reprised the role in 2002 for the sequel.

For more information about her recently released films, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/20th-century-fox-releases-seven-classic-films-starring-jane-withers/

For another in-depth interview with Jane Withers, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/exclusive-interview-jane-withers-child-star-who-discovered-rita-hayworth/

Jane Withers and Anne Jeffreys at the TCMFF 2013 Vanity Fair party, bidding each other adieu as Anne had to leave a little earlier than Jane.

Jeffrey’s last role was as Susanna in 2012’s Sins Expiation, and she and Jane have known each other for quite a while. Jeffreys, Amanda Croft on Falconcrest, Marion Kerby in the Topper series, Irene Buchannon on Baywatch, and the Duchess of York in 2008’s Richard III, has also had a busy and varied career.

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More Festival Fun…

Heard and seen in Club TCM..

David from Seattle, just back from his epic Route 66 journey to the
TCMFF 2013, and Harry Scott Knyrim enjoy the fun at Club TCM
on Thursday evening at the Passholder Meet-and-Greet.


TCM staffer Shannon Clute, whose stellar introduction to Night of The Hunter wowed the passholders Friday morning at 9:15 a.m. in the Egyptian, and professional historian, author, and archivist Lynn Zook.

Shannon Clute’s surprise guest at the screening was the author of
the definitive book about the filming of Charles Laughton’s first
and only directorial masterpiece, Preston Neal Jones.
Heaven and Hell to Play With is a fascinating,
in-depth account of the filming of author Davis Grubb’s novel.


Preston Neal Jones swamped by adoring fans of
Night of the Hunter as he discusses his exciting
interview with Lillian Gish while researching
Heaven and Hell to Play With.


On the river of life–Charles Laughton and Stanley Cortez’s fairytale vision transformed Davis Grubb’s novel for audiences in 1955…

TURNER CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL FUN 2013…

Sue Sue and lovely Theresa Madere at the Vanity Fair party… I had so much fun meeting and enjoying the bubbly company of energetically adorable Butterscotchgreer(Theresa Madere) who’s been posting on the TCM Message Boards since she was 16. Watching her film an interview with Ben Mankiewicz (who gave her a little kiss “goodbye” at the end of her interview, BTW), was so much fun. The entire interview, with special video Theresa filmed at home in Texas, can be viewed on the video gallery here: http://filmfestival.tcm.com/about/video-gallery.php

(Theresa’s interview is the last one entered for 4/26.)

A kind, gracious woman greeted me as I entered The TCL Chinese Theatre for the Gala Premiere Restoration of Funny Girl, and she posed for pictures and answered questions. Passholders told her how happy they were to see her at the festival, and she said she was very happy to be a part of it…

But shortly after I had met Ann Blyth as I entered Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, I met a lady who completely shocked me. She was wearing the exact same satin floor-length Chinese dress I was wearing!

“How dare you!” I shouted. But she just stared blankly at me, and said not a word. I was incensed. The very idea!”

Evidently, she had been there for quite a while. Hence the enigmatic, unconcerned expression. Traditionally, there had been three wax dummies wearing authentic costumes from Cathay, China, who surrounded a wax figure of Rhonda Fleming seated in the chair pictured above. Evidently, Rhonda’s wax figure from the Hollywood Wax Museum was featured because she had been married to Ted Mann, a former owner of the theater. Movie stars, writers, directors, and producers considered it good luck to come and rub the shoulder of one of the three female Chinese figures who had traditionally graced the West Wing of the lobby at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, now the TCL Chinese Theatre, which is currently being renovated. The shoulders of the figures would be “rubbed for good luck” before embarking on a new venture or before a premiere. It is one of these traditional wax figures that is encased in glass in the lobby! So I kept telling that story while I was wearing that dress, and then I would wiggle one of my shoulders! 😆