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Jane Withers, ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Giant’ Star, Dead at 95

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Jane Withers, a former child star who acted alongside some of the biggest stars of the 1930s and 1940s, died on Saturday in Burbank, California. She was 95. Withers starred in dozens of important Hollywood movies between 1932 and 1947. She later worked as a character actor on television and in movies through the 1950s and 1960s. She later voiced the gargoyle Lavene in Disney‘s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its direct-to-video sequel.

Withers was born in Atlanta on April 12, 1926. Her mother Lavinia Ruth Withers was so determined that her only child would become a star that she chose Jane because “even with a long last name like Withers, it would fit on a marquee,” Withers said in interviews. “My mother was such a special lady,” Withers’ daughter Kendall Errair said in a statement to Deadline. “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.” No cause of death was revealed.

jane withers getty images
Jane Withers in 2013. (Photo: Vincent Sandoval/WireImage/Getty Images)

Withers was already learning to dance and sing by the time she was 2. When she was 3, she hosted her own radio show, Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop, in which she would interview celebrities visiting Atlanta. After two years on the radio, Withers and her mother sought stardom in Hollywood. She appeared in several films uncredited, including the Best Picture Oscar-winner Cavalcade (1933) and Imitation of Life (1934). Her first credited performance is in Bright Eyes (1934), starring Shirley Temple. Withers’ first big starring role was Ginger (1935).

After making 38 movies, Withers chose to retire. She was 21 and married her first husband, William P. Moss Jr., in 1947. In 1956, director George Stevens cast her in a supporting part in his epic Giant, co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. This kick-started another period of activity for Withers, as she earned other supporting parts in movies and television shows. She starred in episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Munsters, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote. She also became famous for playing Josephine the Plumber in commercials for Comet cleanser during the 1960s.

Withers’ last role was as the gargoyle Laverne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Mary Wickes was the first cast in the part but died before she could finish recording her lines. Withers was hired to record the rest of Laverne’s dialogue and reprised the role in the 2002 sequel. Withers was also a busy philanthropist, serving as a board member for her local branch of the American Cancer Society. The Women’s International Center presented her with a Living Legacy Award in 2003. Withers had three children with her first husband and two with her second husband, singer Kenneth Errair.

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