Jane Withers

Exclusive Interview: Jane Withers, Child Star Who Discovered Rita Hayworth

The Classic Connoisseur’s Guide to the Best Films & Stars

Jane Withers
Jane Withers at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment recently released seven films featuring child star Jane Withers that have not previously been available. Read more about these films here.

I had the privilege of talking with Jane (as she insisted I call her) by phone and let me tell you, she is the most enthusiastic, cheerful person I have ever met! (Excuse the exclamation mark, but it is difficult to talk about Jane Withers without !!!!)

Looking Back

“I’ve been waiting a long time to get to this age (87),” she says. “I’m just having such a good time.” And she loves old movies – not just her own. “I see – I would say – ten old movies a week.”

Lest you think she is just sitting around looking at old movies, she says, “I’m working on – what started out as one, but has become – four books. It’s all about my happy memories and happy experiences and all the people who taught me such wonderful things.”

She has plenty of material. “I took home movies and had a Kodak camera, and I have over 5000 pictures that I have taken of my career… I have so many things that I think future generations should have. I have entire movie sets. I have a  ‘My Fair Lady’ set that I just love.”

I read in an interview that she nearly refused to sign the contract for the movie “Giant” with director George Stevens, because it said she was not allowed to take photos. They rewrote the contract, giving her free access.

How Jane Became Jane, the Movie Star

“It was my darling, precious mother … She loved old films. And when she was fourteen years old, she used to pray every day that she would marry Mr. Right and he would understand that she wanted one child only – a girl – and she wanted her to have a life … in the movies.” Gazing at movie marquees convinced her that: “She will have to have a short first name … to look right on the marquee.”

A Different Kind of Child Actor

“I’ve never in my entire life had a director tell me anything. They’d say, ‘.. the important thing is how do YOU feel about the character you’re playing … I never had a [acting] lesson in my life. All you have to do is read and think and do. You read the script, think about it, make notes if you’re not sure, try it different ways until it feels natural. I don’t know any other way.”

When they called in a dialect coach for her Irish immigrant role in “Paddy O’Day” (1935 when she was nine years old), he said she was doing it perfectly and they did not need him.

Starting at eight years old, she requested and got permission to attend writer’s conferences, she says. “Sometimes I would change the ‘lyrics’ as I called them. [dialogue] I would tell the writers, ‘Don’t forget, you all are adults. I’m only eight years old … the ways it’s written, I think some of them are too “grown-uppy”… and I think we should change the ‘lyrics’ so kids my age can understand them.’”

Jane Withers
Jane Withers

Her Religious Belief

Jane Withers is known for her religious faith which leads everything she has done, and may account for her stability in a business fraught with dangers for young people.

“She [her mother ] taught me to be visionary in life. Visualize your life, put it into prayer and let God be your partner in everything you do. If it is right for you to have, nothing can keep you from it.”

Jane gave me an example of how that worked in her life. “…when I signed my contract when I was eight years old, I said, ‘I don’t care anything about money, but the people I’m going to share my time with means everything in the world. And I want the same crew on all of my films.’ They said, ‘That’s not possible.’ I said, ‘Oh yes it is. In Matthew 21:22 it says, ‘all things whatsover, you shall ask in prayer and believing, you shall receive.’” … [And of course Jane being Jane, it turned out the way she hoped.] “I had the same crew on 49 films growing up.”

Learning About Movie Making

Asked who she learned the essentials from, she said, “Harold Schuster was one of my favorite directors – I did three films with him. [Schuster was film editor on “The Farmer Takes a Wife” (1935), director on “A Very Young Lady” (1941 and “Small Town Deb” (1941)] And my cameraman, Joe McDonald … and there were several others. [I learned that] if they couldn’t see my eyes – if they didn’t put a baby spot on my eyes – my eyes tell everything. They always had a Janie spot, they called it a baby-baby spot – it was always focused on my eyes.”

Rita Hayworth and Jane Withers
Rita Cansino (Hayworth) and Jane Withers in “Paddy O’Day”

Discovering Rita Hayworth

“’Paddy O’Day’ is one of my favorite movies … [When making ‘Paddy O’Day’] I visited the Charlie Chan set next door to me. And on the set was a beautiful girl who was dancing ballroom with her partner in a film … I was only eight but I felt so strongly about this girl – she was just dynamite. I asked to meet her, her name was Rita Cansino … She was painfully shy. She said ‘I just love to dance and I’m just thrilled to be in the movies.’ I said,’Have you ever acted?’ and she said, ‘Oh no, I’ve never acted, I’m a dancer.’ I said, ‘You don’t need to learn acting, it just has to be in your heart.’”

“Later on that day, my script for ‘Paddy O’Day’ had arrived, so my mom and my dad and I sat down to read it … and I said, ‘Oh, Momma, there’s the most wonderful role in here for the Russian girl that comes over to the United States. I saw a girl today who would be perfect in this role.’ I said to [the director,Lewis Seiler], ‘I saw this girl in a Charlie Chan movie, and she had never acted but I talked to her for just a minute. Honest injun, Mr. Seiler, I know she would perfect for the role. Let her have this opportunity.’”

“Well, she became the girl in the movie and she was just wonderful.”

When my conversation with Jane Withers was interrupted by the P.R. woman to tell us the time was up, Jane said, “Oh, that’s tacky! I’ve enjoyed this so much, can we do this again?”

And then she had a message  for all of you: “I’m so glad your readers like classic films!”

And how could we not love the cheerful, bubbly personality of Jane Withers in all those wonderful, corny, old B-movies?


20 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Jane Withers, Child Star Who Discovered Rita Hayworth”

  1. Melanie Votaw Avatar
    Melanie Votaw

    Oh, how cool! I LOVE Jane Withers. What a personality!

  2. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Thanks, Melanie. She is ALL personality!

  3. Bro Avatar

    Insightful interview. From what I’ve heard, Withers finds it difficult if not impossible to say anything bad about any acquaintance. That must be hard after decades in Hollywood. She has a wonderful spirit. Wish more of us could be like that. For some insider anecdotes about James, Elizabeth, and Rock, catch her commentary (with photos) on the latest DVD release of “Giant.”

  4. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Thanks for the reference to her discussion of Giant.
    She certainly makes you stop and think about how it is possible to stay cheerful. And how wonderful that she survived the Hollywood curse of child stars. She seems to have a bubble of positivity around her.

  5. […] hope you’ll hop over to my Classics Connoisseur column to see my exclusive interview with Jane Withers and read all about her discovery of Rita, her […]

  6. […] Movie actress Jane Withers recently turned 87, and 20th Century Fox celebrated by releasing seven films she made as a child that have not been available previously. I also had the opportunity to chat with the classic film star; read my interview here. […]

  7. […] Movie singer Jane Withers recently incited 87, and 20th Century Fox distinguished by releasing 7 films she done as a child that have not been accessible previously. we also had a event to discuss with a classical film star; review my talk here. […]

  8. Kerry Dexter Avatar

    good to read about such an upbeat person– I’ll bet putting her faith into practice has a lot to do with it. sounds as though you had a fine time talking with her, Vera. thanks for letting us share a bit of the conversation

  9. Irene S. Levine Avatar

    What a delightful interview~
    Her enthusiasm jumped on the page through the writer’s words!

    Best, Irene

  10. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Glad you enjoyed it, Kerry. Her faith is definitely a constant in her life–and in her conversation. Irene–thanks, I hope I did her justice.

  11. kel Avatar

    Thank you! I hope Fox will continue to release more of her films. They are so much fun and deserve to be seen. Just love her earliest films – I was the uploader on the Paddy O’Day clip and the Little Miss Nobody on Youtube. I also did a tribute to Jane’s early films on Youtube with several clips. I adore her personality and as a Christian, I greatly admire her faith and love for the Lord. 🙂 She is truly one of a kind!

  12. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Kel, Thanks for identifying yourself and thanks for uploading those clips. I really appreciate having access to them!
    As for Ginger, which you mentioned in another comment, it is my understanding that it is in such poor shape that it cannot be restored.

  13. […] Exclusive Interview: Jane Withers, Child Star Who Discovered Rita Hayworth […]

  14. Rj Avatar

    In an early film, ” The Vagabond Lover” with Rudy Valllee did Jane perform a short song with three other girls? The films release was as1929.

  15. jerseycityjoan Avatar

    I got her today by trying to find something Jane Withers wrote about her time on the Giant set and her taking photos there. Her death was announced today. I hope this website is still accepting new comments. I am so glad I could read the interview and comments.

    She died on Saturday, August 7, 2021 at the age of 95.

    A true treasure has left us, one of our last connections with the 1930s and the golden age of Hollywood.

  16. Kalline Avatar

    Oh, this actress was very forced and was not a good person with her co-workers. She didn’t help a girl who was in need of some touches
    She even tried to get revenge on Jane Withers after she returned to the acting world, she came across as a kind person

  17. Kalline Avatar

    *tried to pass as a kind person
    Sorry guys 😅

  18. Kalline Avatar

    No, she came across as a kind person, she was also Very forced, not I

  19. Luan Almeida Avatar

    Jane Withers great actress 😭😭😭😭
    RIP Jane

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