Friday, August 26 presents
Film star Jane Withers

Brownie pictures and the stories behind them
November 02, 2000

Jane Withers went from child actress to screen star over a seven-decade career. During her amazing film, TV, and radio career, Jane took thousands of pictures with her Kodak Brownie camera. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Brownie, Jane at chats about her classic photos--and the stories behind her pictures.

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Kodak: How many movie stars have a doll fashioned after them? Our guest tonight is one of the few and the first. Jane Withers has an amazing Hollywood resume. In some 50 films, she's played opposite W.C. Fields, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gregory Peck. Today's audiences know her as Laverne in Walt Disney Pictures' “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” But few fans know she's one of filmdom's most avid picture-takers. Tonight, let's chat with Jane about her pictures--those she made and those she took. Welcome Jane Withers!

Jane Withers: Hello, everybody! I'm just tickled to pieces that I'm going to have a chat to share nooks and crannies of the world! Whoopee!

Mary: How old were you when you went to Hollywood?

Jane Withers: Well, I'd already had a whole career in Atlanta, Georgia by the time I was three and had gone as far as I could go as Dixie's Dainty Dewdrop and it was time for me to go to Hollywood, California and try to go into the movies. So actually, I started working in California when I was six and a half years old, but before the movies, I did the voices for Looney Tune Cartoons, and the Willie Whopper cartoon series. Then I finally started doing extra work in films at six-and-a-half years old.

Baha: What was your first film like?

Jane Withers: It was very exciting! I did extra work in a film called "Madame Du Barry" staring Delores Del Rio. Mother of course accompanied me on the set, it was a great story, and a wonderful film, and I was with a bunch of other little girls, and we were throwing rose petals in front of the golden coach of Delores Del Rio in the movie. It was terribly hot, and here were these horses thundering down on all these little girls throwing flower petals. I got very woozy and fainted…it was the pits! The next thing I did was wake up in Delores Del Rio's dressing room and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. She was so beautiful, like a beautiful angel. That was the first real movie star I had ever seen since I'd come to Hollywood. She was a very dear, sweet lady to me, and wouldn't let me go back to work, because I had fainted in the sunshine. But after that, I got other roles, and went on to do other extra work. I was lucky enough to be on the set with W. C. Fields in his film called "It's A Gift.” There were a whole bunch of kids -- over a hundred -- and he chose me out of the group of kids to do a special pantomime scene with him. Boy howdy, was I thrilled! I had to play hopscotch in the scene, and keep Mr. Fields from getting to the door of his grocery store. That was the scene, and he asked me if I could play hopscotch and keep him from getting to the door, and I said let's try, may we rehearse it please, and we did, and he said "That was great little girl, do you think you could do the same thing again?" I said "I'll try" and we did it again, and he said "Print it!" and they couldn't because the camera had some kind of problems. It had some kind of problems with the last scene and they didn't get to record it on film, so he said, do you think you could do it again? And I said you betcha, let's just have a go at it, and we did and we finished the scene, and he was very thrilled. He said "Little girl, you must have a mother here, every little girl has a mother, most of them hover around the camera and tell their kids what to do, but yours doesn't seem to be here.” I said "Well, she doesn't hover around the camera, she always said I had the talent that God gave me, she can only take me to the door. The rest is up to me." Mr. Fields asked the assistant director to call my mother over the microphone on the set to come to the camera where he was standing with me. Mother came down to the camera and said oh dear, is something wrong? And Mr. Fields said "No, mother, she did a wonderful job and everything's right. You have a very talented little girl, and I wish you both all the best." He said "She has impeccable timing, and takes direction well. Thank God she could play hopscotch!" He asked me to keep in touch with him, and let him know when I got a really good role that would show my talent just a little bit more than it did with me playing hopscotch. I was thrilled a few months later to get the wonderful role of Joy opposite Shirley Temple in the film "Bright Eyes.”

On that film, I had to play the part of the meanest, creepiest little girl that God ever put on this planet. In the movie, I ran over Shirley Temple with a tricycle, and a baby buggy. And I thought, oh dear, everybody's going to hate me forever because I've been so creepy mean to Shirley Temple! But you know, they weren't? And I was flabbergasted! I got hundreds of letters from little kids that said thank you for running over Shirley Temple with the tricycle and the baby buggy, she's too perfect! And we'll root for you any time! And right after that, I got my first contract with 20th Century Fox, the same studio that Shirley was under contract to, and then they started writing films for me.

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