Sunday, July 17, 2011

Actress Googie Withers Passes On

Googie Withers CBE, AO passed Friday, 15 July 2011 at the age of 94.

Googie Withers was born Georgette Lizette Withers in Karachi, British India (now Pakistan) on 12 March 1917. Her Indian nanny gave her the nickname "Googie," which meant "dove" or "crazy" depending on whom one asked. From a very young age she had wanted to be a dancer. She took her first lessons when she was only four years old. She attended Fredville Park School in Nonnington, Kent and then the Convent of the Holy Family in Kensington in London. She studied at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London and later at the Helena Lehmiski Academy in Birmingham.

Googie Withers made her stage debut at the age of 12 in a Christmas pantomime entitled The Windmill Man at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. At age 15 she won the Open Dancing Championship of Great Britain with partner Vera Morris. At age 17 she enrolled in a dancing school run by Buddy Bradley.  She started appearing in the chorus lines of such shows as Ballyhoo and Nice Goings On not long after. She received her first led role with the show Happy Weekend. Miss Withers would go from Happy Weekend to her first movie roles, in Windfall (1935) and The Girl in the Crowd (1935).

Prior to the Second World War, Miss Withers' career would be a mixed bag.  She would work with some very prestigious directors. Before the war she appeared in four movies directed by Michael Powell: The Girl in the Crowd, The Love Test (1935), Her Last Affaire (1936), and Crown v. Stevens (1936).  She also appeared as Blanche in The Lady Vanishes (1938).  While Googie Withers much preferred dramatic parts, however, the studio dyed her hair blonde and insisted on using her in comedies. She appeared in the George Formby farce Trouble Brewing (1940) and the Tommy Trinder comedy She Couldn't Say No (1940).

It would largely be because of Michael Powell that Googie Withers' career would take a different course. He cast her in the film One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), in which she played one of the Dutch resistance. Afterwards she would let her hair go back to its natural brunette and play more serious roles than she had been permitted before the war. She appeared in such films as Michael Powell's The Silver Fleet (1943), the classic horror portmanteau film Dead of Night (1945), Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), It Always Rains on Sundays (1945), Miranda (1948), and Night and the City (1950).  In the Fifties Miss Withers made her television debut, appearing in an episode of BBC Sunday Night Theatre in 1953. She also appeared in an episode of Rheingold Theatre. She appeared in the films White Corridors (1951), The Magic Box (1951), Derby Day (1952), and Port of Escape (1956).

It was on the set of It Always  Rains on  Sunday that Miss Withers met fellow actor John McCallum. The two married, and in 1958 moved to Mr. McCallum's native Australia after he was offered a job with the TC Williamson theatrical agency. Both continued to appear on stage in Australia and the United Kingdom, although Miss Withers would not appear on film again until 1971 in Nickel Queen. In the Seventies she appeared frequently on television. She was the prison governess on the series Within These Walls. She also appeared in such shows as Seasons of the Year, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Boney. In the Eighties she appeared on the show Screen Two. Her final roles on the big screen were in the movies Country Life (1994) and Shine (1996).

Googie Withers was a very versatile actress who could play any number of roles. She played a surgeon in White Corridors. She played a murderer in Pink String and Sealing Wax. She played a housewife harbouring a former lover turned escaped convict in It Always Rains on Sunday. In the TV series Within These Walls she played the prison governess with liberal attitudes. And while she may not have found the roles challenging, Miss Withers did very well in the comedies of the Thirties. She was a very talented actress and one who was quite capable of playing anything. Even had her name not been so unusual, she would be memorable for her rather singular talent.


Cliff Aliperti said...

Loved her in Clive Brook's On Approval. I hadn't been aware of how long and varied her career had been until the recent obituaries. Thanks for giving her such great coverage here, excellent remembrance!

grandoldmovies said...

I second Cliff on loving Googie in "On Approval"--she's beautiful and stylish and very funny. She's also superb in "One of our Aircraft is Missing." And she's one of the definitive femme fatales in "Night and the City." Thanks for your lovely post on a terrific actress.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Googie certainly did have a long and varied career. In fact, I was rather surprised that newspapers here in the States did not give her more coverage. She was in some very well known films, from The Lady Vanishes to Dead of Night. I was always impressed with how much of a chameleon she could be--femme fatale in one film, caring surgeon in another! She was certainly one of the greats!