Googie Withers Dies at 94
Born Georgette Lizette Withers on March 12, 1917 in Karachi, India, she was known as "Googie" from an early age. Her family returned to England when she was aged seven and she began acting at the age of 12, appearing at the Victoria Palace in The Windmill Man. A student at the Italia Conti Academy of Arts, she was a dancer in a West End production when she was offered work as a film extra in Michael Powell's The Girl in the Crowd (1935). She arrived on the set to find one of the major players in the production had been dismissed, and she was immediately asked to step into the role.
During the 1930s Withers was constantly in demand in leading roles in minor films and supporting roles in more prestigious productions. Her best known work of the period was as one of Margaret Lockwood's friends in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938).
Among her successes of the 1940s was the Powell/Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), a topical World War II drama in which she played a resistance fighter who helps British airmen return to safety from behind enemy lines. She is well remembered for her role as the devious Helen Nosseross in the classic film noir Night and the City (1950).
While filming The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), she met her co-star, the Australian actor John McCallum, and they were married on 24 January, 1948. They remained married until McCallum's death on February 3, 2010. Withers first toured Australia in the stage play Simon and Laura. When McCallum was offered the position running J.C. Williamson Theatres, they moved to Australia.
Withers starred in a number of stage plays, including Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, Desire of the Moth, The First 400 Years (with Keith Michell), Beekman Place (for which she also designed the set), The Kingfisher, Stardust, and Chekov's The Cherry Orchard and Wilde's An Ideal Husband for the Melbourne Theatre Company; both productions toured Australia. Withers and McCallum appeared together in the U.K. in The School for Scandal at the Duke of York's Theatre on the West End and on the subsequent British Council tour of Europe in 1983-4, and in W. Somerset Maugham's The Circle at the Chichester Festival Theatre. She starred on Broadway with Michael Redgrave in The Complaisant Lover and in London with Alec Guiness in Exit the King. During the 1970s, Withers appeared as prison governor Faye Boswell in the television series Within These Walls, for which she won Best Actress Award in 1974. In 1986, Withers starred in the BBC adaptation of Hotel du Lac, which was followed a year later by another BBC production of Northanger Abbey. In 1990, she appeared in ITV's adaptation of Ending Up. Withers' most recent screen performance was as the Australian novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard in the 1996 film Shine, for which she and the other cast members were nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for "Outstanding Performance by a Cast".
In 1980, Withers received an Officer of the Order of Australia Award (AO), the first non-Australian woman to receive this honour, and she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002. That same year, aged 85, she appeared with John McCallum and Vanessa Redgrave in Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in London's West End.
Leading Australian theatre producer John Frost worked with Googie Withers and John McCallum on several occasions, and became a close family friend. "My association with John and Googie began in 1978 when I worked as stage manager on their production of The Kingfisher," Frost said today. "We became firm friends and I was thrilled to present them in productions of High Spirits in 1993 and An Ideal Husband in 1997 and co produce their finAl West End appearance in Lady Windermere's Fan starring Vanessa Redgrave.
"Googie was theatre royalty," Frost said. "Her zest for life and her command of the stage and screen will never be seen again. She will always have top billing and the number one dressing room in the eyes of her friends and fans. May her star always shine brightly."
Googie Withers is survived by her children Joanna, Nicholas and Amanda, and grandchildren Alexandra, Harry, Emma, Angus, Casper and Abigail.