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Googie Withers

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  • Googie Withers

    Tomorrow 12th March would have been Googie's 100th birthday. Happy Birthday for tomorrow Googie.

  • #2
    "Would have been", yes, but won't be. Her final birthday was her 94th. No more since then.
    It always puzzles me when someone wishes a Happy Birthday to a deceased person!
    But hey, it's the 100th anniversary of her birth and I understand your sentiments, googiefan!


    • #3
      Thanks Shirl. I know she died but I always remember people on their birthday. Dead or alive. She lived to a good age.


      • #4
        Happy 100th Googie, always remembered by your fans.........


        • #5
          To read this Life of the Day complete with a picture of the subject,

          Withers, Georgette Lizette [Googie] (1917-2011), actress, was born on 12 March 1917 in Karachi, India, the second child and only daughter of Edgar Clements Withers (1883-1951), a captain in the Royal Indian Navy, and his wife, Lizette Wilhelmina Catarina, nee Noels Van Wageningen (1883-1976), who was of Dutch, French, and German descent. She was given the name Googie, a common Hindi diminutive meaning 'little pigeon' or 'dove', by her ayah. Sent back to England aged seven, she was educated as a boarder at Fredville House School, Nonington, Kent, and as a day girl at the Convent of the Holy Family in Kensington, London. Her father was stationed in India until 1925, when he was reluctantly, and prematurely, retired from the Royal Navy for health reasons. On returning to England he worked with a steel company in Birmingham.

          As a child Withers excelled at sport, took dancing lessons in an attempt to straighten her bandy legs, found out she was rather good at it, and persuaded her parents to send her to after-school lessons at the Italia Conti stage school. She made her first appearance on stage in 1929, at the Victoria Palace, when she played a toy soldier, a cat, a fairy, and a milkmaid, in a children's play, The Windmill Man. Her dancing training continued with the pioneering American choreographer and teacher Buddy Bradley, she worked in cabaret, and she made her first adult appearance in the chorus of Nice Goings On at the Strand in 1933, a musical starring Leslie Henson. She had her first speaking role in Happy Weekend (1934) at the Duke of York's.

          Theatre work continued, but her agent was 'pushing me like mad for films' (McFarlane, Autobiography of British Cinema, 609), and Withers was fortunate enough to be in four of Michael Powell's 'quota quickies', starting with a bit part in The Girl in the Crowd (1934). She had reported for work just as one of the leading players walked out, and was immediately offered the bigger role. For a while it was mostly light fare, her hair dyed blonde to satisfy the front office. She appeared in comedies with Will Hay, George Formby, and Jack Buchanan, and had a small giggly role in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), but it was Powell who again gave her a significant opportunity. He cast her, against the wishes of his producers, in a fine dramatic part as a Dutch resistance worker in One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942). 'At last people realised', wrote Powell, 'what I had known all along, that her beauty had an erotic quality, strange and provocative' (Powell, 414). She then appeared in The Silver Fleet (1943), another story of Dutch resistance, produced by Powell, and returned to the West End in Priestley's They Came to a City, which was concurrently filmed for Ealing. It was at this time that Binkie Beaumont, the all-powerful West End producer, 'horrified about putting my name up in lights' (McFarlane, Autobiography of British Cinema, 608), attempted to persuade her to change it, but after some thought she resisted, pointing out that 'someone called Ginger Rogers was doing rather well despite her name' (ibid.).

          During the war Withers continued to work in the West End, and toured with Southern Command Entertainments and the 'Stars in Battledress' unit. While in Antwerp in December 1944 she was one of only a few survivors when the theatre she was performing in took a direct hit from a V2 rocket, an incident that claimed over five hundred lives, the highest death toll from a single rocket attack during the war in Europe. The 1940s also saw Withers embark on her most significant and distinctive film work. She was part of an incomparable and 'surrealistically elegant' quartet with Roland Culver, Clive Brook, and the formidable Beatrice Lillie (Kael, 428), in Brook's marvellously eccentric version of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval (1944), and was very strong in the 'Haunted Mirror' segment of Dead of Night (1945), the first of her brilliant collaborations with the director Robert Hamer. She seized centre screen in three of the finest British films of this period: as the Victorian pub landlady intent on killing her brutal husband in Hamer's Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945); as the indomitable Romney Marsh sheep farmer in Charles Frend's The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947); and, in probably her finest screen performance, as the unhappily married East End housewife given a glimpse of romantic possibility with her former lover, who has escaped from prison, in Hamer's It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). This was a performance of great depth and passion, 'her sad tight face the image of numbed desire' (Thomson, Have You Seen ...?, 410).

          Withers's co-star in these last two films was the Australian actor John McCallum [see below]. They were married on 24 January 1948, at St George's, Hanover Square, and theirs was to be a wonderfully strong and enduring partnership, both professionally and privately. They had three children, Joanna (b. 1950), later an actress, Nicholas (b. 1956), later a production designer, and Amanda (b. 1960), later an artist and photographer.

          Withers and McCallum made further films together, but of diminishing quality and interest, although Withers had good and contrasting roles in the lustrous film noir Night and the City (1950) opposite the Hollywood star Richard Widmark and directed by Jules Dassin, and in the hospital-based drama White Corridors (1951). However, with the cinema offering fewer opportunities, Withers was happy to concentrate on stage work. In 1952 she scored two great successes, giving superb performances as Georgie Elgin in Clifford Odets's Winter Journey (The Country Girl) alongside Michael Redgrave, and, succeeding Peggy Ashcroft, as Hester Collyer in Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, a role she repeated on television in 1954, winning one of the first television acting awards from the British Film Academy. The following year she and McCallum toured Australia and New Zealand, co-starring in The Deep Blue Sea and Simon and Laura. At Stratford upon Avon, in 1958, Withers again partnered Redgrave, as a beguiling and witty Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and, although nine years his junior, as Gertrude, an 'indolent, doll-like queen' (Trewin, 104), to his last Hamlet.


          • #6
            In 1958 Withers and McCallum left the UK to make their home in Australia, and for the next fifty years commuted between the stages of the two countries. In 1961 Withers and Redgrave were reunited in New York, her only Broadway appearance, in Graham Greene's The Complaisant Lover, and in 1963 she played opposite Alec Guinness in Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King at the Edinburgh Festival and Royal Court. There were still the occasional film roles: Nickel Queen (1971), directed by her husband and co-starring their daughter Joanna; and two superb supporting performances, as the old nurse in Country Life (1995), Michael Blakemore's adaptation of Uncle Vanya, and as the writer Katharine Susannah Prichard in Shine (1996). On television in the mid-1970s she had a huge popular success as Faye Boswell, the tough but compassionate prison governess in Within These Walls (1974-5), and in the 1980s gave fine performances in adaptations of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and Molly Keane's Time After Time.

            From the late 1960s to the early 2000s modern classics would dominate Withers's stage work, alternating Australasian and British tours with seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre and in London's West End, often alongside her husband. She gave especially notable performances in Shaw (Getting Married, Strand, 1967), Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard, Comedy, Melbourne, 1972), Somerset Maugham (The Circle, Chichester, 1976), Enid Bagnold (The Chalk Garden, Chichester, 1986), and as Wilde's Lady Bracknell, Lady Markby, and Duchess of Berwick in revivals of The Importance of Being Earnest (Chichester, 1979), An Ideal Husband (Old Vic, 1995-6), and, finally, Lady Windermere's Fan (Haymarket, 2002), seventy-three years after her debut.

            Googie Withers was an actress of great wit and intelligence. In her film work of the 1940s she showed an individuality, strength, and sensuality that was very unusual for the time. 'I loved those meaty parts', she said. 'I didn't want, and never played, the genteel parts, the English-rose type. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm not altogether English' (McFarlane, Autobiography, 610). She was a woman of enormous energy and generosity. In their various memoirs and diaries Joyce Grenfell, Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, and Noel Coward all attested to the kindness and warmth of the McCallum family, offering a haven to visiting showbiz folk away from home. Appointed an officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1980, and CBE in 2001, she died in Sydney on 15 July 2011. A joint memorial service was held for this tireless and devoted couple at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, the actors' church, on 25 November 2011. She was survived by her three children.

            Withers's husband, John Neil McCallum (1918-2010), actor and theatre and television producer , was born on 14 March 1918 in Brisbane, Australia, the son of John Neil Clarke McCallum (d. 1956), a theatre producer who had emigrated from Scotland, and who managed and then owned the Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane, and his English-born wife, Lilian Elsie, nee Dyson, actress. Having moved briefly to England with his family, McCallum was educated at Oatlands preparatory school in Harrogate, then after they returned to Australia at Knox Grammar School, Sydney, and the Anglican Church Grammar School, Brisbane. He made his stage debut in Brisbane in 1934, while still at school, playing Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII. He returned to England to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After graduating he worked in repertory theatre (including at the People's Palace in Mile End), and then in Stratford upon Avon and with the Old Vic. In 1941 he enlisted in the 2nd/5th field regiment of the Australian Imperial Force, with which he served throughout the remainder of the Second World War. After demobilization he spent some time acting in Australia and New Zealand before returning to the London stage. Handsome, well built, polished, and adaptable, he was best known for his appearances with Googie Withers, which stretched from the films The Loves of Joanna Godden and It Always Rains on Sunday to the stage revival of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in 2002, but he also played opposite Phyllis Calvert, Greta Gynt, and Ingrid Bergman. He appeared in more than twenty films as well as numerous theatre productions. He and Googie Withers travelled frequently between Australia and the UK, but from 1958 he was based mainly in Australia with the J. C. Williamson theatre management company, of which he was joint managing director from 1959. In 1967, recognizing the potential of television, he formed Fauna Films, and embarked on a highly successful career as a producer of television series, including most notably (with his friend Lee Robinson as co-producer) Skippy, the story of a boy who makes friends with a bush kangaroo, which became a huge international hit, generating ninety-one episodes and being shown in more than 120 countries, appearing first in the UK on ITV in 1967-9 with many subsequent repeats. His other television series included Boney (about a part-aboriginal detective), Barrier Reef, and Bailey's Bird. He also produced the films They're a Weird Mob (1966), directed by Michael Powell, and Attack Force Z (1982), starring Mel Gibson. He was appointed CBE in 1971 and an officer of the Order of Australia in 1992. Although he became better known as a television producer than as an actor, it was often said that he and Googie Withers were Australia's 'theatrical royalty'. He died in Sydney on 3 February 2010.

            Alex Jennings

            Sources R. Speaight, Shakespeare on the stage (1973) + I. Herbert, ed., Who's who in the theatre, 16th edn (1977) + I. Christie, ed., Powell, Pressburger, and others (1978) + J. McCallum, Life with Googie (1979) + J. Grenfell, In pleasant places (1979) + P. Kael, 5001 nights at the movies (1982) + D. Shipman, The story of cinema, 2 (1984) + M. Powell, A life in movies (1986) + K. Ganzl, The British musical theatre, 2 vols. (1986) + J. C. Trewin, Five and eighty Hamlets (1987) + J. Caughie and K. Rockett, The companion to British and Irish cinema (1996) + B. McFarlane, An autobiography of British cinema (1997) + A. Guinness, My name escapes me: the diary of a retiring actor (1997) + S. Smith, ed., My country childhood (2001) + A. Strachan, Secret dreams: a biography of Michael Redgrave (2004) + D. Thomson, The new biographical dictionary of film, 4th edn (2004) + M. Sweet, Shepperton Babylon: the lost worlds of British cinema (2005) + B. McFarlane, The encyclopedia of British film, 3rd edn (2008) + D. Thomson, Have you seen? (2008) + The Age [Melbourne] (4 Feb 2010) [J. McCallum] + The Australian (5 Feb 2010) [J. McCallum] + The Times (15 Feb 2010) [J. McCallum] + The Independent (3 April 2010) [J. McCallum] + The Guardian (8 April 2010) [J. McCallum] + The Times (16 July 2011) + Daily Telegraph (18 July 2011) + The Guardian (18 July 2011); (2 Aug 2011) + The Independent (18 July 2011) + Sydney Morning Herald (18 July 2011) + The Australian (18 July 2011) + The Age [Melbourne] (19 July 2011) + Kalgoorlie Miner (19 July 2011) + WW (2011) + personal knowledge (2015) + private information (2015) + m. cert.
            Likenesses photographs, 1930-2007, Rex Features, London · photographs, 1934-85, Getty Images, London · bromide print, 1938, NPG, London · photographs, 1938-2002, Photoshot, London · F. Daniels, vintage bromide print, 1942, NPG [see illus.] · Picturegoer, photograph, 1946, Heritage Image Partnership, London · A. Buckley, bromide print, 1949, NPG, London · photographs, 1949-2002, PA Photos, London · photograph, Mary Evans Picture Library, London · photographs, Camera Press, London