January 2, 2017


Googie Withers (1917-2011) b. Karachi, Pakistan.

Googie Withers

Georgette Lizette Withers was born in Karachi, in pre-partition India, to a British naval captain and a Dutch mother. At 12, while a boarder at Fredville Park private school near Dover, she took dancing lessons, initially to straighten bandy legs. At the same age she made her first professional appearance, in the chorus of a children’s show at the Victoria Palace, London. She persuaded her parents to send her to the Italia Conti school after she had worked her normal school day at the Convent of the Holy Family in Kensington.

Withers learned her craft in ‘quota quickies’ during the 1930s and found her strongest roles with Ealing, and in particular with Robert Hamer, in the 1940s. She made over thirty films between 1934 and 1941, including Trouble Brewing (1939) with George Formby, a brief, giggly appearance for Alfred Hitchcock in The Lady Vanishes (1938), and three ‘quota quickies’ directed by Michael Powell: The Girl in the Crowd (1934), The Love Test (1935) and Her Last Affaire (1936). Powell rewarded her by giving her a first leading dramatic part in One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942).

At Ealing, she played a series of determined women struggling against the constraints of a conservative, respectable male society, her boldly drawn, assertive sexuality sitting uneasily with the image of Ealing’s gentle revolution. For Hamer, she appeared in the ‘Haunted Mirror’ episode of Dead of Night (1945), Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), and, probably her best film, It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). Hamer was also closely involved in Charles Frend‘s The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947) – her other best role as a Mildred Pierce of the Romney Marshes.

Married to John McCallum, the leading man in her two best films, Googie Withers moved to Australia in the 1950s, where she continued to work – Country Life (1994). She returned to Britain in the 1980s and gave two fine television performances in Hotel du Lac (1986) and Northanger Abbey (1987). She also appeared in Shine (1996), a film based on the career of David Helfgott, the pianist struggling against family pressures and mental instability, whose real-life interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto was used in the film and became a controversial attraction in the concert hall.

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