Googie Withers, British Actress of Stage and Screen, Dies at 94

Obituaries   Googie Withers, British Actress of Stage and Screen, Dies at 94
Googie Withers, a sly, stylish British star who was best liked by her public when she was behaving wickedly, died July 15 in Sydney, Australia, where she had lived for many years. She was 94.

Googie Withers
Googie Withers

With jet black hair, knowing eyes, prominent cheekbones and mouth simultaneously inviting and contemptuous, Ms. Withers was an arresting screen presence. She got her big break when one of the leads in Michael Powell's 1935 film "The Girl in the Crowd" was fired just as she reported for work as an extra. She was immediately offered the bigger part. She became known internationally as part of the ensemble cast in Alfred Hitchcock's hit 1938 thriller "The Lady Vanishes." Powell used her again in the wartime drama "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing."

She had one of her best roles in the gritty 1947 noir "It Always Rains on Sunday," in which she played a tough, bossy former barmaid trapped in a loveless marriage in a London where it always seemed to be raining. When a former lover — a convicted murderer newly escaped from prison — shows up on her doorstep, she decides to shelter him, with disastrous results. Her co-star was Australian actor John McCallum. They married in 1948. An earlier marriage had ended in divorce. (McCallum died in 2010.)

In 1950, she played a bitingly cynical nightclub hostess conniving with Richard Widmark in "Night and the City," Jules Dassin's classic portrait of underground London. As in most her performances, she radiated strength, sexuality, and a soul that wasn't necessarily pure. On the West End stage, she acted in Clifford Odets' Winter Journey in 1952 and was Gertrude to the Hamlet of Michael Redgrave (a frequent co-star) in 1958. (Critic Kenneth Tynan quipped that the actress playing Gertrude "looks even younger than Googie Withers — a surprising achievement, considering that Miss Withers herself plays the part.")

When McCallum was offered a position running J.C. Williamson Theatre in the late 1950s, the couple moved to Australia. Ms. Withers continued her stage career Down Under. For the Melboune Theatre Company, she acted in The Deep Blue Sea, Desire of the Mother, The First 400 Years, Beekman Place, The Kingfisher, The Cherry Orchard and An Ideal Husband. Often, she toured with plays across Australia. She returned to London to star in a West End revival of The School for Scandal, in a production of The Circle which transferred from the Chichester Festival, and with Alec Guinness in the British premiere of Ionesco's Exit the King. On Broadway, she starred alongside Michael Redgrave in Graham Greene's The Complacent Lover in 1961.

She won new fame playing a prison governor in the 1970s television series "Within These Walls." In 1996, she made her final screen appearance in the film "Shine." Six years later, she acted with Vanessa Redgrave in a West End production of Lady Windermere's Fan. Ms. Withers was born in Karachi, then a part of British India, on March 12, 1917. He father was an English sailor, her mother Dutch. She was christened Georgette Lizette Withers, but came to be called Googie, meaning "little pigeon," a nickname given her by her nanny. Ms. Withers was arguably remembered longer than her acting contemporaries owing to her unusual moniker. Always strong of opinion, she once told a reporter, "I'm not changing my name. Remember that I have won a certain reputation with it, and I don't feel like beginning over again with a fresh name. Besides, my real name sounds even crazier. I was christened Georgette Lizette!"

She is survived by her children Joanna, Nicholas and Amanda.

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