Googie Withers was never a big star. Her range as an actress was too great for the pigeon-holing necessary for true stardom. Yet, among film buffs her reputation is second to none. No matter what film she appears in, there's always something to keep us watching.
Georgette Lizette Withers was born in Karachi into an army family. Her unusual pseudonym, given to her by her nanny, means Little Pigeon in Hindi. By 1929 she was in England and on stage. This inevitably lead to work in the booming film industry.
Though she signed on for extra work, the second lead of Michael Powell's The Girl in the Crowd needed to be replaced. In true fairy tale fashion, Googie was plucked from the crowd to replace her. She worked steadily, if unspectacularly, for the next decade in film and on stage. Her work covered most genres, and included playing stooge to Hay, Formby and Askey. She was pretty, hard-working and competent, but was getting a reputation as merely a light comedienne.
In 1942 she got two big breaks: the film One of Our Aircraft is Missing and the play They Came to a City. Michael Powell fought to get her to play the Dutch Resistance worker, convinced she could "go dramatic". Her having a Dutch mother and knowledge of the language also helped. She was utterly convincing. Meanwhile, the J.B. Priestley play They Came to a City ran for two years in the West End. She was now considered a serious actress, and entered the golden period of her career.
In a handful of films in the mid-forties, she portrayed some unforgettable women. Her characters were grown-up and sexual in a way that few women in British cinema have been. Then something dreadful happened - she married John McCallum.
Of course, it wasn't dreadful for her; their marriage is one of the most enduring in show business. However her career never had the same impetus after her marriage, and the film world sorely missed the zing she could give a decent part. She did fit a few films into her schedule between family life and the stage, but for the most part they weren't worthy of her. Her stage work was more worthwhile, and included a season at Stratford playing Gertrude and Beatrice.
The McCallums spent more and more time in his native Australia, and by the end of the fifties they'd moved permanently. She did come back in the seventies to do two series of TV's dour women's prison saga Within These Walls - just to remind us of what we were missing.
Googie still works occasionally. In 1996 she appeared in the major hit Shine, and in 1998 she starred with her husband in a stage revival of An Ideal Husband. She was made a CBE in the 2001 Birthday Honours List. Her daughter Joanna is a successful actress.
|1934||The Girl in the Crowd|
|1935||The Love Test|
|1935||Her Last Affaire|
|1935||All at Sea|
|1936||Crown v Stevens|
|1936||She Knew What She Wanted|
|1936||Crime Over London|
|1937||Action For Slander|
|1937||The Green Cockatoo|
|1937||Paradise For Two|
|1938||Paid in Error|
|1938||If I Were Boss|
|1938||The Lady Vanishes|
|1938||You're the Doctor|
|1939||Murder in Soho|
|1939||The Gang's All Here|
|1939||She Couldn't Say No|
|1940||Bulldog Sees it Through|
|1942||Back Room Boy|
|1942||One of Our Aircraft is Missing|
|1943||The Silver Fleet|
|1944||They Came to a City|
|1945||Dead of Night|
|1945||Pink String and Sealing Wax|
|1945||The Loves of Joanna Godden|
|1947||It Always Rains on Sunday|
|1948||Once Upon a Dream|
|1950||Night and the City|
|1951||The Magic Box|
|1951||Lady Godiva Rides Again|
|1954||Devil On Horseback|
|1956||Port of Escape|
|1970||The Nickel Queen (Aus.)|
|1985||Time After Time (Aus.)|
|1994||Country Life (Aus.)|
Googie Withers at Amazon UK
Googie Withers at Amazon US