It was with sadness that we heard the news that British-Australian actress Googie Withers had recently passed away.
Googie Withers was born Georgette Lizette Withers in Karachi, India in 1917 and educated in England. During the 1930s and 1940s Googie quickly made a name for herself as an accomplished actress capable of moving easily from the broad comedy to dramatic roles. Two of her more memorable films include Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and The Loves of Joanna Godden where she starred alongside her soon-to-be husband, Australian actor John McCallum.
In 1954 Googie made her Australian debut starring alongside McCallum in Simon and Laura and The Deep Blue Sea. When McCallum was offered the position of Joint Managing Director of J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. in 1958, the couple decided to make their home in Australia however this did nothing to slow Googie international career. Throughout the 1960s she continued to perform on stage and screen in both the UK and America and also toured Australia for J.C. Williamson’s in several productions including The First Four Hundred Years with Keith Michell.
During their heyday in Australia, Withers and McCallum became ‘theatre royalty’. Britain had Laurence Oliver and Vivien Leigh, we had Googie and John. Googie’s seemingly effortless ability to maintain an international career both on stage and screen gave Australians a connection with Broadway and the Westend while her elegance and charm ensured that she was a darling of the press.
In the latter part of her career Googie enjoyed great success with works by Oscar Wilde. Her exuberant stage presence coupled ‘with tawny hair, star-opal eyes, and a voice like Cointreau being poured over cracked ice’, made her a natural when it came to delivering Wilde’s witty dialogue. She will be fondly remembered for roles in An Ideal Husband with the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1972 and later with alongside her husband in John Frost’s 1997 production. Fittingly it was in Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan that she made her last appearance on the West End in 2002.
The Performing Arts Collection holds a number of items relating to Googie’s long career including photographs, programmes and costumes, two of which are currently on display in the Arts Centre’s Smorgon Family Plaza.