Veteran actress Googie Withers, best known for her stage and film work, has died aged 94.
Withers, who was married to actor-producer John McCallum, died yesterday at her Sydney home. The enduring couple were towering figures in the advancement of theatre in Australia, notably during the 1950s-1970s, whilst McCallum also produced Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.
UK-raised Withers moved to Australia in 1958 with McCallum, who died last year.
She starred in more than 40 films including Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, plus The Amazing Mr. Forrest, Haunted Honeymoon, On Approval, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, Once Upon a Dream, and Port of Escape.
In television she is best known as Faye Boswell in the UK series Within These Walls, which ran from 1974 to 1978, but she also appeared in Boney, The Cherry Orchard and Screen Two. She also appeared in distinguished productions including adaptations of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac and Kingsley Amis’s Ending Up.
She was also the first non-Australian to be awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia award in 1980 and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002.
When the couple both appeared on ABC’s Talking Heads, Withers told host Peter Thompson about working on a film called ‘The Nickel Queen’ in 1970:
“I was playing the part of a barmaid in the outback. I mean, outback – we went to Kalgoorlie, and then we went – where? – to Coolgardie or something. What was it called? Oh, I don’t know what it was. But it was very hot and it was miles from anywhere. I had an offer to do a very good, it seemed to me, television series of a prison governor. Wherever I went, I was ‘Guv’. It was great fun. It was a lovely series to do, but the trouble with that was that I was stuck in England and I had this big part in a big series and I had to say that I had to leave it. But I said, “I must get back home. I’ve got to be with John.” ‘Cause I hadn’t seen him for eight months. And so I gave it up and I came back to Australia. Because of you. (Laughs) I could have been doing it still.”
But it was her theatrical career that was extensive, in productions including Much Ado About Nothing, Exit the King, The Circle, The Importance of Being Earnest, Shaw’s Getting Married and many more.
Yesterday theatre producer John Frost told the ABC, “She was an extraordinary person, and John and Googie together were probably the last of a breed of actor-manager and wife team to tour the world and work constantly.
“I think it’s the end of a golden era with the two of them passing now, and in particular Googie.”
She last appeared on screen in Shine in 1996 but at 85 she was still commanding attention on the West End stage, in Lady Windermere’s Fan.