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Iva Withers

Performer
( b. Jul 07, 1917 Rivers, Manitoba, CANADA - d. Oct 07, 2014 Englewood, New Jersey, USA ) Female
Also known as: Pearl Iva Edith Withers [Birthname]
Relations: Wife of Kasimir Kokich (1949 - 1982) his death
If there were a Tony Award for best understudy, Iva Withers might well have won repeatedly during her nearly three decades on Broadway. Though she appeared in the first Broadway run of musicals like Carousel, Oklahoma! and Guys and Dolls, she never originated a starring role of her own. Instead, Ms. Withers made a career as a backup for actresses like Julie Harris and Carol Channing.

She grew up in Winnipeg, where she began appearing in local vaudeville productions at 10 and singing in church as a teenager. She went to New York in 1940, working as a night cashier at Stouffer's restaurant while auditioning for Broadway. She went to Rodgers and Hammerstein casting calls for about a year before Richard Rodgers selected her for the Carousel chorus. In time she became Jan Clayton's understudy.

A petite blonde with a powerful voice, Ms. Withers was a Broadway utility player. "Her motto was never to learn just your own lines -- learn everybody's," her daughter said. On Sept. 15, 1945, that work ethic helped Ms. Withers become the first actress to play the lead in two hit shows in one day. She was playing Laurey Williams in Oklahoma! while understudying for Jan Clayton as Julie Jordan in Carousel when Ms. Clayton became sick before the matinee. Ms. Withers played Julie in the afternoon and Laurey that night without a hitch.

Ms. Clayton left Carousel for Show Boat in 1946, and Ms. Withers took over. She also played Julie during national and British tours and a 1949 revival. In the early 1950s Ms. Withers replaced a pregnant Ms. Channing for the touring production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and played Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls after Vivian Blaine left the cast. She backed up Tammy Grimes in the play Rattle of a Simple Man and the musicals High Spirits and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

In 1961, when she was Ms. Grimes's standby in Molly Brown, she received a startling phone call at her West 55th Street apartment in Manhattan: Ms. Grimes had fainted during the first act. "In seven minutes I was onstage," she told The New York Journal-American, which reported that the rest of the show went smoothly and that Ms. Withers received an ovation.

For all her winning moments onstage, Ms. Withers was not a perennial understudy by choice, and she continued to hold out hope for a star turn of her own. She finally got the chance in 1968, in the comedy Forty Carats, directed by Abe Burrows, in which she originated the minor role of Mrs. Adams. She also understudied for Ms. Harris as the female lead, Ann Stanley, and even played the Stanley role herself for a while before Zsa Zsa Gabor took over.

After Forty Carats closed in 1970, Ms. Withers struggled to find roles, and finally left Broadway. After her Broadway career, Ms. Withers returned to work as a cashier and became a physician's assistant.

"I am happy with everything that happened to me, although I had to struggle and work hard," she told The Times in a profile in 2010. "I got to work with all the greats: Meredith Willson, Jule Styne, Rodgers and Hammerstein. I'm very lucky."

Source: The New York Times obituary



Productions Date of Productions
Forty Carats
[Play, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Iva Withers
    • Mrs. Adams
    • Ann Stanley - Replacement (Jun 11, 1970 - ?)
  • Standby: Iva Withers [Ann Stanley]
  • Understudy: Iva Withers
    • Mrs. Margolin - Replacement
Dec 26, 1968 - Nov 07, 1970
The Happy Time
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Standby: Iva Withers [Suzanne Bonnard, Felice Bonnard]
Jan 18, 1968 - Sep 28, 1968
High Spirits
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Standby: Iva Withers [Elvira]
Apr 07, 1964 - Feb 27, 1965
Rattle of a Simple Man
[Play, Original]
  • Understudy: Iva Withers [Cyrenne]
Apr 17, 1963 - Jul 06, 1963
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Standby: Iva Withers [Molly Tobin]
Nov 03, 1960 - Feb 10, 1962
Redhead
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Iva Withers
    • May - Replacement
Feb 05, 1959 - Mar 19, 1960
Make a Wish
[Musical, Original]
  • Standby: Iva Withers [Janette]
Apr 18, 1951 - Jul 14, 1951
Guys and Dolls
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Iva Withers
    • Miss Adelaide - Replacement
Nov 24, 1950 - Nov 28, 1953
Carousel
[Musical, Drama, Revival]
  • Performer: Iva Withers [Julie Jordan]
Feb 22, 1949 - Mar 05, 1949
Carousel
[Musical, Drama, Original]
  • Performer: Iva Withers
    • Singer
    • Julie Jordan - Replacement
Apr 19, 1945 - May 24, 1947
Oklahoma!
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Iva Withers
    • Laurey - Replacement
Mar 31, 1943 - May 29, 1948
Find out where Iva Withers and are credited together