Iva Withers (Iva Withers)

Iva Withers

Actress, Singer. A pretty blonde who had a long career on Broadway, she shall be remembered as perhaps The Great White Way’s supreme understudy. Born Pearl Iva Withers, she was raised in Winnipeg, learned to sing in church, began appearing in local Vaudeville revues at around 10, and in 1940 moved to New York where she supported herself as a restaurant cashier while studying to improve her vocal skills. In the mid 1940s she was hired by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the chorus of “Carousel” while serving as Jan Clayton’s understudy in the lead role of Julie Jordan and simultaneously being the back-up Laurey for “Oklahoma!”; indeed, on September 15, 1945 she achieved the distinction of performing both parts in the same day. Iva eventually sang Julie around 600 times, touring the piece and being in the cast for the 1950 orignal London production. She was Mary Martin’s understudy as Nellie Forbush when “South Pacific” opened on Broadway in 1949 and was to assume the role many times both in New York and on tour; in the early 1950s she took-over for a pregnant Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee in “Gentleman Prefer Blondes”, was seen as Miss Adelaide during the original run of “Guys and Dolls”, and in the early 1960s earned high praise filling-in for Tammy Grimes as the title lead of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. Though her talent and strong work ethic (she invariably learned all the roles in her shows, not just her own) garnered her both respect and steady assignments in both the original productions and revivals of a string of mega hits, she long desired to create a role for Broadway and in 1968 was finally given the chance in the secondary part of Miss Adams in “Forty Carats”, though she was also seen as the lead character, Ann Stanley. Iva had strong opinions, despising baritone John Raitt and thinking little better of Mary Martin, leading to dust-ups and to her to leaving the stage for good in 1970, then was to return to a secretarial job before finally retiring in her late 70s. Married twice, her first union to Robert Strom failed when she took-up with actor and dancer Kasimir Kokich, while the second lasted until Kokich’s 1982 death, though the couple was separated for the last several years due to Kokich’s drinking. Iva donated her collection of memorabilia to Ohio State University, remained sharp to the end, and lived in New York until relocating to New Jersey’s Lillian Booth Actors Home in her final years. Some sources list her birthdate as July 16, 1917. (bio by: Bob Hufford)

Born

  • July, 07, 1917
  • Canada

Died

  • October, 10, 2014
  • USA

Other

  • Cremated

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