Iva Withers (born July 16, 1917) is a retired actress and singer who is best remembered as a replacement actress who had long runs in some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's biggest musical theatre hits. From 1945 to 1970, Withers nearly continuously worked on Broadway or in national tours, generally as a replacement player.
Life and career
Withers was born in Manitoba, Canada. She moved to New York in 1940 to study singing "so she could improve her voice when she performed in church". She spent 7 months in 1942 in wartime England searching for her brother and boyfriend, both of whom turned out to have been killed. By 1944 she was auditioning for roles on Broadway. In 1945, she was hired by Rodgers and Hammerstein to understudy the leading soprano roles in Oklahoma! and Carousel. She recalled, "There was even a Saturday that summer where I played Julie in Carousel at the matinee and Laurey in Oklahoma! in the evening and had to hurry from the Majestic Theatre to the St. James Theatre in between."
She eventually played Julie Jordan more than 600 times on Broadway and was the first Julie in the original London production of Carousel in 1950. The English critic Philip Hope-Wallace wrote that she achieved real pathos in the role. She next was a replacement for Adelaide in Guys and Dolls in the original Broadway production. She also played in American national tours as Julie in Carousel, Nellie in South Pacific and Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Other Broadway roles included Janette in Make a Wish (1951, as standby), May in Redhead (1959, as replacement), Molly in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960 as standby), Cyrenne in the stage version of Rattle of a Simple Man (1963, as understudy), Elvira in High Spirits (1964, as standby) and Suzanne and Felice in The Happy Time (1968, as standby).
Her last role was from 1968 to 1970 as Mrs. Adams, and also as the standby to Julie Harris, and later Zsa Zsa Gabor, in Forty Carats on Broadway. In August 1970, she went on for a matinee when Gabor was too upset to perform after being robbed of $600,000 in jewels at gunpoint that morning, though the star returned for the evening performance. She left show business after growing fed up with fighting the show's producers over the "extra $75″ she was supposed to be paid when actually filling in at a performance.
Withers was married to Broadway actor and dancer Kasimir Kokich from 1949 until his death in 1982. His first wife was ballerina Alexandra Danilova. He was a US WWII veteran who struggled with alcoholism after the war; by the 1960s, this prevented him from working. After leaving the stage, Withers supported herself and her two children by doing clerical work, retiring at age 77. One of the children is Kim Alexandra Kokich.
- Sobel, Jon. "Iva Withers: Nonagenarian Link to Broadway’s Golden Age", blogcritics.org, 12 August 2010, accessed 28 August 2014
- Stedekee, Martha Wade. "Event musings: the second time around: Iva Withers and standby charm", msteketee.wordpress.com, 12 August 2010, accessed 28 August 2014
- Belcher, David. "The Standby Star Who Stole Broadway’s Limelight", The New York Times, August 9, 2010, accessed May 21, 2013
- Hope-Wallace, Philip. "Carousel", The Manchester Guardian, June 8, 1950, p. 5
- "Miss Gabor Is Too Upset to Perform at Her Matinee", The New York Times, August 20, 1970. Retrieved on May 26, 2013. Subscription required.
- Kokich, Kim Alexandra. "A Personal View of a Dancer's Life", Information Bulletin, Library of Congress, July 2000, accessed May 21, 2013