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Prolific Rodgers and Hammerstein Standby Iva Withers Dies at 97

Withers spent her Broadway career understudying stars including Carol Channing, Julie Harris, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Iva Withers, London's original Julie Jordan in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel, has died at 97.

Iva Withers, seasoned standby and understudy from Broadway's golden age, died on Tuesday, October 7, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. She was 97.

Born July 7, 1917, in Manitoba, Canada, Withers moved to New York in 1940 to study singing. She made her Broadway debut in 1943 in the original production of Oklahoma!, understudying the lead soprano roles and kicking off her long-standing relationship with the iconic songwriting team Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Recalling her overlapping Broadway runs in Oklahoma! and Carousel in 1945, she once commented, "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." In 1950, she became the first Julie Jordan in the original London production of Carousel.

On Broadway, she went on to be a replacement for Adelaide in the original production of Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls, and performed in several American national tours as Julie in Carousel, Nellie in South Pacific, and Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her additional Broadway credits include standby, understudy, and replacement roles in Make a Wish, Redhead, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Rattle of a Simple Man, High Spirits, and The Happy Time.

The one and only role she ever originated on Broadway came in 1968 in the Abe Burrows comedy Forty Carats, in which she performed the minor role of Mrs. Adams while understudying Julie Harris (and later Zsa Zsa Gabor) in the leading role that earned Harris a Tony Award.

Withers married Broadway actor and dancer Kasimir Kokich in 1949, and remained married to him until his death in 1982. She is survived by her daughter Kim Kokich.