Jessie Matthews


Actor, Dancer
Jessie Matthews

About

Also Known As
Jessica Matthews
Birth Place
London, England, United Kingdom
Born
March 11, 1907
Died
August 19, 1981
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

Exuberant, coyly girlish, immensely popular star of British musicals of the 1930s, arguably the one real international superstar created in England during the Depression years. Matthews's elegant dancing earned her such tags--conjured by the publicity department--as "The British Ginger Rogers" and, more memorably, "The Dancing Divinity."With her endearing "funny face" prettiness, lovely ...

Family & Companions

Henry Lytton Jr
Husband
Actor. Married in 1927; divorced in 1929; Matthews' co-star in Andre Charlot's "Show of 1926".
Sonnie Hale
Husband
Actor, comedian, director. Married in 1931; Matthews was cited as co-respondent in divorce suit of musical comedy stars Evelyn Laye and Hale; case was highly publicized.
Brian Lewis
Husband

Bibliography

"Over My Shoulder"
Jessie Matthews (1974)

Notes

Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1970

Biography

Exuberant, coyly girlish, immensely popular star of British musicals of the 1930s, arguably the one real international superstar created in England during the Depression years. Matthews's elegant dancing earned her such tags--conjured by the publicity department--as "The British Ginger Rogers" and, more memorably, "The Dancing Divinity."

With her endearing "funny face" prettiness, lovely large dark eyes, toothy smile, gawky but oddly graceful gangliness and charming coo of a singing voice, Matthews typically played pert gamines and waifs caught up in mistaken identity complications and backstage musical comedy shenanigans. A big success on the London stage during the late 1920s, she clinched her film stardom in the open-air freshness of "The Good Companions" (1932), directed by Victor Saville. Probably her best-remembered film is the delightful musical "Evergreen" (1934), also helmed by Saville, in which she played both mother and daughter and performed to songs ranging from "Dancing on the Ceiling" to "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow." The beguiling, effervescent Matthews also did well by "First a Girl" (1935), a mild remake of the German gender-bending farce "Viktor und Viktoria" (1933) which later inspired Blake Edwards's "Victor/Victoria" (1982). One of her lesser films, though, was "Waltzes from Vienna" (1933), with young director Alfred Hitchcock completely lost at sea and bored helming an operetta.

Unlike some of England's popular film stars whose background was the music hall tradition and whose appeal was somewhat limited to the U.K., Matthews found that her vivacious flair for comedy and delightful dancing, showcased in films much more lavish than many other English efforts of the day, traveled extremely well. At several times Hollywood beckoned (once proposing to team her with Fred Astaire), but nothing ever came of the attempts. Matthews' second husband was stage comedian and director Sonnie Hale, who played goofy comedy roles in several of her starring vehicles, but whose direction of three of them (including the lesser if enjoyable "Head Over Heels" 1937) left a bit to be desired.

After her stardom declined at the end of the decade Matthews returned to extensive stage work (from "Wild Rose" in 1944 to "Water Babies" in 1973, and even doing a spot of directing). Her many radio appearances included the long-running 1960s radio program "Mrs. Dale's Diary," and her tours in a wide variety of plays were international in scope. Late in life, Matthews also gave a number of concerts in America and on the London stage where her career got started, her light soprano retaining a great deal of its nostalgic charm. Matthews also made a handful film appearances from the 1940s on, perhaps most memorably by bringing a warm glow to the modest role of the tiny protagonist's mother in the beloved fantasy, "tom thumb" (1958).

Life Events

1917

Began dance training at age ten at the Madame Elise Clerc School (date approximate)

1919

Made stage debut in pantomime with Terry's Juveniles in "Bluebell in Fairyland"

1923

Danced onstage in C.B. Cochran's "Music Box Revue"

1923

Was a stand-by chorine in Andre Charlot's revue, "London Calling"

1923

Made film debut in a bit part in "The Beloved Vagabond"

1924

Travelled to the U.S. To understudy Gertrude Lawrence on Broadway in "Andre Charlot's Revue of 1924"

1925

Took over lead of Charlot's 1924 revue when Lawrence hospitalized

1925

Played the second female lead back in London in "Andre Charlot's Revue of 1925"

1926

Played the female lead in Charlot's "Show of 1926"

1927

Returned to Broadway to star in "Earl Carroll's Vanities"

1927

Played the West End in director Frank Collins's staging of "One Dam Thing After Another"; introduced what came to be her signature song, "My Heart Stood Still" (composed by Richard Rodgers)

1928

Starred onstage in "This Year of Grace", written by and directed by Noel Coward

1929

Starred in the Cole Porter musical "Wake Up and Dream" (directed by Collins) first in London and then on Broadway

1931

Starred on the London stage in "Evergreen" (directed by Collins) and then "Hold My Hand" (directed by stage star Stanley Lupino)

1931

Returned to films after seven years to play a leading role in "Out of the Blue"; was also her first sound film

1932

Signed contract with Gaumont-British Studios

1932

Made first of six films with director Victor Saville, "The Good Companions"; film's success also clinched her film stardom

1933

Last stage appearance for six years, in "Sally Who?" Opposite second husband Sonnie Hale

1933

Starred in film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, "Waltzes from Vienna"

1936

Offered contract by MGM; plans made for her to star in musical "This Time It's Love", but parties were unable to agree upon terms

1937

Considerable talk that Matthews would make her U.S. Film debut opposite Fred Astaire in RKO's "A Damsel in Distress", his first starring film without Ginger Rogers; again terms were unsettled and the studio used a very young and new contract player, Joan Fontaine

1939

Last British starring vehicle of the 1930s, "Climbing High", directed by Carol Reed

1939

Returned to British stage in "I Can Take It"; played Blackpool, Sheffield and other places as out-of-town tryouts, but play didn't in London due to outbreak of WWII; later that year a revamped version of the same play did open in London until the title "Come Out to Play"

1941

Travelled to the USA to appear in musical, "The Lady Comes Across"; suffered nervous breakdown while show was in try-out stage and Matthews returned to England

1943

First US film; also first film appearance in four years, the all-star anthology drama, "Forever and a Day"; Matthews's segment directed by Saville

1944

Made film directorial debut with "Victory Wedding", a short subject made for the National Savings Committee's "Salute the Soldier" week

1944

Appeared in the London West End production of "Wild Rose"

1944

Toured during WWII with the Entertainments National Service Association

1947

Appeared in two featurettes, "Life Is Nothing Without Music" and "Making the Grade"

1955

Toured South Africa in play, "Larger Than Life"

1955

Directed the stage play, "The Policeman and the Lady"

1957

Reunited with ex-husband Sonnie Hale in "A Nest of Robins", produced in Liverpool

1958

First feature film in 14 years; also second American film, "tom thumb" (deliberately not capitalized), directed by George Pal

1958

Lived in Australia for a time; opened acting school

1960

Toured Great Britain in the Peter Shaffer drama, "Five Finger Exercise"; also performed in the pantomime, "Dick Whittington"

1963

Appeared as herself as one of the interviewees in the medium-length film, "A Hundred Years Underground"

1966

Returned to the London stage to act in "A Share in the Sun"

1971

Performed in Cardiff in a production of the comedy-drama, "The Killing of Sister George"

1973

Performed onstage again in London's West End in "The Water Babies"

1976

Performed in London and on tour in "The Jessie Matthews Show"

1977

Last film, Paul Morrissey's semi-satirical remake of "The Hound of the Baskervilles", written by and co-starring the team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

1978

Performed in Los Angeles in the one-woman show, "Miss Jessie Matthews in Concert"

1980

Cast in "Never Never Land/Second to the Right and Straight on Till Morning/Second Star to the Right/Straight on Till Morning; replaced by Evelyn Laye during course of production

1987

Was the subject of a British TV film, "Catch a Fallen Star"

Videos

Movie Clip

tom thumb (1958) - Sent By The Beautiful Lady? The rustling is the first appearance of the title character (Russ Tamblyn), whose arrival has been foretold to John the woodcutter (Bernard Miles) and whose wife (Jessie Matthews) shares his delight, in producer-director George Pal’s musical take on the sort-of Brothers Grimm tale, tom thumb, 1958.
Evergreen (1934) - Springtime In Your Heart For the benefit of London director Benn (Sonnie Hale), inept PR man Tommy (Barry Mackay) and ex-showgirl Maudie (Betty Balfour) reveal Jessie Matthews, claiming she’s the star Harriet Green he knew back in the day, rather than her daughter, song by Harry M. Woods, in Evergreen, 1934.
Evergreen (1934) - Dancing On The Ceiling In her London Art Deco flat, British superstar Jessie Matthews as West End theater star “Harriet” (part of a complicated story in which she’s claiming to be her own mother) with a Rodgers and Hart tune from the original stage production, in Evergreen, 1934, from British-Gaumont studios.
Evergreen (1934) - Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me A Bow-Wow Joining the first scene in a West End theater ca. 1909, Jessie Matthews is headliner Harriet Green in her farewell performance with a standard tune of the day, Betty Balfour among the troupe, Victor Saville directing, in the early British partly Rodgers & Hart musical Evergreen, 1934.
Evergreen (1934) - Today's My Lucky Day After the prologue, Jessie Matthews as the daughter of a West End star who abandoned showbiz and gave her up for adoption, at an audition, Jessie’s husband Sonnie Hale the director, Marjorie Brooks his leading lady, Barry Mackay the witty PR man, in the British musical Evergreen, 1934.

Trailer

Family

Billy Matthews
Brother
Became featherweight boxing champ of England ini 1922.

Companions

Henry Lytton Jr
Husband
Actor. Married in 1927; divorced in 1929; Matthews' co-star in Andre Charlot's "Show of 1926".
Sonnie Hale
Husband
Actor, comedian, director. Married in 1931; Matthews was cited as co-respondent in divorce suit of musical comedy stars Evelyn Laye and Hale; case was highly publicized.
Brian Lewis
Husband

Bibliography

"Over My Shoulder"
Jessie Matthews (1974)

Notes

Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1970