Jessie Matthews

Singer, Actor, Dancer
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 ... Read more »
Born: 03/10/1907 in London, England, GB

Filmography

other (7)

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1977 (Movie)

Mrs Tindale (Actor)

Tom Thumb 1958 (Movie)

Anna (Actor)

Forever and a Day 1943 (Movie)

Mildred Trimble-Pomfret (Actor)

Climbing High (Movie)

Diana Castle (Actor)

It's Love Again (Movie)

Elaine Bradford (Actor)

The Good Companions (Movie)

Susie Dean (Actor)

Waltzes from Vienna (Movie)

Rasi (Actor)

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).

Relationships

Sonnie Hale

Husband
Matthews was cited as co-respondent in highly publicized divorce suit of musical comedy stars Evelyn Laye and Hale

Brian Lewis

Husband

Henry Lytton

Husband
Co-starred in Andre Charlot's "Show of 1926"

Billy Matthews

Brother
was the featherweight boxing champ of England in 1922

EDUCATION

Pulteney School

located in Soho

Milestones

1987

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

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

1978

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

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

1976

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

1973

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

1970

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

1966

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

1963

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

1960

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

1958

Lived in Australia for a time; opened acting school

1958

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

1957

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

1955

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

1955

Toured South Africa in play, "Larger Than Life"

1947

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

1943

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

1943

Toured during WWII with the Entertainments National Service Association

1943

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

1942

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

1940

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

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 "C

1939

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

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

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

1933

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

1933

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

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

1931

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

1931

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

1929

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

1928

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

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)

1927

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

1926

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

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"

1924

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

1923

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

1923

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

1923

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

1919

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

1917

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

Toured England, New Zealand and Australia after the war in a production of Noel Coward's classic stage comedy, "Private Lives"

Made TV appearances including roles on an episode of the series "Angels" in 1976, the 1978 mini-series "Edward and Mrs. Simpson", and "Winter Ladies" (1979)

Starred in the radio series, "Mrs. Dale's Diary"

Bonus Trivia

.

Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1970

SIMILAR ARTICLES