Jessie Matthews

Active - 1924 - 1978  |   Born - Mar 11, 1907   |   Died - Aug 20, 1981   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Romance, Drama

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Born to the impoverished family of a Soho, London fruitseller, Jessie Matthews displayed an interest in dancing from a very early age, and by the time she was 12 was making a living entertaining in her neighborhood. She worked in the chorus line of various musicals, and got small parts in some early silent films. Among those who took note of Matthews was Irving Berlin, who provided her with the song "I Want To Go Back To Michigan" for a London stage review. During the late '20s, she began working with the celebrated stage producer Charles B. Cochran, who engaged Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to write songs for his revue One Dam Thing After Another -- they provided Matthews with the song "My Heart Stood Still," which became a major success for her. During 1930, Rodgers and Hart were engaged to write the stage musical Evergreen, which included the major hit "Dancing On the Ceiling." The show became a success for Matthews and her husband, Sonnie Hale, and was brought to the screen three years later by director Victor Saville under the title Evergreen, with a new plot, and Hale moved over the the role of the producer and Barry McKay (substituting for Fred Astaire, whose studio refused to let him do the film) as the romantic lead. Matthews suddenly found herself elevated to international screen stardom. The most successful British musical made before Oliver! in the '60s, Evergreen became the first English musical ever to open at Radio City Music Hall, and gave Matthews, with her graceful dancing and fluttery voice, a substantial following in the United States. Her follow-up films never matched Evergreen, however, and personal problems quickly overtook Matthews, who never managed to capitalize on her fame. Once hailed as "the female Fred Astaire, " there were several attempts to team them up on screen, all unsuccessful, and by the beginning of the '40s she had retired from the screen. She re-emerged in the late '50s in a small role in the MGM movie Tom Thumb, and he later became a star on British radio.

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