A Canadian Audience With Jessie Matthews.



Jessie was in Toronto in 1972 to record a number of appearances on the Canadian TV series ‘Pig and Whistle’. One afternoon off from her recording schedule Jessie appeared at a screening of “Evergreen” at the Ontario Science Theatre, for what today could loosely be called ‘an audience with’. Here are some of Jessie’s anecdotes during that audience.

JM’s climb to stage fame in “Andre Charlot’s Revue” of 1926 :

“Poor Gertie Lawrence got pneumonia and I stepped in to replace her and was a big hit. It happened right here in Toronto and we played for ten smash weeks. Then when we got back to England, Charlot put me back in the chorus for a while so I wouldn’t get a swelled head.”

Technical difficulties of working on her first two talkies “Out Of The Blue” and “There Goes The Bride” :

“I felt I didn’t photograph very well. My teeth were too big. My eyes were wide apart. The camera unnerved me and everything had to be done in bits over and over again until the sound engineer was satisfied.”

Her most popular film “Evergreen” :

“Victor made me go around mumbling to myself ‘I AM beautiful’ and it worked. I saw it in New York at a retrospective and was rather pleased. It was completely escapist. Everything gave off a nice glow. I never just did tap. I blended much ballet into my routines. I added jumps and spins and we ended up with very elegant dances.”

Alfred Hitchcock's Direction during the filming of “Strauss’s Great Waltz”

It was“Perfectly dreadful. He was then an imperious young man who knew nothing about musicals. I felt unnerved when he tried to get me to adapt a mincing operetta style. He was out of his depth and knew it by ordering me around”.

What International success , and working with her then husband (Sonnie Hale) were like at the time of “It’s Love Again”

“I was working so hard I never had the chance to just sit back and bask in the glory. My films were the only British musicals to break into the American market and I did get a lot of fan mail from the yanks. Sonnie was very tyrannical on the set. His own comedy performances were often derided and that couldn’t have helped. I needed someone to make the decisions. I was always being overworked and pushed to breaking point. The hours were so long I was exhausted.”

Why didn’t Jessie take up the opportunity of dancing with Fred Astaire?:

“ Fred works best with lesser dancers. I could never just be a partner. When he danced with Eleanor Powell, who was his technical equal, that came off rather weakly. I remember once when I was on the stage in London he came back to my dressing room with his sister Adele and she said ‘Fred, this girl must be your partner someday.’ I had a more definite offer to dance with Fred, but I couldn‘t get out of my contract. Today I’m rather relieved I never did go.”.

What it was like when Jessie finally got to work in Hollywood in “Forever And A Day”:

“Delightful. I was astounded by the professionalism there. Everything rolled along so smoothly. I even had two hairdressers to help me. The sets, the lighting were so much better than what we had in England”As webmaster and fan I must add my bit here and say that for all that productivity, Jessie never looked more silly and her talent was never more wasted then when working in Hollywood. Unfortunately much of Jessie’s charm was completely lost in their production process.

What happened to Jessie during the War years?:

By the end of 1939“In England producers considered me old-hat, but look what happened to Ginger Rogers in Hollywood. When she stopped dancing she got an opportunity to try other parts” Jessie used the time to do extensive war relief work.

The BBC radio series “Mrs Dale’s Diary”:

“It was a sort of Peyton Place. At first the producers were reluctant because of my identification with dancing. We could have gone on forever if only they had transferred the show to television.”

How did Jessie transform herself into the Lesbian bullish character in the stage production of “The Killing Of Sister George”:

“Well I avoided being crude. I simply picked up Sonnie’s old mannerisms. The way he’d stand and talk and his gruffness.”.

(Then) Present life in Northwood:

“I have a friendly spirit in my cottage who likes to play pranks when I have guests. He wants me to know I’m not alone, I guess. But there’s little chance of that happening. I stay active. Bob Young and his wife dropped in last year and we had a marvellous chat about the old days . But I much prefer to dwell in the present”.