Daiy Mail, Friday, August 21, 1981
By TIM SATCHELL
JESSIE MATTHEWS was Britain's first international musical comedy star.
She danced, sang and acted her way into every aspect of 20th Century entertainment, from silent films to television.
At home she captured all hearts as one of C. B. Cochran's young ladies. In America, she broke all records with the hit run at New York's Radio City Music Hall. In later years her speaking voice became familiar to millions as radio's Mrs Dale.
Her death from cancer at the
age of 74 marks the end of an era she shared with such as Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence.
As a child, the precocious Jessie danced to the music of a barrel organ in Soho where her father ran a fruit-and-vegetable stall.
Her elder sister Rosie helped with dancing and elocution lessons and, at 12, Jessie made her debut in "Bluebell in Fairyland" at the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road.
Her rags-to riches career was
under way. In 1923 she was appearing in C. B. Cochran's "London Calling".
The following year she was dancing and singing on Broadway in "Andre Charlot's Revue of 1924". At 17, she took over Gertrude Lawrence's lead role in the show opposite Jack Buchanan and got rave reviews.
But it was her appearance in "Evergreen" at the Adelphi that convinced Londoners she was an international star.
She made countless songs her
Ownó Noel Coward's Room With a View, Cole Porter's Let's Do it, Harry Woods' "Over My Shoulder" and Richard Rogers' "My Heart Stood Still" and "Dancing on the Ceiling". One of her most lasting and catchy tunes was "Everything's in Rhythm with My Heart" .
Her films included "Evergreen" (1934), "Head Over Heels" (1937) and "Sailing Along" (1937), and her one Hollywood picture (made without salary for war charities) was "Forever and a Day" (1941) with Charles Laughton.
Her three marriages ended in divorce The second, to co-star, Sonnie Hale, created a national scandal. Hale's wife, actress Evelyn Laye, named Miss Matthews as the other woman in the divorce case.
Her first husband was Lord Alva Lytton. The Hale marriage lasted 12 years.There was one child who died at birth and l adopted daughter Catherine - and in 1945 she married Lieutenant Brian Lewis. There was another stillborn child.
In the Sixties her career took off again when she was chosen for the role of Mrs Dale.
She played the Duchess of Berwick on stage in Lady Windermere's Fan. And on TV she appeared as the Duchess of Windsor's aunt in Edward and Mrs Simpson. Only a year ago she gave a series of sell-out concert performances in Los Angeles.
She died on Monday in St Vincent's Hospital, Northwood Hills, Middlesex where she had been a patient since the end of
A controversial biography about Mrs Matthews may now be turned into a Hollvwood film.
The Standard Thursday August 20, 1981
By Charles Spencer
Jessie Matthews dies aged 74
JESSIE MATTHEWS, Britain's first international film star and one of C. B. Cochran's celebrated young ladies, has died in a London hospital after suffering from cancer for many months. She was 74.
Hers was one of show business's classic rags to riches stories and her career, which spanned more than 60 years, was marked equally by professional triumphs and personal disaster.
Her early success was followed by dismal years after the war when she languished in obscurity. But she won a new generation of fans in the sixties as the last Mrs Dale on the long-running radio series.
She was the first to admit her own life was nothing like as cosy or respectable as the middle-class doctor's wife.
She was born and brought up in Soho, the daughter of a hard-drinking fruit and vegetable stall holder whose wife bore 16 children, only 11 of whom survived.
Life was hard and as a child Miss Matthews was so full of energy that her mother took her to a doctor, fearing she was suffering from St Vitus's Dance. But her elder Sister Rosie was convinced she would become a dancer and she was to play a crucial part in turning her sister into a star.
Rosie took Jessie to her first audition when she was a child of nine and by the time she was 12 Miss Matthews's professional career had begun as a child dancer in "Bluebell in Fairy Land" at the Metropolitan, Edgware Road.
In 1923, she was appearing in C. B. Cochran's "London Calling", but her really big break came in Toronto in 1925 when she took over the lead from Gertrude Lawrence in an Andre Charlot Revue.
At 21, she was earning a handsome £200 a week as a dancer and she was to establish herself as a star of pre - war British musical comedy.
But the appearance which first fixed her in the public mind was in "Evergreen", at the Adelphi.
She originated songs including Noel Coward's "Room With A View", Cole Porter's "Let's Do It", Harry Woods' "Over My Shoulder" one of her biggest hits - and Richard Rodgers "My Heart Stood Still" and "Dancing on the Ceiling".
One of her most lasting and catchy tunes was "Everything's in Rhythm With My Heart".
Her career in movies began in 1923 in the silent "The Beloved Vagabond" and she appeared with success and acclaim in many more - It's Love Again, Sailing Along, This England and Life Is Nothing Without Music.
She was one of the first international pin - ups and Variety described her as the most sensational discovery in years.
But her life was often a desperately sad one. All three of her marriages ended in
The second of them, to Sonnie Hale, created a national scandal. Mr Hale was previously married to that other great thirties star, Evelyn Laye, who cited Miss Matthews in divorce proceedings. Miss Matthews fainted
in court when her love letters were read out in public.
The judge said the letters showed "the woman Matthews to be a person of odious mind" and the scandal tarnished her life for years.
Her marriage to Hale was happy though often stormy but their only child died four hours after birth. Desperate for children, she adopted a daughter but her husband eventually left her to marry the child's nanny and for years her adopted child refused to have anything to do with her.
Her third marriage to a man 13 years her junior produced a stillborn child and yet another divorce. But her vivacious beauty continued to attract many suitors, including the film director Sir Carol Reed.
The war all but destroyed her career, Everything stopped and when things started again they looked around for someone younger who could do the Jessie Matthews roles. "Suddenly it all stopped. I've been right at the top and then smack down at the bottom," she said.
And even at the height of her success she suffered a frightening number of nervous breakdowns, and times so bad that she feared for her sanity.
After the war she gamely toured the country's reps and carved a name for herself in Australia before winning back a large following as Mrs Dale.
A controversial biography about Miss Matthews by Michael Thornton may now be turned into a Hollywood film featuring Liza Minnelli.
Mr Thornton said today that he would now be able to add details to the biography
which he did not want to use while she was alive.
" What people did not realise was that Jessie was suffering from a very serious recurring psychological illness caused by the fact that she was raped at the age of 16." he said.
Details of the incident in New York, involving a wealthy Argentinian friend of the then Prince of Wales, and a Subsequent abortion, were given in Mr Thornton's book. Jessie Matthews and the stars own autobiography "Over My Shoulder" both published in 1974.
Mr Thornton said of Jessie
" She was like Judy Garland; when she was down there was no one more down, but when she was up there was no one more up," said Mr Thornton.
" When a great star dies people always say it is the end of an era, but in her case it really is. She was the last of the really great and legendary British stars like Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan."