The Jessie Matthews Home Page
A small selection of the letters, photos and news cuttings sent to the Jessie Matthews homepage before it was closed in 2012. The need for a letters page today is not what it was but in case there is anything here which you would like to note the page will be kept online for a short period but will likely be deleted in the near future.
My father was 'besotted' with Jessie Matthews - he used to regale me with stories of how, when he served on the Union Castle Line ships in the 1930s from Southampton to South Africa, he was sometimes her cabin steward. In my father's own handwriting I've found notes he made for a talk he gave once entitled 'Life's Like That' and he writes : "Between the two wars a Union Castle Mail boat sailed out of Southampton every Friday bound for South Africa exactly as the city hall clock chimed 4pm. There was no other way of travelling to that country then. Imperial Airways in the early 1930s were only just experimenting with flying boats. I was on my third voyage as saloon boy at the age of 17, earning £3.10s a month all found aboard the 20,109 tons R.M.M.V. Winchester Castle. We called in at Funchal, Madeira four days later and I well remember Jessie Matthews disembarking for a well-earned holiday between making films and stage appearances."….
Today, sorting through old memorabilia I came across a photo from Whit Monday 7th June 1954 picturing Jessie and my parents. I contacted Vestry House Museum to find out more about the event featured. The Museum archivist told me that the photograph was taken at the Walthamstow Carnival fete held in the grounds of the Sir George Monoux (then a Grammar School - now a 6th Form College). The 'dog' connection is because the local Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium were the sponsors. My parents are the two craning their necks, looking over Jessie's right shoulder.
The Robert Burns Film Theatre in Dumfries, Scotland, screened Evergreen" and "It's Love Again" in tribute to Jessie, on Sunday 20th May.The related news piece reads:
‘Princess Personality herself… a million dollars worth of magnetism… Jessie Matthews will be one of the biggest box-office bets in America within the next six months!’ raved Variety in 1934, when Evergreen opened at New York’s’ Radio City Music Hall.
Few stories in British show business are more potent than that of high-kicking, saucer-eyed Jessie Matthews. The seventh of a market vendor’s eleven children, she danced her way from Soho poverty to theatre stardom – thence to blaze across the cinema screens of the world, becoming in the words of Bette David, ‘England’s greatest star’.
In 1936 she reached her zenith with It’s Love Again, the last of five films for her mentor, director Victor Saville. But whereas Saville subsequently made the leap to MGM, Jessie – despite many offers and the dreams of her fans to see her dance with Fred Astaire – would never shoot a musical film in Hollywood.
A severe nervous breakdown stymied the chance of resuscitating her stardom after the war. Fashions had also changed, and her ‘Mayfair’ accent was considered as obsolete as her other gossamer charms. It was not until 1963 that she became a household name again, starring as Mrs. Dale of the famous diary in the BBC radio soap opera ‘The Dales’ – which helped refocus attention on her extraordinary pre-war work.
The RBCFT celebrates the centenary of her birth this year with a double bill screening of two of her biggest hits and introduction by family member Brian Matthews.
‘She had a heart,’ said Victor Saville. ‘It photographed’.
Sun 20 May at 3pm
Dir. Victor Saville | UK 1934 | 1h30m | PG
Cast: Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Barry Mackay, Betty Balfour<>br>
The film that made Jessie Matthews one of the biggest stars in the world is a stunningly designed adaptation of her 1930 stage hit, about a young actress masquerading as her long dead mother, a music hall star. In the song ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ Jessie high-kicks her way to bed and into the hearts of her audience. Also included is her theme song ‘Over My Shoulder’, the title of her autobiography.
It’s Love Again
Sun 20 May at 4.45pm
Dir. Victor Saville | UK 1936 | 1h23m | U
Cast: Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Robert Young
A record-breaker at the New York Roxy, where it opened in advance of London, Jessie’s fifth, most delicious musical collaboration with Saville shows her assuming another false identity – that of a high society adventuress. The star proves a buoyant comedienne and dances up a storm, thanks to a lovely score (‘Got to Dance my Way to Heaven’, the high-kicking title of the song) and the inspired Buddy Bradley, the African-American choreographer on the major musicals. Sublime.
See both films for £8 / £6 concessions.
Jessie Mathews came into Phillips Brothers,(a high class department store) in Neath in the early 1950's for a promotion shoot. My mum now 81 was head of Department then and loved her work. She gave me a photo of her serving a frock to Jessie. Mum chatted with Jessie about every day life and the fashions for those years. Jessie was staying at the Castle Hotel in Neath. Mum thought that Jessie Mathews was a lovely lady and of course an icon of that era. She followed Jessie's career through her films and of course on radio as Mrs. Dale in "Mrs Dale's Diary".
Webmaster comment: Mike's Mum Maud Davies,shop name "Miss Derry", is featured 2nd from the left.
Interesting new page I found with some earlier Jessie photos, info & ads, a programme for Evergreen etc. - amazing photo in top right I've not seen before - all items are zoomable too: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/j/jessie-matthews/
Another link to some 1928 photos in the National Portrait Gallery:http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp05568
Again I'd not seen these before.
These searches for these things were prompted by the fact that I watched There Goes The Bride on video last night - she is amazing in that - her comic timing is spot on. Shame the leading man was a bit of a plank :-)
keep up the good work
News of Jessie's Daughter....
I just wanted to say that I got to see Over My Shoulder at Greenwich and it was absolutely fantastic. I gather it's been changed slightly from the previous version (the opening number is now 'Down on the Farm'), but I didn't see the show at Jermyn Street.
. It was a great show performed by a very talented cast.
To Jessie Matthews fans everywhere:
To mark the centenary, in March 2007, of Jessie's birth, I have been asked to write a new, and hopefully, definitive biography of her, including a great deal of previously unpublished material that it would not have been appropriate to publish in my first book about her, which came out in 1974, when she was very much alive and still working.
I would like to receive contributions from everyone who knew her or met her, or enjoyed her performances on stage, in films, television, radio or cabaret. I would particularly like to receive any unpublished material or reminiscences, and to be allowed to borrow and copy any letters, photographs, programmes, press cuttings, reviews or memorabilia, also cassettes of radio broadcasts and tapes of television appearances.
It was my idea to ask the stallholders of Berwick Street Market to suspend their sales cries and to fall silent - for the first time in the Market's history - for 15 minutes at 12 noon on Wednesday, May 3, 1995, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ruthie Henshall unveiled the Westminster City Council green plaque in memory of Jessie on the wall of the Blue Posts public house at 22 Berwick Street, Soho, only a few yards from the site of her birthplace at 94 Berwick Street. The stallholders all agreed to do as I had asked, and the Market fell completely silent on the stroke of noon, an unforgettable tribute by Londoners to a great London star.
Together with members of her family, I am trying to think of some comparable tribute to mark her centenary in 2007, and to obtain the necessary funding. It could be a statue, a bust, a new portrait, a television documentary, a dance and drama scholarship, or the naming of some place of entertainment or artistic training after her. I should be glad to have suggestions from her fans for an appropriate centenary tribute.
Any help given for my book will be fully acknowledged in the text, and any material loaned will be treated with care and returned promptly. In the meantime, I would like to congratulate all those responsible for the Jessie Matthews Home Page. I know that she herself would have been touched and delighted by such a wonderful tribute to her on the internet.
Warmest wishes to Matthews fans everywhere.
Editor's Note - since Michael wrote this letter, the book has been all but completed and the publishers have decided not to release the book.
I'm including a rare picture of Jessie Matthews and the legendary jazz vocalist and Broadway star Adelaide Hall.
They were photographed together in May 1940 at the premiere of the re-opening of the Locarno in Streatham. I believe the gentlemen wearing glasses behind Miss Matthews is her husband Sonnie Hale. The show was a sell-out.
During the evening a starstudded Ball was held in aid of local Hospital's, the Actor's Orphanage and the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund.
A member of Parliament made an opening speech and the local Mayor of Wandsworth congratulated the manager of the Locarno for organising the occasion. The show included performances from Adelaide Hall who sang "Momma Mia" and Jessie Matthew's who sang "Dancing is another name for Love." Miss Matthew's husband Sonnie Hale also contributed to the cabaret.After their performances Miss Hall and Miss Matthew's each spent over an hour in the street outside the Locarno signing autographs for hundreds of members of the general public who had blocked the road after being unable to gain entrance to the Ball. I hope you like the picture and article, I thought you, your members and readers of the Jessie Mathews Website would find it of interest.regards
Iain Cameron Williams
Just to say that as Jessie's niece how really good it is to see a home page dedicated to her.I saw "Over My Shoulder" twice in Jerymn Street Theatre, and do hope that it will be produced again as I am sure that the show would appeal to a larger audience.If there are plans for this I would be very interested.
thought you might be interested in seeing this - Press booklet for "Its Love Again". Interesting illustrations including the lobby displays one might've ordered if one was a cinema boss etc...
just a short note of appreciation re the jessie site I am one of Jessies many great nieces (grandaughter of Carrie one of Jessies older sisters) I only met Jessie once when she was the lead in the killing of sister george at the Slough Fulcrum theatre in the late 70,s but have always been proud to call her my Aunt , thank you for your enthusiasm am sure Jessie would be delighted
Hello. I'm a freelance arts-and-entertainment writer living in New York,writing regularly for AMERICAN THEATRE magazine and BACK STAGE (a NewYork theatrical trade paper). I've recently become quite fascinated byJessie Matthews and discovered your website.
--Mark Dundas Wood
Letters Page last updated 1st December 2007