January 2, 2017


Jessie Matthews (1907-1981) b. London, England.

Jessie Matthews

British actress, who made her film debut in 1923 at the age of sixteen, and became one of the top three British stars of the 1930s. Whereas Gracie Fields and George Formby had a predominantly working class appeal derived from northern music hall, Matthews was the ‘Dancing Divinity’ of the sophisticated musical. She was the only one of the trio to achieve real success in America. While the ordinariness of the other two inspired affection in the domestic audience, Matthews offered fantasy and an extraordinary sexuality. In dance numbers, her pretty face and prim little mouth seemed unaware of what the rest of her body was doing in its slinky gowns and silky, liquid movements.

She may not have had the choreography of Ginger Rogers, and she certainly lacked an adequate male partner, but she made up for it with the unselfconscious sensuality of her movement. In the three musicals she made with Victor Saville, the fantasy was played out as masquerade flirting with the perverse: in Evergreen (1934) she poses as her own mother and falls in love with the young man who is posing as her son; in First a Girl (1935), based on the German film Viktor und Viktoria (1933), she double-cross-dresses and, of course, falls in love; and in It’s Love Again (1936) she impersonates a celebrated adventuress. Matthews was at her best directed by Saville, her popularity declining towards the end of the decade when her direction was taken over by her husband, Sonny Hale. Her film career went into decline after the war, but she returned from relative obscurity in 1963 to play Mrs Dale in the BBC radio serial, Mrs Dale’s Diary.

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