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Most of Jessie Matthews' recordings seem quaintly antique, artifacts of a by-gone age -- and, to some extent, they are just that, her fluttering, plummy toned voice with its romantic yearning turning back clocks as it fills a room at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. But for most of the '30s, Matthews was the most popular musical star in England, and the only British film music personality who was ranked on a par with such American performers as Fred Astaire, Ruby Keeler, or Ginger Rogers. She was a favorite of Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, all of whom gave her some of their very best work. And her magnum screen opus, Evergreen, remains the only British musical of the '30s to be ranked by fans of the genre on a par with American musicals of the period. Matthews was born in London in 1907. One of 13 children of an impoverished Soho fruit vendor, she endured a childhood of dire poverty. She showed extraordinary dancing ability from an early age, beginning to dance immediately after learning to walk. Her formal education ended when she was 12 years old and began working in vaudeville. Three years later, she'd worked her way up to legitimate theater, when Irving Berlin spotted her in the London production of his 1923 Music Box Revue. The composer was so charmed by Matthews, that he gave her "I Want to Go Back to Michigan" as a featured number in the revue. Matthews' most important performer-composer relationship, however, was with Rodgers & Hart, beginning with the 1928 production of One Damn Thing After Another, for which they wrote the song "My Heart Stood Still." In 1930, that show's producer, Charles B. Cochran, was looking for a new vehicle in which he could star Matthews and her soon-to-be second husband, Sonnie Hale, and Rodgers & Hart devised a show called Ever Green, about a woman who switches identities with her mother. The show included a song called "Dancing on the Ceiling, " which they'd dropped from an earlier work, and which became one of Matthews' signature tunes; the gentle, lyrical "Dear Dear" (which the newly married Rodgers wrote for his wife Dorothy); and the clever, bouncy "If I Give in to You" (containing a Lorenz Hart couplet, worthy of an award, that rhymes "go and grin" with Lohengrin). Ever Green was a hit -- one of the few, and perhaps the only success by Rodgers & Hart that never ran on the American stage. Jessie Matthews found herself the reigning queen of the British musical stage, acclaimed for her singing as well as her dancing. Even as she was solidifying her theatrical career, however, the movies were beckoning. Matthews had appeared in films in the early '20s, and played small roles, often awkwardly, in a few films in the early '30s. Neither her talent nor the technology were quite ready, however. First, the movies had to improve technically. The coming of sound to the screen had taken a little longer in England than it did in America, and with just as many technical problems, but by 1932, the bugs involved in making and showing talkies had been worked out. Matthews made her breakthrough performance on screen that year in The Good Companions, directed by Victor Saville. Saville was, after Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell, the most prodigiously talented director in England during the '30s (and, like Hitchcock, he was later snapped up by Hollywood), and he took Matthews under his wing, coaching her carefully so that her work in The Good Companions was the best of her career up to that time. Over a year after The Good Companions, Saville and Matthews began work together on what proved to be their magnum opus together, and the best musical to come out of England for the next 30 years: Evergreen. Adapted from Rodgers & Hart's Ever Green, the film jettisoned many of the plot details of the original play along with numerous songs that didn't fit the new screenplay (co-written by Emlyn Williams, and which Richard Rodgers, in particular, liked better than the play's book). The three most important songs were left in, and were joined by new numbers written by Harry Woods (best remembered for "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover"), including "When You've Got a Little Springtime in Your Heart, " "Tinkle! Tinkle! Tinkle!, " and "Over My Shoulder." The choreography was the best ever seen in a British movie, and a match for the best that American movies could offer -- no surprise, because the choreographer was an American, Buddy Bradley, who had taught Busby Berkeley and trained Fred Astaire, Ruby Keeler, and other musical stars, but who had to go to England to be recognized fully, because he was Black. The producers of Evergreen, Michael Balcon and Gaumont-British Studios, had hoped to cast Fred Astaire -- who was appearing on the London stage at the time in The Gay Divorce -- as the male lead in their film, but RKO refused to lend out the services of its top new musical star. (Gaumont-British later got even, refusing to lend Matthews to RKO for Astaire's non-Ginger Rogers vehicle A Damsel in Distress). Evergreen was recast, and one of the parts rewritten for a non-dancing leading man, Barry MacKay (best remembered in films for his charming portrayal of Scrooge's nephew in the 1938 M-G-M version of A Christmas Carol). Even without Fred Astaire, Evergreen proved a gold mine for everyone involved. It generated a hit for Matthews in the guise of "Dancing on the Ceiling, " which, in the film, is played. against a gorgeous art deco setting as a gossamer-textured yet impassioned mating ritual between two people in separate rooms; "When You've Got a Little Springtime in Your Heart" also became an indelible part of her song legacy, and "Over My Shoulder" was a tune so closely associated with her that it became the title of her autobiography 40 years later; Evergreen became the first British musical ever to open at Radio City Music Hall; and it got Hollywood to look seriously at everyone involved. M-G-M wanted Jessie Matthews, and got Victor Saville and Barry MacKay. Unfortunately, Matthews couldn't immediately avail herself of the benefits from the film -- apart from the fact that Gaumont-British had her under contract, she had terrible personal difficulties at that point in her life. Unknown to the public or the music or movie industries at the time, she'd had a mental breakdown during shooting, growing out of the psychological strain she was under, and was incapacitated for months. She eventually returned to screen work, and, in fact, made a series of films in which mistaken identity -- the crux of Evergreen's plot -- were central to the story lines. The most important of these was the delightful First a Girl (1935), based on a German play that was later the basis for the film and stage musical Victor/Victoria, starring Julie Andrews. Ironically, Matthews was very much the Julie Andrews of her era, a plucky "girl-woman" who charmed with her manner as much as her voice. Her later films weren't remotely as good as First a Girl or Evergreen, however, lacking not only songs as good as what Rodgers & Hart, or Harry Woods, had written for her, but also the talents of Victor Saville (who was working on bigger movies, like Goodbye Mr. Chips) and Bradley's choreography. Her husband, Sonnie Hale, directed several of them, that paled in comparison with her best films. Still, the hits came, including "May I Have the Next Romance with You" by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, from the musical Head Over Heels, which she performed hundreds of times. Matthews gave up musicals after the '30s. She was tired, and they didn't seem to fit in with the mood of the war in England, even if someone had been willing to produce them. She entertained during the war, and directed a short film, Victory Wedding, during World War II. After the war, she was best known in England in a new career, as a radio actress, on the BBC's Mrs. Dale's Diary -- Matthews was later awarded the OBE by the Queen. She returned to the screen once, to play the mother of the diminutive hero in Tom Thumb (1958), and returned to the stage in 1973 in an acclaimed performance in Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. The following year, she published her autobiography, Over My Shoulder. Matthews' voice, with its gentle flutter and vulnerable, plaintive, yearning tone, is like a sound out of a distant past between the wars, beckoning us still further back, to the innocence of pre-World War I England (Evergreen had her living in the time of the Boer War, which seemed somehow to fit her). Her choice of songs, however -- among the cleverest and also the most heartfelt of her era -- always pulls us in the opposite direction, toward popular music's peak of sophistication for the '30s.
Jessie Matthews, OBE (11 March 1907 – 19 August 1981) was an English actress, dancer and singer of the 1920s and 1930s, whose career continued into the post-war period.
Early life 
Jessie Margaret Matthews was born in a flat behind a butcher’s shop at 94 Berwick Street, Soho, London, in relative poverty, the seventh of sixteen children (of whom eleven survived) of a fruit-and-vegetable seller. She took dancing lessons as a child in a room above the local public house at 22 Berwick Street.
She debuted on stage on 29 December 1919, aged 12, in Bluebell in Fairyland, by Seymour Hicks, music by Walter Slaughter and lyrics by Charles Taylor, at the Metropolitan Music Hall, Edgware Road, London, as a child dancer; she made her film debut in 1923 in the silent film The Beloved Vagabond.
Matthews was in the chorus in Charlot's Review of 1924 in London. She went with the show to New York, where she was also understudy to the star, Gertrude Lawrence. The show moved to Toronto, and when Lawrence fell ill she took over the role and was given great reviews. Matthews was acclaimed in the United Kingdom as a dancer and as the first performer of numerous popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s, including "A Room with a View" by Noël Coward and "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" by Cole Porter. After a string of hit stage musicals and films in the mid-1930s, Matthews developed a following in the USA, where she was dubbed "The Dancing Divinity". Her British studio was reluctant to let go of its biggest name, which resulted in offers for her to work in Hollywood being repeatedly rejected.
Matthews' fame reached its initial height with her lead role in Charles B. Cochran's 1930 stage production of Ever Green, premiered at the Alhambra Theatre Glasgow, a musical by Rodgers and Hart that was partly inspired by the life of music hall star Marie Lloyd, and her daughter's tribute act resurrection of her mother's acclaimed Edwardian stage show as Marie Lloyd Junior. At its time Ever Green, which included the first major revolving stage in Britain, was the most expensive musical ever mounted on a British stage. The 1934 cinematic adaptation featured the newly composed song Over My Shoulder which was to go on to become Matthews' personal theme song, later giving its title to her autobiography and to a 21st-century musical stage show of her life.
Her distinctive warbling voice and round cheeks made her a familiar and much-loved personality to British theatre and film audiences at the beginning of World War II, but her popularity waned in the 1940s after several years' absence from the screen followed by an unsatisfactory thriller, Candles at Nine. Post-war audiences associated her with a world of hectic pre-war luxury that was now seen as obsolete in austerity-era Britain.
After a few false starts as a straight actress she played Tom Thumb's mother in the 1958 children's film, and during the 1960s found new fame when she took over the leading role of Mary Dale in the BBC's long-running daily radio soap, The Dales, formerly Mrs Dale's Diary.
Live theatre and variety shows remained the mainstay of Matthews' work through the 1950s and 1960s, with successful tours of Australia and South Africa interspersed with periods of less glamorous but welcome work in British provincial theatre and pantomimes. She became a stalwart nostalgia feature of TV variety shows such as The Night Of A Thousand Stars and The Good Old Days.
Jessie Matthews was awarded an OBE in 1970 and continued to make cabaret and occasional film and television appearances through the decade including one-off guest roles in the popular BBC series Angels and an episode of the ITV mystery anthology Tales of the Unexpected. She memorably played Wallis Simpson's "Aunt Bessie" Merriman in the 1978 Thames TV series "Edward and Mrs Simpson".
She took her one-woman stage show to Los Angeles in 1979 and won the United States Drama Logue Award for the year's best performance in concert.
Personal life 
In 1926 she married the first of her three husbands, actor Henry Lytton, Jr., the son of singer and actress Louie Henri and Sir Henry Lytton the doyen of the Savoy Theatre. They divorced in 1929.
Matthews had several romantic relationships conducted in the public eye, often courting controversy in the newspapers. The most notorious was her relationship with the married Sonnie Hale. A high-court judge denounced her as an "odious" individual when her love letters to Hale were used as evidence in the case of his divorce from his wife, actress/singer Evelyn 'Boo' Laye.
It took some time for Matthews' popularity to recover from this scandal. "If I ceased to be a star", she wrote in a piece for Picturegoer in 1934, "all that interest in my home life would evaporate, I believe. Perhaps it is the price one has to pay for being a star".
Her second and longest marriage was to actor-director Sonnie Hale; the third to military officer, Lt. Brian Lewis, both marriages ending in divorce.
With Hale she had one adopted daughter, Catherine Hale-Monro, who married Count Donald Grixoni on 15 November 1958; they eventually divorced but she remained known as Catherine, Countess Grixoni.
Matthews suffered from periods of ill-health throughout her life and eventually died of cancer, aged 74. She is buried at St Martins Church, Ruislip
Theatre Bluebell in Fairyland (1919)Music Box Review (1923)London Calling! (1923)Charlot's Review of 1924 (1924)Charlot Show of 1926 (1926)One Dam Thing after Another (1927)This Year of Grace (1928)Wake Up and Dream (1929)Ever Green (1930)Hold My Hand (1931)
Box Office Ranking 
For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted her among the top ten stars in Britain at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.1936 - 6th most popular star, 2nd most popular British star1937 - 3rd1938 - 4th
Matthews was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1961, and a posthumous biography from the BBC's 40 Minutes (1987), Catch A Fallen Star.
A memorial plaque on her childhood dance venue, 22 Berwick Street, Soho, was unveiled on 3 May 1995 by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Ruthie Henshall.