She was "The Dancing Divinity" - the most potent icon of 30s cinema. She had what audiences wanted, but when the decade ended, so did her career.
Born in Soho she grew up wanting to dance and by her early twenties she was starring in the West End and on Broadway. Her big rival for the affection of the public was Evelyn Laye and in 1930 Laye sued husband Sonny Hale for divorce naming Matthews as the other woman. The scandal should have kept Matthews off the screen but the talkies needed musical stars and Matthews clicked big-time. (Laye flopped and went back to the stage)
The build-up started slowly but she was a bona fide star when The Good Companions came out. After the early disaster movie Friday the Thirteenth and the Hitchcock flop Waltzes from Vienna, she became a world star with Evergreen.
Hollywood was interested in her by now and there was talk of a film with Fred Astaire, but she stayed in Britain for the sake of her marriage to Sonny Hale. He'd starred in a few of her films but moved into directing. He was competent, but never managed to hit the same heights as Victor Saville. Climbing High, directed by Carol Reed was an unhappy production and the musical numbers were cut from the film.
She was becoming temperamental and musicals just weren't made during the war. She did some more theatre work but ill-health meant she wasn't reliable and gradually she faded from the public eye. She was brought back by radio to take over the lead in the soap "Mrs Dale's Diary" and became a useful, if limited, character actress.
Her films were fluff, but unlike her musical-comedy rivals (Gracie Fields, George Formby) she had grace and glamour. Her costumes were carefully designed to show off as much of her body as the censor would allow, and her dancing can best be described as a high-class bump and grind act. No other star had that fluidity of movement and that joie de vivre.
|1924||The Beloved Vagabond|
|1924||Straws in the Wind|
|1931||Out of the Blue|
|1932||There Goes the Bride|
|1933||The Man from Toronto|
|1933||The Good Companions|
|1933||Friday the Thirteenth|
|1934||Waltzes from Vienna|
|1935||First a Girl|
|1936||It's Love Again|
|1937||Head Over Heels|
|1943||Forever and a Day (USA)|
|1944||Candles at Nine|
|1978||The Hound of the Baskervilles|
Jessie Matthews at Amazon UK
Jessie Matthews at Amazon US