In the 1920s and ’30s, the entertainment world had its eyes fixed on the rise of Hollywood, but it was not only the American film industry that was capturing the imagination of audiences worldwide. Across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, Jessie Matthews was making waves in both film and theater, becoming an icon of her era.
Born on March 11, 1907, in London, Jessie Matthews came from a working-class background. Despite the hardships she faced, her talent couldn’t be stifled. She started as a chorus girl and quickly caught the eye of producers and directors. By the late 1920s, Matthews was a known figure in the West End, London’s equivalent of Broadway. Her performances in musicals like “Evergreen” and “This Year of Grace” were highly acclaimed, solidifying her status as one of the country’s leading actresses.
Transition to Film
As the 1930s rolled around, the allure of cinema was too strong to ignore. Matthews transitioned smoothly from stage to screen, making her film debut in the 1930 film “Out of the Blue.” Her charming screen presence and musical talents made her an instant hit, and she soon became one of Britain’s biggest film stars. Films like “The Good Companions” (1933) and “First a Girl” (1935) were commercial and critical successes, showcasing her versatility as an actress and singer.
Jessie Matthews often worked with some of the leading artists and filmmakers of her time. Her collaborations with director Victor Saville resulted in some of the most memorable British films of the era. Saville knew how to bring out the best in Matthews, and their work together remains a testimony to the quality of British cinema during the 1930s.
Popular Songs and Musical Talent
Jessie Matthews was not just an actress; she was also a gifted singer. Many of the songs she performed in her films became hits, and some are still well-known today. “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Everything’s in Rhythm with My Heart,” and “Over My Shoulder” are a few examples. Her musical contributions were a significant part of her appeal, adding a layer to her performances that went beyond mere acting.
Personal Life and Scandals
While her career was soaring, Matthews’ personal life was often under public scrutiny. Her marriage to actor Henry Lytton Jr. ended in divorce, and her later relationship with the married Victor Saville caused quite a scandal. Despite the public’s intrusive interest in her personal affairs, Matthews managed to keep her career largely unaffected by the gossip.