In her own words...
Jessie Matthews got her first big break into films when the director Albert de Courville saw her in Hold My Hand in 1931, and he cast her in the lead in his upcoming film There Goes the Bride:
"[de Courville] told Michael Balcon that I had a flair for comedy and could give a sustained performance. Balcon didn't believe this and was against my being cast for the part. They finally let de Courville have his way. When Balcon saw the first week's rushes, he signed me for a long-term contract."
Albert de Courville proved a brilliant but desperately unpredictable collaborator who once kept Jessie on the set from six-thirty a.m. until three the next morning, when she finally raced off the set, furious and exhausted.
With Victor Saville on the set of It's Love Again
She found a more comfortable arrangement in her films directed by Victor Saville - The Good Companions, Friday the Thirteenth, Evergreen, and It's Love Again. Each of these is a classic, with the gloss produced by an international team including the genius American cinematographer Glen MacWilliams - who corrected the photographic mistakes of the British crews in regard to capturing Jessie's unique form of beauty:
"When I first began, the technicians, camera and make-up men made me feel so self-conscious that I began to have the biggest inferiority complex about my looks. I dreaded doing close-ups. But Victor Saville used to say to me,"Darling, you look beautiful. Look that camera straight in the eye and say - I am beautiful, and my God you'll be beautiful!" With his magic and the lighting there was no doubt about it, I looked beautiful!"
- and with songs hand-picked by Jessie from the best composers, American, British and continental.
the choice of songs then. I didn't know whether they were English, French, Italian,
Russian, Jewish, German or what the hell their nationality was! The songwriters were
introduced to me as ordinary human beings; they would play their songs, and sometimes I
would start to sing a song with them, from which they had accidentally pinched eight bars.
They'd stop dead in their tracks, look at Louis Levy, who was the musical conductor, and
ask,"What gives?" Louis would tell them that's what I was there for.
I had a very musical ear. They used to hate my guts!"
Dancing On The Ceiling from Evergreen
Jessie's famous dance numbers, including the Dancing On the Ceiling routine which she choreographed herself, were a point of particular pride to her:
"For a London play, rehearsal time would be four weeks for the entire show. In films, however, I'd spend six weeks just on the big dance numbers to get them perfect before the actual shooting."
"I've always preferred films to the stage; I've always been terrified of an audience, afraid I wouldn't be able to give my best. In films, the fact that you can always do a scene again takes a load off your mind, enabling you to strive for perfection, which I always wanted. I collaborated on most of my dance numbers, literally 50/50, with the choreographers I worked with."
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