Mathews as Jack the Giant Killer
|Born||January 8, 1926|
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
|Died||July 5, 2007 (aged 81)|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Partner(s)||Tom Nicoll (1961–2007; his death)|
Kerwin Mathews (January 8, 1926 – July 5, 2007) was an American actor best known for playing the titular heroes in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962).
Mathews was born January 8, 1926, in Seattle, Washington and was two years old when he moved with his divorced mother to Janesville, Wisconsin. He attended Janesville High School, graduating in 1943. Mathews said that "a kind high school teacher put me in a play, and that changed my life." According to a classmate, he was a "handsome rascal".
After serving in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II as a pilot and swimming instructor, he attended and performed at nearby Milton College for two years before transferring to Beloit College on drama and music scholarships. He remained at Beloit three years after graduation teaching speech and dramatic arts and appeared in regional theatre. He also taught high school English in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1954, Mathews acted at the Pasadena Playhouse, including a production of Comedy of Error. While there he met the head of casting for Columbia Pictures, leading to a seven-year studio contract.
One of his first roles was in the episode "The Escape of Mr. Proteus" in Space Patrol. He had an uncredited bit in Cell 2455, Death Row (1955) for Columbia. His first credited film role was in 5 Against the House (1955), an early role for Kim Novak. His pay was $200 per week. Mathews then was cast in the title role of an adaptation of the oratio Joseph and his Brethren with Rita Hayworth. However, the film was cancelled shortly before filming started.
Mathews' first sizable role was as Lee J. Cobb's son in The Garment Jungle (1957). He was promoted to star for Tarawa Beachhead (1958), a war film produced by Charles Schneer. Schneer liked the actor's work and cast him in the role of Sinbad in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), directed by Nathan Juran with effects by Ray Harryhausen. The movie was a big success and remains Mathews' most famous film. Juran called Mathews "the epitome of professionalism."
He was announced for Stop 424 to be shot in Australia by Columbia but it was not made.
Mathews co-starred with Van Johnson in The Last Blitzkrieg (1959), a war film for Sam Katzman, and Man on a String (1960) with Ernest Borgnine (Mathews replaced Cliff Robertson for the latter). In The Last Blitzkrieg Mathews was cast against type as a fanatical Nazi. He did an episode of Goodyear Theatre and went to Italy to make The Warrior Empress (1960) with Tina Louise. He was on stand by to replace Dirk Bogarde on Song Without End (1960) when Bogarde was clashing with the director.
Schneer cast Mathews in an unofficial follow up to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), playing the title role, with effects by Harryhausen. Columbia then put him in a prestigious film, The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961), billed underneath Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy.
Mathews went to England to star in a swashbuckler film for Hammer Films released through Columbia, The Pirates of Blood River (1962). Edward Small cast him as Jack the Giant Killer (1962), directed by Juran, an attempt to repeat the success of Sinbad only without Harryhausen or Schneer.
Hammer called him back for Maniac (1963), a psycho thriller released by Columbia. He then left Columbia.
Mathews went to France to play Jean Bruce's OSS 117 in OSS 117 se déchaîne (1964). In Hollywood, he played Johann Strauss Jr. in the Disney two-part telefilm The Waltz King (1963), which was his favorite role.
He did another OSS 117 film, Panic in Bangkok (1964), then starred in The Viscount (1967), also from a novel by Bruce. In between, he starred in a pilot for Ghost Breakers, a TV show that did not go to series.
Mathews starred in some low-budget films, such as Battle Beneath the Earth (1968) filmed in England and Un killer per sua maestà (1968). He had supporting parts in A Boy... a Girl (1969) directed by John Derek and Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969), a pilot for a proposed series that was not picked up.
Mathews had supporting roles in Barquero (1970), the TV movie Death Takes a Holiday (1971), and Octaman (1971). He guest-starred on General Hospital and Ironside. His last lead was The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), directed by Juran.
Retirement and death
Mathews retired from acting in 1978 and moved to San Francisco, where he ran a clothing and antiques shop. Mathews died in his sleep in San Francisco on July 5, 2007 at the age of 81.
He was survived by his partner of 46 years, Tom Nicoll, a British display manager at Harvey Nichols, a British luxury department store, whom he had met in 1961.
The city of Janesville renamed a one-block street adjacent to the former Janesville High School as Kerwin Mathews Court. The renovated building houses the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
‡ OSS 117 film
† Pilots for unsold series
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