igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Sarah Brightman really does look like Jessie Matthews... and Sir Cliff makes a surprisingly warm, husky-voiced Raoul.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
I've just discovered the full content of the BFI's latest batch of Mediatheque releases, themed around 1930s British features: and it turns out to contain not one but TWO previously-unseen Sonnie Hale films, in addition to archiving "Friday the Thirteenth" (and "Evergreen", of course, but that one's available for sale...)

The new titles are "The Gaunt Stranger" -- the very picture I've just been researching! -- in which Sonnie Hale's performance has been generally commended, plus "My Song for You", one of the three Jan Kiepura musicals in which the tenor was teamed with Sonnie.

I wouldn't mind seeing Jessie in "Waltzes from Vienna" (also released) either!
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
If I'd been posting regular blogs on the course of this research, it might have been interesting. As it is, all my triuphs, despairs and discoveries are archived in email...

Latest achievement: locating original press coverage, advertisement and ensuing correspondence for the premiere of "Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale in 'Come Out to Play'". First night very well reviewed; ticket prices apparently somewhat higher than usual!
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
I came across an interesting article on Jessie Matthews from the Jewish point of view. But in amongst its depiction of her as a tragic figure it includes a few odd statements and factual inconsistencies.

The writer is little unfair on the men in her life, I feel: the biography cited rather casts doubt on the oft-made claim that Ferrara's only interest in Jessie Matthews was to get her into bed, and that he lost interest immediately he had achieved this in New York. Thornton points out that Ferrara was supposed to be returning to his family in South America, and that he overstayed for more than a year on account of his affair with Jessie, indicating that it was more than a casual dalliance; that the relationship continued not only after its consummation but after the abortion; suggests that the final trigger for the break-up was Jessie's repeated refusal to introduce him to her parents despite his desire to meet her family (perhaps to formalise the relationship?) -- because, understandably, she was ashamed at just how deprived her background was compared to his, and was afraid that he would be repelled by the squalor of East End life; and proposes Ferrara as a would-be Pygmalion figure who was fascinated by the girl's social as well as sexual innocence, and took pleasure in educating her into the refinements of society life as well as initiating her into his bed. Not entirely an admirable figure (one is reminded of the relationship between Errol Flynn and his young 'Woodsie') but not the single-minded rapacious rapist of legend. Jessie's future career in show-business aristocracy may have owed more to the sophistication she learned from her Argentinian playboy than she realised or acknowledged; like most of us, she did have a tendency to rewrite history in retrospect. And the fact that she was -- no thanks to Ferrara -- not the complete sexual innocent that Sonnie Hale's wife had been, but knew very explicitly what she wanted and could offer to her supportive co-star, probably contributed directly to the break-up of that particular young marriage as well...

I wouldn't quarrel with the description of Harry Lytton as idle, spoiled and heavily in debt (when Jessie paid off his gambling debts with her savings he soon ran up more), but it was he who had the weakness for chorus girls, not second husband Sonnie Hale. (Hale married her the first week that he was free, after the screaming-headlines 1930 divorce that was his, not hers; her divorce from the unfaithful Lytton had gone through more or less on the nod in 1929, but it was her adultery with Sonnie and his wife's consequent divorce suit against him, citing Jessie very publicly by name, that caused the tabloid scandal.)

The Hale relationship lasted for thirteen years (from the beginning of their affair to separation in 1942) and broke down for reasons that had nothing to do with chorus girls -- there is no suggestion that Sonnie Hale looked elsewhere before the end, although gossip has him intervening to ward off his wife's attentions towards her male co-stars. It's possible that this was one reason for his presence on set in some capacity during all her later films, but she was also increasingly mentally fragile, and Thornton mentions in passing a number of occasions (from 'hovering' anxiously around the cabin of a collapsed Jessie with bowls of soup in the early 1930s, during what was supposed to be a well-earned holiday cruise for both of them to -- according to the theatre staff -- being the one to support her and keep her going during their 1940 pantomime season, where she played the principal boy in 'Aladdin') during which one may gather that Sonnie had to take on the weight of his wife's vulnerabilities. Coupled with quarrels that stemmed from his basic insecurity in the face of Jessie's apparent ability to translate stage success into film stardom, while his own stage success was forgotten in the role of Jessie Matthews' celebrity consort and his long-running desire to direct received harsh verdicts from the critics, the marriage grew unsurprisingly strained.

The 'adopted daughter's nanny', far from being the glamorous teenage au pair of middle-class fantasies, was apparently a staid woman in her thirties with no particular looks and no talents beyond the domestic. But when Jessie left England during the war (with Sonnie's encouragement) to take up the offer of a starring role on Broadway, Miss Kelsey calmly expanded her duties from looking after the child to running the father's domestic life as well, even moving up to Newcastle when pantomime rehearsals took the whole family away from home. With hindsight, one can only assume that the experience of being the one looked after for a change, combined with being deferred to as an employer and the head of the household -- doubtless balm to a battered male ego -- brought it home to Sonnie that he had finally fallen out of love with his glittering, enchanting, unstable wife. Cossetting and sturdy domesticity apparently had their charms; and Mary Kelsey, in addition, could (and subsequently did) give him children. Jessie's professional schedule left little time for child-bearing -- it was assumed at the time that stars would retire in order to reproduce -- and on the one occasion she managed to negotiate a year off so that they could try for a baby, the resulting miscarriage had flung her into a state of virtual catatonia that had Sonnie seriously alarmed.

As for Brian Lewis, he was a starry-eyed young fan from Jessie's war-time concerts, whose uncomplicated adoration doubtless did wonders for her own badly-wounded ego after Sonnie's defection. (For all their quarrelling -- and despite the fact that by her own account she had recently considered walking out on Sonnie herself while conducting an affair with the young director who had, to add insult to injury, replaced her husband on production of her latest film -- she seems to have genuinely loved him; and given that they had been together for almost the entirety of her fraught rise to frame and virtually her whole adult life, it is unsurprising that his absence left her devastated.)

With hindsight, the age gap in her new marriage was probably not a good idea, for as her young husband grew up and developed interests and ambitions of his own (at one point, he trained to become a publican and purchased his own pub, where Jessie, not allowed to pull pints for the customers, found herself increasingly marooned upstairs alone), they grew apart. There was also the strain, as in her previous ventures into matrimony, of her notoriety; she was the big story in the newspapers, even now that her film career had faded and she was finding it harder and harder to get stage work, and he, like his predecessors, inevitably found himself relegated to the status of sidekick to the star. But I have come across no suggestion that Brian Lewis was "far too attached to his mother" or that this affected his relationship with Jessie; they differed over various things, including, ultimately, apartheid (she would leave him in South Africa) but not because he was a mummy's boy.

These issues aside (Thornton also states explicitly that the large Matthews family, though they lived in cramped conditions which would nowadays be considered squalid and often went short of other things, never went hungry) -- an interesting article, especially on the Jewish connection!
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

Note (03 Aug 2010): while, for the sake of completeness, I'm importing this blog entry verbatim in its original form, any new readers should note that its content is now somewhat out of date. For one thing, Sonnie Hale's IMDb record is now considerably more exhaustive than at the time of writing, since I've contributed a good deal of research there!

A more up to date version, including the probable solution to the "Lilac Time" mystery, can be found on my website -- although to be frank, that one could currently do with some updating too...

Sonnie Hale and Maisie Gay I've been chasing through reference books, databases, theatre programmes, playbills, etc. trying to track down Sonnie Hale's stage career: while his film record at the Internet Movie Database isn't quite as exhaustive as it might be (additional writer's credits are probably due on "Gangway" and "Climbing High" in addition to the one on "Sailing Along"; apparently he made an Hitchcock-style cameo appearance in "Gangway"; and I discovered that the final play he wrote had actually been filmed in 1960 as a screen comedy by the Boulting brothers... and then the original script credit assigned by error to someone else) I find the IMDb an admirably comprehensive resource compared to the challenge of chasing down thirty years of ephemeral theatrical history..!
Ironically, one of the performances I've failed to locate is the one illustrated above, supposedly Sonnie Hale and Maisie Gay circa 1935 in the burlesque "Lilac Time" which was a great success in the Broadway production of "This Year of Grace" (see below). It was performed there by Noël Coward and Beatrice Lillie, who had taken over the roles created by Sonnie Hale and Maisie Gay respectively, but so far as I'm aware was never actually played in the London production. So how and why the stars of the original London cast would have been reunited to perform it seven years later I really do not know...

Stage roles

Compiling all that I've discovered up to now -- I don't expect to find much more, but I'm constantly being surprised -- I can establish the following dates and roles:
  • The Fun of the Fayre (revue) (1921) -- London Pavilion -- in chorus line
    With Clifton Webb, Evelyn Laye
  • Little Nelly Kelly (1923) by George M. Cohan -- New Oxford Theatre -- as Sidney Potter
  • The Punch Bowl (revue) (1924)
    With Hermione Baddeley
    Songs: "I Love My Chili Bom Bom" (?)
  • Mercenary Mary (1925) by Con Conrad & William B. Friedlander -- London Hippodrome -- as Jerry Warner
    Songs: "Honey I'm In Love with You" (Peggy O'Neill(?) and Sonnie Hale)
  • Queen High (1926) -- as Richard Johns
    • "It Pays to Advertise"
    • "Don't Forget"
    • "Cross Your Heart"
    • "Who'll Mend a Broken Heart?"
  • One Damn Thing After Another (revue) (1927) by Rodgers & Hart -- London Pavilion
    With Jessie Matthews, Max Wall
    Songs: "My Lucky Star" (Mimi Crawford and Sonnie Hale)
  • This Year of Grace (revue) (1928) by Noel Coward -- London Pavilion
    With Jessie Matthews
    • "Waiting in a Queue" (Sonnie Hale & Chorus)
    • "A Room With a View" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale)
    • "Dance, Little Lady" (Sonnie Hale, Laurie Devine)
    • "Mexico" (pre-London only) (Sonnie Hale)
    • "Lorelei" (Adrienne Brune & Sonnie Hale)
    • "Try to Learn to Love" (Jessie Matthews & Sonnie Hale)
  • Wake Up and Dream! (revue) (1929) by Cole Porter -- London Pavilion
    With Jessie Matthews
    Songs: "Looking at You" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale and Ensemble)
  • Ever Green (1930) -- Adelphi Theatre, London -- as Tommy Thompson
    With Jessie Matthews
    • "Doing a Little Clog Dance" (Albert Burdon & Sonnie Hale)
    • "Dear, Dear" (Jessie Matthews & Sonnie Hale)
    • "Nobody Looks at the Man" (Sonnie Hale)
    • "No Place but Home" (Jessie Matthews & Sonnie Hale)
    • "The Lion King" (Sonnie Hale)
    • "Dancing on the Ceiling" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Mr Cochran's Young Ladies & the John Tiller Girls)
    • 'Impromptu Song' during cabaret (Sonnie Hale)
  • Hold My Hand (1931) by Noel Gay -- Gaiety Theatre, London -- as Pop Curry
    With Jessie Matthews, Stanley Lupino, Harry Milton
    • "Where is our Wandering Boy" (Sonnie Hale, Harry Milton, Connie Emerald & Ensemble)
    • "Pied Piper" (Sonnie Hale & Chorus)
    • "Spring" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Marjery Wyn &Stanley Lupino)
    • "Turn On the Music" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale & Ensemble)
    • "To Please the Man She Loves" (Cyril Wells, Harry Milton & Sonnie Hale)
    • Finale (full company)
    • "Hold My Hand" (Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale) (recorded on disc as duet but not performed together in show)
  • Sally Who? (1933 by Dion Titheradge) -- Strand Theatre, London
    With Jessie Matthews
  • I Can Take It (1939) by Harry Woods -- Sheffield Empire and tour (also directed)
  • Come Out to Play (revue) (1940) -- Phoenix Theatre, London / Grand Theatre, Blackpool -- as compere (also co-wrote and directed)
    With Jessie Matthews
    (Apparently a re-vamped version of I Can Take It)
    • "Caught Napping" (full company)
    • "She was a Dear Little Dicky Bird" (Sonnie Hale)
    • "Monotonous Rhythm" (full company)
  • Pantomime Aladdin (1940) -- Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham
    With Jessie Matthews, Sid Field
  • The Maid of the Mountains (1942) -- Hippodrome, Bristol
  • Kiss the Girls (1943) -- Grand Theatre, Blackpool /
    The Knight Was Bold -- Piccadilly Theatre, London -- as Sir Guy de Vere
    With Francis L. Sullivan
    • "I Go on My Way Whistling" (Sonnie Hale)
    • "Kiss the Girls" (Sonnie Hale)
    • "You and the Moonlight" (Enid Stamp Taylor & Sonnie Hale)
    • "Whoopsy Diddly Dum de Dee" (Sonnie Hale & Ensemble)
    • "Where the Rainbow Ends" (Adèle Dixon & Sonnie Hale)
    • "I'm Telling Thee" (Adèle Dixon & Sonnie Hale)
    • Finale (full company)
  • One, Two Three (revue) (1947) -- Duke of York's Theatre, London (also co-produced and directed)
    With Binnie Hale
    • "One, Two, Three, Go!" by Charles Zwar (full company)
    • "Fine New English Gentlemen" by Charles Zwar (Sonnie Hale, Charles Heslop, Anthony Hayes)
    • "Still Dancing"(?) (full company)
    • "Encores (When We Were Very Young)"(?) (Binnie Hale and Sonnie Hale)
  • Four, Five, Six (revue) (1948) -- Duke of York's Theatre, London (directed only)
    With Binnie Hale
  • The Perfect Woman (1948) -- Playhouse, London
  • The Ex Mrs Y (1949) -- Grand Theatre, Blackpool
  • Pantomime Babes in the Wood (1950)-- London Palladium
  • Rainbow Square by Robert Stolz (1951) -- Stoll Theatre, London
  • Pantomime Dick Whittington (1952) -- London Palladium -- as Cook
    With Frankie Howerd, Richard Hearne
    Live TV broadcast from this production 28th December 1952
  • Not a Clue-! (1953) -- Theatre Royal, Bath (also directed)
    With Claude Hulbert
  • Night of a Hundred Stars (benefit night for Actors' Orphanage) (1955) -- London Palladium
    With Jessie Matthews
    Songs: "A Room with a View" (Sonnie Hale & Jessie Matthews)
  • Pantomime Dick Whittington (circa 1955?) -- Liverpool Empire
  • A Nest of Robins (1955) -- tour (also wrote and directed)
    With Jessie Matthews
  • Pantomime Dick Whittington (1955) -- Palace Theatre, Manchester -- as Daphne Dumpling
  • Lady Be Good by George Gershwin (1956) -- Hippodrome, Bristol -- as Jeff(?)
    With Bobby Drage
  • Pantomime Aladdin (1956) -- London Palladium
    With Norman Wisdom, Valentine Dyall
  • A Nest of Robins (1957) -- Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool and tour (also wrote but did not direct this time!)
    With Jessie Matthews, Valerie Singleton
  • The French Mistress (1959) -- Adelphi Theatre, London (also wrote)
    (Sonnie Hale died on tour before London opening night)


  • In the case of revues, even where a full programme is available it is often hard to tell whether a particular number is a song or a sketch; I have tried to err on the 'safe side' and have therefore not listed anything credited to Sonnie Hale which appears more likely to be a comedy routine.
  • In the case of some musicals, although I may have located a full list of songs I have no way to tell which numbers were sung by which character; again I have not listed songs unless I am reasonably certain that they were in fact performed by Sonnie in that production.
  • Those co-stars actively mentioned are simply those whom I happened previously to have heard of; there is no other significance to the choice of names included or omitted.


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