"City's only movie star"Another surprise I encountered reviewing Gazettes was Kerwin Mathews, billed as the "city's only movie star" in a blurb that appeared on December 20, 1958.127
It caught my attention because I have a long-time friend named Mathews with the same one-t spelling; it was his brother, in fact, who told me the Main Street theater I remembered was called the Beverly.
Kerwin Mathews was born on January 8, 1926,128 in Seattle but relocated with his mother to Janesville as a child. In 1943,129 he graduated from Janesville Senior High School, then in the building that became Marshall Junior High School and later Marshall Apartments.
"Little dark one"
The Think Baby Names website states his uncommon first name is Irish and means "little dark one,"130 which fits his black hair. His mother Frances was an industrial nurse at Parker Pen Company.131
Ken Regez, a talk show host on Janesville radio station WCLO for many years, interviewed Mathews in the nineties, and he said he never knew his father. Regez and Mathews' mothers were friends which helped Regez connect with the actor.
Mathews served in the Army Air Corps during World War II; attended Milton College and later Beloit College, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949 132; taught English in Lake Geneva; and then relocated to Los Angeles. 133
MoviesThere he signed a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures 134 and appeared in motion pictures and television programs, including The Garment Jungle (1957), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), Playhouse 90 (1956), and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1963).135
He is best remembered for his starring role in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad which was released in December, 1958 136 and is still available on DVD and through digital download.
Kerwin Mathews DayFilm industry management arranged for Mathews to visit his hometown while on a tour to promote Sinbad. 137 Obligingly, the City of Janesville named December 20, 1958, Kerwin Mathews Day: "City officials and the Chamber of Commerce are arranging Saturday's tribute to Janesville's most illustrious figure in the entertainment world," the Gazette reported. 138
A few days before Mathews arrived, Louella O. Parsons, a syndicated columnist said to have been "read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide,"139 wrote an article about him that appeared in the Gazette. He impressed Parsons, who was born in 1881, and she predicted great things:
"You can keep your eye on this handsome young man. He's made five pictures and so far hasn't set the world on fire, but I have feeling that one of these days we'll be reading some raves about him, because he works hard, is ambitious, is studious and has brains—all of which too often are overlooked in this business."140
Her opinion might have been shaped in part by similar origins. She was born and raised in Freeport, Illinois, located about 60 miles southwest of Janesville, and refers to this commonality in her column about him, but not quite accurately: "He was born in Janesville, not far from my home state of Illinois and is as proud of his Midwestern heritage as I am of mine."141
Love lifeIn a story leading up to Mathews' visit, the Gazette was interested in his love life: "Kim Novak, who has had such a spectacular rise, was the feminine interest in his first picture, Five Against The House. Tall, handsome, charmingly reserved and more intelligent than run-of-the mill Hollywood glamor boys, Kerwin Mathews has been romantically linked with several feminine stars and starlets by gossip columnists. But he's a dedicated young man—dedicated to his drama." 142
After he arrived in Janesville on Kerwin Mathews Day, the actor said: "Because I'm still single, Columbia sends me all over on various assignments as I can pick up and leave on a minute's notice." 143
Joanne Churchill and Mathews in Milton
College's 1947 production of
Romeo and Juliet.
Although I think I viewed The 7th Voyage of Sinbad at the
Jeffris in the late fifties or early sixties, the first time
I saw Mathews' name as an adult was in this blurb
that appeared in a 1958 Gazette feature
called, "This Week In Janesville."
Janesville High School where Mathews first appeared on stage. The
east-west street in the foreground later was renamed Kerwin
Mathews Court. The card is undated but the street-
lights appear to be from the twenties or thirties.
Page 41, 1941 Janesville Senior High School Phoenix yearbook. Thanks
to Sue and colleagues at the Hedberg Public Library, Janes-
ville, Wisconsin. Click for a larger image and more
Janesville Senior High School Phoenix photo-
graphs featuring Kerwin Mathews.
Page 80, 1943 Janesville Senior High School Phoenix yearbook. Thanks to
Sue and colleagues at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, Wisconsin.
Of all the copies the library might have acquired it was good fortune
that this one contained a signature by 1943 senior Kerwin Mathews.
Click for a larger image and more Janesville
Senior High School Phoenix photographs
featuring Kerwin Mathews.
About 13 years later...