Sinbad, Sinatra, Tracy

Mathews was given the key to Janesville by City Manager Joseph Lustig at a luncheon held in the Monterey Hotel144; radio station WCLO-AM planned to record an interview145; I checked with management, but the station doesn't have any tapes.

Boxoffice Showmandiser, a publication aimed at theater operators,  owners, and others involved in movie retailing, published a front page story about Mathews' Janesville visit in its February 2, 1959, issue titled, "Big Promotion for 'Sinbad' in Hometown Visit by Star":  "'Wish we had a theater in the hometown of every movie star,' remarked Francis J. Bickler, in charge of advertising and publicity for Fox Wisconsin Amusement Corporation."146  Bickler arranged Mathews' visit.

The Showmandiser article continues:

As is customary, every showman views a film he has booked from all angles, seeking an appealing combination of approaches in order to exploit the picture.

"With Sinbad, it was a simple matter for Bickler: 1. Kerwin Mathews, star of the picture, is a Janesville lad; 2. his mother is still in Janesville, employed by the Parker Pen Company; 3. a spot check to sound out the possibilities of citywide cooperation revealed that seemingly everyone wanted 'in' on the project. The spade work on the local level was ably handled by Bill Lalor, manager of the Jeffris Theater, where the proposed scene of action was scheduled to take place.

"In reviewing the promotion. Lalor says everything worked out as planned. 'Actually, it was simple,' he said modestly, 'because of the terrific response and cooperation of Janesville city officials, Chamber of Commerce, and merchants.'

"'Of course, I had one advantage,' he added. 'I've been here for about 15 years, and I found merchants calling me to ask if there was something they could do to help out on the promotion. For example, a fleet of 1959 Chevrolet cars was placed at our disposal by Harrison Chevrolet of Janesville. The Chamber of Commerce wanted to contribute the press and guest luncheon at our Monterey Hotel."

Still in the state the following Monday, December 22, Mathews was interviewed by a Milwaukee Journal reporter for a story titled, "Kerwin Mathews Finds Sword Mightier Than the Ragged T-Shirt in Hollywood."148

At the time, Sinbad was playing at the Warner theater in downtown Milwaukee.  The Milwaukee Journal article includes:

"A new movie discovery came here Monday—tall, handsome, and dressed almost impeccably."   [I wonder about the "almost," but the story doesn't explain what supposed sartorial shortcoming made this qualifier necessary.]
135  'I don't go for the torn T-shirt bit,' explained Kerwin Mathews, a leading man with a Wisconsin background.

"Mathews conceded that he was one of a new crop of movie leading men—a group distinguished from the 'beatniks,' with their long hair, wild mien, and speedy sports cars.  He said he admired Marlon Brando for his acting ability and would not mind playing a Brando-type role..."

The reporter's (and or editor's) opinion is front and center in the above, and it's clear he or she (there's no byline) doesn't approve of "beatniks."  Evidently, the paper considered Brando one and probably James Dean, too.  The long hair aspersion was cast about six years before the locks of George, John, Paul, and Ringo generated widespread reportorial derision.

"He explained that he was 'one of the two or three leading men' in Hollywood who can wear a costume and at the same time is proficient with a sword," the Journal story continues.  "He learned sword play at Beloit College, where he studied fencing.  'It was a course that really paid off,' he said."150

When the story jumps to page seven, it divulges:  "He is unmarried, but he indicated it might not be for long.  He has settled down to one girlfriend but is not ready to reveal her name."

This gossipy observation seems dated; I don't think the current Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would report these heart-throb details.

In late 1950s America it was presumed that leading men were heterosexual and actively involved in the pursuit of women.  Rock Hudson, a much bigger success than Mathews, was ultimately revealed to be a homosexual.

Mathews continued making movies into the seventies although he was never a first-magnitude star like contemporaries Montgomery Clift (born, 1920); Charles Bronson (1921); Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin (1924); Tony Curtis, Hudson, Paul Newman, and Rod Stieger (1925); Steve McQueen (1930); and James Dean (1931).

Co-star to superstars

Probably his biggest picture, The Devil At 4 O'Clock, starred Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy, 11 and 26 years his senior.  In this 1961 film, Mathews portrayed Father Joseph Perreau, a novice cleric who replaces Tracy's hard-drinking
Father Matthew Doonan. The older priest presides over a tropical island's leper hospital and is being relieved of his duties by the Catholic chain of command.152 

Suddenly the island's volcano erupts and threatens patients!
In his New York Times review, critic A.H. Weiler  summed up the film as "...unconvincing, manufactured melodrama,"
154   a phrase that describes most Hollywood offerings and, clearly, that is what most movie goers want.

Kerwin Mathews autographed promotional photo Sinbad
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad promotional photograph.
Kerwin Mathews and co-star Kathryn Grant.
Estate of Ben Burgraff, caricaturist; included
 with the permission of executor-fellow-
caricaturist Buddy Rose.

Boxooffice Showmandiser Kerwin Mathews
Click for entire story.
Kerwin Mathews head shot
   From the collection of Helen Kowalczyk,
included with permission.155
The Devil At 4 O'Clock movie poster
Found online.156