Co-starringMathews' appearance with Munsel (born, 1925)—"the youngest singer who ever starred at the Metropolitan Opera," 150 according to Wikipedia—was in the musical I Do, I Do, which originally was staged on Broadway in 1965 and won a Tony in 1966.151
The 1970 production featuring Mathews was far from Manhattan in Connecticut summer stock 152 venues such as the Candlewood Theater in New Fairfield and the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
Frances Crall Mathews
Frances, Mathews' mother, was living in San Francisco when she succumbed to cancer in 1981 at age 84. A three-line obituary 153 in the Gazette mentions she worked for Parker Pen as a nurse for 30 years, retiring in 1962 when she was 65. She's interred a few miles west of Janesville in Bethel Cemetery under a headstone engraved Frances Crall Mathews.154 Evidently, she was from the area and returned after a failed relationship.
Mathews spoke about his mother in 2006 when the publishers of a book about producer Ray Harryhausen forwarded a copy of the 1958 Showmandiser report (click for full story) on his Janesville visit:
"...Kerwin Mathews wrote back to say, 'I can't explain to you what it meant to me to have a photo of my mother at one of the most important moments of our lives. [We had] to work from dawn to dusk every day of our lives to keep our world together—the key word is we did it together, from the time I was five years old until she died in 1981. I am brought to shakes several times in a day just thinking about that photo and what happened when we walked in the door of the theater [to see] so many of my teachers from kindergarten through high school. I'm 80 years old now and not well from all that swashbuckling, but that moment in my life was the high point because of my mother. So thank you so much for sending the photo.'" 155
ChallengesIn conversations with Janesville talk show host Regez, Mathews spoke somewhat ruefully about his childhood: "He told me that he and his mom were 'very poor' and that he had to sell fruit on the streets of Janesville to help make ends meet."
Regez said Mathews believed certain citizens wanted him to know he was a scruffy lad whose station in life was low. Some of this was overcome by Janesville educator Kenneth Bick who took the actor under his wing in high school and helped him get scholarships to Milton College.
Mathews told Regez he and his mom "went to movies a lot" during his youth, and when The 7th Voyage of Sinbad had its special showing at the Jeffris in January, 1958, they "sat in the back row like we always did when I was growing up."
Probably Mathews attended movies at all of Janesville's downtown theaters in the thirties, forties, and even the early fifties, including the Apollo and the Beverly.
"...a gracious man..."
Regez, who retired from radio and works in retail, had Mathews on "AM Magazine," his WCLO radio show in the nineties—he couldn't be certain of the year—and said the actor agreed to an on-air interview with one stipulation: "He did not want to take calls from listeners, and I said that was okay," Regez remembered.
In the days leading up to the interview, Mathews called Regez twice to make sure he would not have to take calls. "He was really concerned about it," Regez said, "and finally I asked why. He replied that he was afraid 'callers will ask why I'm not married.'" Regez assured Mathews he would not have to take calls. "From his voice, I could sense a big weight coming off his shoulders. I was glad that I could make him feel comfortable," Regez continued. "Off the air, Kerwin said: 'A lot of my friends are angry with me because I’m still in the closet.'"
The actor did another WCLO radio interview when Katherine Hepburn died in 2003. Mathews became acquainted with Hepburn when she visited Tracy on the set of The Devil At 4 O'Clock. "He had some great stories about her," Regez recalled. "Kerwin was a gracious man who was kind and absolutely devoted to his cats, Oscar and Flip."
And he never forgot the town where he grew up. Later, Mathews donated funds to help restore the auditorium in the building where he had his first acting roles and completed high school.
Ultimately, like almost everything, what Mathews attended as Janesville Senior High School and I attended as Marshall Junior High School, built in 1921, was judged obsolete and abandoned. At least it wasn't bashed down and hauled away in dump trucks.
Stone House Development of Madison purchased the building and turned the classrooms into apartments. 156
The company was civic-minded and generous enough to decide that the school's auditorium, integral to the original building, and music wing, added in the early sixties, should be restored for use by community groups. Performances of many kinds are now presented in the auditorium.
Mathews died at 81 on July 5, 2007. 157 He was living in San Francisco with Tom Nicoll, a British display manager he met in 1961. 158
His obituary in the July 8, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle includes:
"... he is revered...for having starred in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, which can only be called a classic of the genre and a milestone in the history of cinema.
"'It [Tom Nicoll recalled] was released 49 years ago, and not a week has gone by in all those years when Mr. Mathews did not receive a note from a fan...
"'He would, until the end, answer every piece of fan mail,' said Nicoll, his partner of 46 years. 'If the movie was shown somewhere, he would get a flood of fan mail. If his name was in a magazine somewhere, he'd get a flood of fan mail.'
"'Mr. Mathews spent a few years teaching high school English in Lake Geneva, Wis., before...he went to Hollywood,' Mr. Nicoll said. Mr. Mathews had nothing more than an aunt waiting for him there, but he was undeterred.
"'Mr. Mathews caught a lucky break and landed a gig at the Pasadena Playhouse, a groundbreaking theater that launched many an acting career.
"'He was approached by an agent, who got him an appointment with Harry Cohn at Columbia, the big boss,' Nicoll said. 'Harry took a liking to him and signed him up.'
"'Cohn was the president of Columbia Pictures. He saw a big future for Mr. Mathews and cast him in 5 Against the House, a caper flick about five college kids who rob a casino. It starred Kim Novak and was released in 1955.159
[Mathews told Regez that the regime at Columbia that took over after Cohn's death in February, 1958, wasn't as interested in him as Cohn had been; "Kerwin said he often '...wondered how my career would have gone had Cohn not died,'" Regez recollected.]
The above is one rectangle in a larger
ad that promoted ten productions.
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Mathews attended high school in this 1921 building.
Later it became Marshall Junior High School;
currently it contains apartments and the
Janesville Performing Arts Center.
ŠTed Schaar 2015
Click for larger image.
Entrance detail, Marshall Apartments.
ŠTed Schaar 2015
Click and scroll for larger image.
This stage in the auditorium of Janesville High School is where
Mathews got his first formal acting experience. It is
now part of the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Courtesy of Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Click and scroll for larger image and additional photographs.
Challenges two former Janesville residents—
Mathews and Robert Carle—faced in
Hollywood were outlined in
this 1954 Gazette story.
Click for full article.