Kerwin Mathews, Cinema’s Sexy Sinbad

Today would have been the 92nd birthday of Kerwin Mathews, best known as a fantasy hero for his lead roles in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962).

Mathews was one of the cinema's most handsome men, sort of like Guy Madison (1922-1996) with a dash of the affably cute Paul Rudd (b. 1969), and this post celebrates his beauty.

Mathews was born in Seattle, and first tried his hand at acting in high school. He loved it from the start, returning to it after serving as a pilot in WWII while teaching at Beloit College.

He moved to L.A. in the '50s, where he was discovered in the theater an signed to a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures.

From the very beginning of his professional career, Mathews found himself thrust into sci-fi and fantasy pieces, making an appearance on an episode of the TV series Space Patrol (1950-1955) that aired on March 13, 1954. He simply had that all-American look that contrasted nicely with otherworldly goings-on.

His official film debut came in 5 Against the House (1955), an agreeable heist film that gave him a chance to work with A-list star Kim Novak (b. 1933), playing one of four college buddies (the others being Guy Madison; Brian Keith, 1921-1997; Alvy Moore, 1921-1997) who becomes embroiled in a plot to knock off a casino.

He was set to appear in a film with Rita Hayworth (1918-1987), but the film never got off the ground, the kind of good luck/bad luck which would come to characterize his career.

Mathews did land some juicy roles, among them a major supporting role in The Garment Jungle (1957) and the lead role in Tarawa Beachhead (1958), the latter of which directly led to the film that would become his career highpoint: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Sinbad was a hit thanks to the then-advanced animation technique of Oscar winner Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013), who was working in color for the first time. The skeleton sword fight is considered an all-time classic movie sequence.

In-between his action flicks, Mathews did solid work in unexceptional films with major stars, including in The Last Blitzkrieg (1959) with Van Johnson (1916-2008); Man on a String (1960) with Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012) and The Warrior Empress (1960) with Tina Louise (b. 1934).

Returning to his greatest success, Mathews was cast as Gulliver in The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, which again benefited from Harryhausen's imaginative FX.

Mathews was gay. His sexual orientation may have kept him from being cast in bigger projects, but from 1961, he was in love with Tom Nicoll (b./d. ?), a department store display manager, a relationship that would last the rest of his life; the same could not be said for acting.

Mathews had one more stab at a prestige picture, working with Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) and Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) on The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961), and won the role of Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) in the Disney TV movie The Waltz King (1963).

He settled into a succession of genre flicks like the Hammer films The Pirates of Blood River (1962) and Maniac (1963); Jack the Giant Killer (a flop); the warmly remembered TV movie Ghostbreakers (1967); Octaman (1971); and the cult classic The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), a film he immediately disavowed, and his last starring role.

Mathews made surprisingly few TV appearances, but a stint on General Hospital in 1972 led him to an encounter with Mark Hamill (b. 1951), then making his TV debut. Hamill was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, and wound up pestering Mathews with questions about the Harryhausen films, leading him to publish an interview with Mathews in a fan magazine called FXRH. Just a few short years later, Hamill would become Luke Skywalker in the first of the Star Wars movies; he has said Mathews's comments about acting in films dominated by non-existent scene partners served him well.

By 1974, Mathews was running an antiques store in San Francisco with the love of his life, making one last appearance in the 1977 horror flick Nightmare in Blood.

At time of Mathews's 2007 death, his partner said, "He would, until the end, answer every piece of fan mail."

Beautiful, inside and out.

2 Responses

  1. Very nice, thank you.

  2. Jack the Giant Killer was never a Ray Harryhausen film!!! O_o

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