Kerwin Mathews

d. July 5, 2007

Kerwin Mathews, actor who gained fame battling stop-motion fantasy creatures in such matinee epics as “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” died in his sleep July 5 at his San Francisco home. He was 81.

Mathews was a Columbia Pictures contract player when he was cast as the lead in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” a 1958 release featuring monsters created by the master of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen. He also appeared in “The Three Worlds of Gulliver” (1960), with stop-motion effects by Harryhausen, and “Jack the Giant Killer” (1962), with stop-motion created by Projects Unlimited.

Mathews was born in Seattle but soon moved with his divorced mother to Janesville, Wis. In high school, Mathews recalled in a 1987 interview, “a kind teacher put me in a play, and that changed my life.” After two years in the Army Air Force during World War II, he attended Beloit (Wis.) College on drama and music scholarships. He stayed at Beloit for three years after graduating to teach dramatic arts, and also appeared in regional theater before moving to Hollywood in 1954.

Mathews was an actor at the Pasadena Playhouse when he met the head of casting for Columbia Pictures and was signed to a seven-year studio contract. He made his film debut in 1955’s “Five Against the House” with Brian Keith and Guy Madison. Among his other film credits are “The Devil at 4 O’Clock,” “Man on a String,” “Pirates of Blood River” and “Maniac.” Feeling typecast by his fantasy roles, he moved to Europe and appeared in low-budget thrillers, including an entry in the long-running OSS 117 series of spy films, the sci-fi-spy adventure "Battle Beneath the Earth" and “The Viscount” in which he played a suave international agent.

His favorite role was said to be that of composer Johann Strauss Jr. in “The Waltz King,” a 1963 biopic that aired on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in the United States and was released to cinemas in Europe. He also starred in “The Ghostbreaker,” a 1965 pilot about a college professor who investigates apparently supernatural events, made at MGM by U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. He played a similar character in a 1969 pilot, “In the Dead of the Night,” for Dark Shadows producer Dan Curtis.

Mathews left acting in the 1970s and moved to San Francisco, where he sold antiques and furniture.