Actor Matthew Garber lives forever in Disney’s classic live-action motion pictures The Three Lives of Thomasina, Mary Poppins, and The Gnome-Mobile. Teamed with co-star, childhood friend, and Disney Legend Karen Dotrice in all three features, Matthew won the hearts of Disney audiences with his fresh, uninhibited, and infectious personality.
Matthew’s unusual lack of inhibition in front of the camera quickly inspired Disney’s publicity department at the time to coin him “the youngest method actor in movies.” In fact, his unique quality as a non-performer is precisely what won the seven-year-old his first Disney starring role as Geordie in The Three Lives of Thomasina.
Matthew’s premier screen test for The Gnome-Mobile revealed the “aha” moment for Disney Casting, which subsequently cinched their choice in talent.
An incident published in articles read, “He interrupted the scene by saying, ‘Excuse me, I think one of my front teeth is falling out.’ Trying to stifle a laugh, the director replied: ‘Well, go ahead and pull it out.’ Matthew did just that, while the camera continued to roll.”
Born in England on March 25, 1956, to parents who had both performed on stage, Matthew attended St. Paul’s Primary School and Highgate School, north of London. A Disney press release composed in 1967 painted a portrait of Matthew as a spirited and bright boy, who enjoyed pulling practical jokes on friends, competing in sports, and reading books rich with adventure, mythology, and even poetry.
As a friend of the Dotrice family, Karen’s father, Shakespearian actor Roy Dotrice, called Matthew to the attention of Disney Casting, where his use of “artful dodges, like squinting, screwing up his nose, and brushing his hair back with one hand” opened the gate to the Studio lot.
Karen recalled working with Michael, “He was how he looked—an imp, and I loved being his shadow. I can’t imagine making movies would have been half as much fun without him. He loved being naughty, finding and jumping off of small buildings on the back lot. While I was Victorian proper and wouldn’t let myself get dirty or muddy, Matthew had a great sense of fun and danger. He was a daredevil and could have been a race car driver. And he did live a full life over his 21 years.”
After Matthew’s treasured contributions to Disney motion pictures, he returned to England, but little is known about him from that time forward.
Matthew passed away on June 13, 1977, at Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, England, although his death was not commonly known until long after.