Matthew Adam Garber (25 March 1956 – 13 June 1977) was a British child actor, best known for his role as Michael Banks in the 1964 film Mary Poppins. He also starred in two other Disney films, The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Gnome-Mobile, all three times appearing alongside actress Karen Dotrice.
Born in Stepney, London, to parents who had both performed on stage, Garber attended St Paul's Primary School in Winchmore Hill and Highgate School in Highgate, North London, from September 1968 until July 1972. He had a younger brother, Fergus Garber, who was born in 1964, the year Matthew played Michael Banks. His father's name was recorded by the school he had attended as L. L. Garber. Matthew Garber was considered a spirited and bright boy in a 1967 Disney press release that noted his enjoyment of pulling practical jokes on his friends, playing sports, and reading adventure, mythology and poetry books.
As a friend of the Garber family, Karen Dotrice's father, Shakespearian actor Roy Dotrice, called Garber 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" led to his screen debut at age seven in Disney's The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964).
That same year, both Garber and Thomasina co-star Dotrice were hired to play Jane and Michael, the children of George Banks (David Tomlinson), who gets more than he bargained for when he hires a nanny named Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews). Disney's live-action/animated film adaptation of the Mary Poppins book series by P. L. Travers won five Academy Awards and made its stars world-famous.
Garber and Dotrice teamed up again in 1967 in the The Gnome-Mobile, as the grandchildren of a rich lumber mogul (Walter Brennan) who stumble across a gnome forest and are asked to help keep the gnomes from dying off.
Dotrice recalled, "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."
Later years and death
Garber had unknowingly contracted hepatitis while in India in 1976. By the time his father was able to get him home to London several months later, the disease had affected his pancreas. Garber's brother Fergus, who was 13 at the time of Matthew's death, denied any suggestion that Matthew was using drugs and said the hepatitis likely came from eating bad meat. On 13 June 1977, Garber died at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, of haemorrhagic necrotising pancreatitis, aged 21.
Garber's body was cremated at St. Marylebone Crematorium (East Finchley) London on 16 June. Fergus did not attend the funeral and did not know if any memorial had ever been erected for Matthew. Garber's parents had both died in the decade following their elder son's death.
Garber was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 2004. Fergus Garber accepted on his behalf. On the Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary DVD, Karen Dotrice said she regretted not keeping in touch with Garber before his death.
|1964||The Three Lives of Thomasina||Geordie McNab|
|Mary Poppins||Michael Banks|
|1967||The Gnome-Mobile||Rodney||(Final role)|