Un’intervista prima di Hamlet – 1936

Sto raccogliendo documenti sulla messa in scena di Hamlet che Leslie Howard portò a Broadway nel novembre del 1936. Il mio desiderio è quello di cercare il più possibile  di conoscere e comprendere le scelte di Leslie come attore e come regista, pareggiando almeno un po’  i conti con la superficialità e la frettolosità con la quale vennero emessi i giudizi della critica a quel tempo. Il confronto con la versione di John Gielgud, quasi contemporanea, indusse secondo me i critici a liquidare frettolosamente ed impietosamente (sulla base di impressioni ricavate per lo più solo a livello emozionale) il lavoro che Leslie aveva fatto sul personaggio di Hamlet, senza prendersi il disturbo di approfondirlo. Perché Leslie Howard era ossessionato dal personaggio di Hamlet, lo sappiamo, e continuò ad esserlo anche dopo il parziale insuccesso della sua messa in scena. Nel libro del figlio Ronald si parla estesamente del progetto che Leslie Howard continuò a sviluppare negli ultimi anni della sua vita, quello di un film che avrebbe “attualizzato” la storia del principe danese, trasportandola nel periodo della Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Le similitudini storiche l’avevano colpito e il personaggio di Hamlet aveva per lui assunto nuovi significati. Chissà come sarebbe stato, questo film, se avesse avuto modo di concretizzare il suo progetto… Purtroppo non lo sapremo mai, ma comunque vale la pena di cercare di immaginarlo.

Tornando alla versione teatrale, quello che è certo è che ebbe una lunga gestazione. Ho trovato un articolo pubblicato sul Kentucky New Era del 28 gennaio 1936, in cui si parla di Hamlet in preparazione, e in cui sono anche riportate, virgolettate, le parole di Leslie a proposito del lavoro dell’attore e del suo desiderio di dedicarsi alla regia.

Lo trascrivo qui, per facilitarvi la lettura. L’originale è a questo indirizzo, per chi volesse scorrerlo. Come molti altri articoli che sto scoprendo su Internet, è anche presente nelle mie raccolte di link relativi a Leslie Howard su Delicious. Vi invito, anzi, a segnalarmi altri link interessanti, che aggiungerò con piacere alle raccolte.

Kentucky New Era, January 28, 1936

Leslie Howard Wants to Do Hamlet, Then Try Task of Telling Others

Hollywood, Jan. 28. — Leslie Howard is tired of acting. Oh, fearfully!
Being tired of acting is one thing and being bored with acting is another. Oh, quite! Mr. Howard is both.
Just now he is mostly tired. Playing Romeo is a task. Oh, definitely! It presents too many problems to be in the least boring. The problems are mostly those of trying sound natural while reciting poetry, and of trying not to sound rhetorical in spots where the situations call for plain speaking.
Mr. Howard is not too fond of the role of Romeo. He’s grateful for several deletions which spare Romeo a lot of tiresome speeches. And he does wish they’d hurry with the picture so he can get on with his personal plans.
These plans include, first of all, a Broadway production of Hamlet. And then a picture in England, and a play or two, and finally a divorce from grease paint. He wants to be a producer, a director, and possibly a writer – although his experiences as a writer haven’t been terribly encouraging up to now.
The reason Mr. Howard is going to do Hamlet is because he has reached a point in his acting career – he calls it “an hiatus in my acting career” – “where I need to finish off with something tip-top.”
He believes that Hamlet is the hardest thing an actor can do, and he has worked for months on plans for the production. It will be only a limited engagement, and he hopes it can take place this spring. The way things are going with Romeo and Juliet, though, it may be postponed until automn.

Leslie Howard & Norma Shearer in Romeo & Juliet, 1936

Leslie Howard & Norma Shearer in Romeo & Juliet, 1936

Wants to Borrow Self

The picture in England will be about “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Mr. Howard’s screen services happen to be tied up by a contract go Warner Brothers, and it may be that Mr. Howard will not be able to borrow himself to act in his own production. If he had to hire some other actor, it would be embarrassing. Oh, very!
As soon as he decently can get around to it, Mr. Howard wants to quit acting. He’s sure a good many other seasoned performers feel the same way in the matter, though most of them have not got around to admitting it.
“Stage acting is exciting at first,” he said. “Very! But ther is no mental activity in doing the same thing over and over again. Screen acting isn’t quite satisfying, either. I really like to work. I detest the intervals of idleness that actors call ‘resting'”.

Likes Action

“Picture directing – that’s what I most want to do. Oh, tremendously! Of course I have some ideas about it. Principally, I want to try to use the screen to better advantage a[…] an individual medium. Since talkies came in they have been tied too closely to the stage. Everyone seems to consider that the big job is writing dialog, but I believe the action should be just as great a literary task.”
Mr. Howard hopes that pictures – some pictures, anyway – will be made with a bit more intellectual appeal, and so labeled. this is less a reflection of the standard movie fan taste than it is a tribute, because he believes the great majority of fans would prefer more artistic productions.
What he deplores is the willingness of some of the studios to allow a small, lowbrow minority to influence their policies. Commercialism rears its ugly head.
In this respect, though, he finds high taxes a very encouraging cultural agent. “It’s getting to the point,” he observed, “where money is no longer much of an incentive, since taxes become almost confiscatory in the high brackets. (Writer’s note: Mr. Howard used to work in a bank.) So the main incentive now is to do something better than the next man. That’s rather healthy, really. Artistically, I mean.”

Leslie Howard as Hamlet, 1936

Leslie Howard as Hamlet, 1936