Leslie Howard: Good actors to be successful at forty ought to have brains (1939)
Leslie Howard, what an adorable man, so human and so full of contradictions!
This article of 1939 (“Modern Screen”, May 1939) was published when he had already accepted– very unwillingly, I must say– to play the juvenile role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. We all know how much he loathed that role, so in this interview he is probably giving vent to his frustration for doing exactly what he wished to avoid. “Even actors ought to be their age,” he says, “and there’s something pathetic about men in their middle years fixing their faces with greasepaint to make them look younger.” But I think Ashley Wilkes was not the only reason for his frustration. It is a very embittered Leslie who speaks, and his severe judgement is also reflected on the private lives of the actors. When the interviewer suggests that actors often live true love stories in their forties, he reacts “with sudden vehemence”, and goes on “to explain that what people say is that these men are fools after their fashion and old enough to know better.” I have the feeling that the reason for his vehement reaction is that he was trying to convince himself. When he says that an actor “cannot satisfy himself if he feels in his heart that he is being ridiculous for his years,” I have the feeling that he is not talking of himself as an actor– there is more in his frustration than a mere artistic concern. He knows that “even if he fools his audiences, he can’t fool himself.” Life can be quite paradoxical, if you are 46 and have a fully functioning brain, when your heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.
In the same magazine, on page 116, there is an interesting photo of Leslie with “his French secretary” attending a social event. Dear Leslie, so young at heart…
Leslie Howard speaks his piece about those grown-up perennial juveniles!
Thirty-five-year-old juveniles and screen actors who try to go through the throes of passionate love scenes to thrill their audiences are disgusting to me,” said Leslie Howard as he sipped a glass of milk and meditated on his return to Hollywood to play Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind.”
While the blonde Britisher delivered his arraignment against actors who believe that they’re always as young as the make-up can “pretty them”– to use Mr. Howard’s won term– he relaxed in a chair and through those narrow half-closed eyes of his seemed to me looking out on a world of women who still consider him in an emotionally romantic light. But he no longer desires to appear that way.
Something definite has happened to Leslie Howard, not only in his attitude toward his work, but in his analysis of himself. There’s no getting him to admit whether the change came suddenly one morning as he rose, looked at himself in the mirror and said regretfully, “I am no longer young,” or whether it was a thought that developed in his mind and grew to a conviction where there was no further denying it. […]