Leslie Howard describes A.A. Milne (1922)
Leslie Howard met A.A. Milne during the rehearsals of Mr. Pim Passes By, in 1919. Leslie played the juvenile role in the play, with Dion Boucicalt and Irene Vanbrugh.
This is another remarkable example of Leslie’s natural gift for enticing any kind of people: Milne was soon persuaded to write screenplays for Minerva Films, the film company Leslie had founded with Adrian Brunel.
When I read this short article, I was struck by the evident resemblance between Milne and Leslie Howard. Leslie seems to describe himself as he will become in the future; he wasn’t yet 30 when he wrote this portrait of Milne. There is a clear affinity between the young actor and the successful writer; much more than that, Leslie seems to describe the ideal self he was developing.
This striking resemblance did not go unseen. “This Leslie Howard should be immediately placed under contract to play nothing but Milne plays as long as they both shall live. Howard and Milne look rather alike, by the way,” Alexander Woollcott had written a few days before, on March 15, in his review of The Truth About Blayds.
Leslie could not guess that Milne–who was then a successful playwright– would become most famous for his children’s books. He informs us that Milne “has a son, aged now about two.” This child is Christopher Robin Milne, the protagonist of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, together with his stuffed animals.
Thus Leslie Howard of the cast of “The Truth About Blayds,” in discussing A.A. Milne:
“About 35–certainly under 40. Blond and very boyish in appearance. He is very shy and retiring–as shy as Barrie, who is one of his best friends. He has a son, aged now about two. He is a university man–Trinity College, Cambridge–and got into newspaper work in London soon after leaving college. He had been an associate editor of Punch for some years before the oubreak of the war, and continued to send back verses and sketches from the battlefields. He was an infantry officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and served for five years.
“He was in the army when he wrote his early plays–‘Belinda,’ which Ethel Barrymore did over here; ‘Wurzel-Flummery,’ his first play, written in 1917; ‘The Boy Comes Home’ and ‘Make Believe.’ I believe his contributions to Punch during the war attracted more attention than they had previously, because when I got back to London from the front in 1917 everybody was asking, ‘Who is A.A.M.?’ the initials signed to his verses and sketches in Punch.
“The first time I met Mr. Milne was when I was engaged for the juvenile role in ‘Mr. Pim Passes By.’ Later I induced him to write some scenario for a motion picture concern I helped organize. Mr. Milne is a great outdoors man. He plays cricket and golf and would travel a long way to see a good game. He is an inveterate pipe-smoker. He is very fond of writing humorous sketches and verses and continues to write them in spite of the fact that his comedies are bringing him in an income that makes his book royalties pale by comparison.”
(The New York Times, March 26, 1922)