Leslie Howard in Paris (1940)
In January 1940 Leslie Howard went to Paris with Violette Cunnington for a short visit (“une huitaine”, as he says in the following interview). The official aim of this trip was to establish business relationships with French producers and film-makers and to find an actress for the leading female role of The Man Who Lost Himself, a film from a novel by Irish writer Henry de Vere Stacpoole which Leslie Howard intended to produce. The most plausible candidate for this role, according to the contemporary press, was Danielle Darrieux, a popular French actress who had recently come back from Hollywood, where in 1938 she had played opposite Douglas Fairbanks jr. in The Rage of Paris.
Leslie’s biographies hint at several meetings with Jean Giraudoux, André Maurois and Noël Coward, and it seems that, after Paris, Leslie travelled to Arras, invited by General Mason-Macfarlane, head of the British Expeditionary Force.
Anyway, his new film, The Man Who Lost Himself–still in its project state–was the only matter Leslie discussed with his charming French interviewers, aside from the routine compliments and love declarations for France.
Leslie really loved France and Paris. He was only too happy that the atmosphere had not changed, and this made him exceedingly optimistic. “We do not get the feeling that we are at war. Morale is amazingly high,” he said, and added: “They won’t win the war of nerves, actually they have already lost it.”
Leslie came back to Paris in April, for his last visit. Again, he was under the delusion that nothing had changed. But a few weeks later the battle of France began, the British Expeditionary Force evacuated and the German soldiers occupied Paris on June 14.
Read the interview (in French):
J’ai rencontré Leslie Howard…
(Pour Vous, 17 janvier 1940)