Leslie Howard writes to his son (1939)

My dear boy — You have been asking for some time for a Hollywood letter. You asked for all kinds of inside information that may interest readers–all kinds of spicy bits of news and other items of interest. It only just occurs to me that I know practically nothing about the place.
As a matter of fact, the Hollywood cuttings you sent me from your own newspapers in London frequently amazed me. I cannot imagine why this should be so.
I was working in a studio for months. Often I frequented such places as the “Brown Derby,” the “Trocadero” and even the Rathbones parties–but nobody told me anything. I simply never heard the inside stories, and I am amazed if not a little shocked; I even read things about myself which I am almost sure have never happened.

Anyway, it seems I did the following in my right months in Hollywood. I acted in the film of Gone With the Wind.
This occupied a great many months during which time I only appeared before the cameras occasionally and always seemed to be doing the same thing.
I played, in spite of my years, a handsome young southern gentleman named Ashley Wilkes–and since I have only read about two hundred of the twelve hundred pages of the book it may be said I am entirely to blame for the fact that to me Mr. Wilkes always seemed a somewhat obscure and nebulous character.
Mind you, short of finishing the novel, I did my best and I hope I have earned my pay; but there were months when I wondered greatly.
I really made an effort to penetrate the dark mystery of Mr. Wilkes.
When the picture was nearly completed I was permitted to see some fifteen edited reels. I must say it is a most impressive production. It is, for the most part, wonderfully played against a most moving panorama of the American Civil War. But I was still a little mystified by Mr. Wilkes.
This character appears for a brief scene about once every three reels–regularly announces that the old south will never be the same again, that his world has gone for ever–and then vanishes into a private limbo for another three reels.
Repeatedly throughout the film, Mr. Wilkes returns with the same lugubrious pronouncement.
The only variation to all this was my southern accent, which I suspect was not entirely consistent (the south of England crept in occasionally)–and my costume which became more and more ragged with each successive appearance. I finished up literally held together with bits of string which entirely befitted a veteran of the Confederate Army…

Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes


Read the article: Leslie Howard’s Letters to His SonPicturegoer and Film Weekly, September 30,1939