June 1st, 1943 – June 1st, 2014: You will never be forgotten

Leslie Howard The First of the Few

Leslie Howard in “The First of the Few”

The Times, June 3rd, 1943

New York Times, June 3rd, 1943

New York Times, June 3rd, 1943

The stage and the screen have suffered a heavy loss in the death of Leslie Howard, who may fairly be said to have lost his life in the service of his country. He was returning to this country from Portugal on June 1, when, as reported, the passenger plane in which he was travelling was shot down by an enemy machine. Mr. Howard went to Lisbon in April at the invitation of the British Council to deliver lectures in Portugal and Spain. His mission was extremely successful in both countries. As a result of it, nine hundred kinemas in Spain have agreed to show British documentary films bearing on the Allied cause. He illustrated his lectures with the film “Pimpernel Smith”, the story of a professor who helped refugees to escape from Germany. He was returning to England to complete another war film about hospital nurses, “The Lamp Still Burns.”
Mr. Howard, who began his stage career twenty-five years ago, was of a charming and unassuming disposition, which his many friends were quick to esteem. Simple and sincere, he was also fired by an ardent patriotism, which expressed itself ungrudgingly in the last war. After the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 he threw up his Hollywood contracts and came home. He used the screen as a messenger from England speaking overseas. He also did valuable work in broadcasting. Howard Thomas, of the B.B.C., has stated: “He didn’t care about fees. He was interested only in what would do the most good. He told me, ‘I’ll do anything at all that B.B.C. wants me to do.'” He therefore took a prominent part in the war-time broadcasts, particularly in those with an Anglo-American interest, which benefited from the fact that he had a reputation in the USA exceeding that in his own country. Mr. Howard had intended returning to England some days sooner, but waited to see the premiere of his “Fist of the Few” at the British Embassy in London.
[…] In addition to his other broadcasts, Mr. Howard was a successful contributor to the B.B.C. Brains Trust, and in other ways placed himself at the disposal of war-time listeners, being a frequent exponent of English thoughts and ideals abroad through this medium. He leaves a widow and a daughter, and also a son, now serving in the Navy.
Sir Walter Monckton has written these words of appreciation of Mr. Howard’s work in connection with the Ministry of Information:
Among my happier memories of the Ministry of Information few are more vivid than that of my first meeting with Leslie Howard. “Isn’t there anything more that I can do?” And there was, much more, and he did it. I like to remember that from the first meeting we became and remained fast friends, and I grew to value more and more his quiet voice, his gentle humour, his deliciously unbusinesslike ways, his unselfish enthusiasm. He gave himself so willingly and now so wholly for his friends. Many of them will think of him gratefully and often.
An effective tribute to Leslie Howard was broadcast on Sunday. Quotations from Mr. Howard’s broadcasts of various times were included to show his ambitions and views on life. At the end came a short personal tribute from J.B. Priestley that was full of feeling and understanding.
(The Stage, June 10, 1943)

Leslie Howard

Leslie Howard in “The Scarlet Pimpernel”

Leslie Howard the Patriot by Charles Buttrose
If historians ever compile a list of Englishmen who helped save their country from going under when the full force of Hitler’s might weighed down upon her, they surely will include in it the name of Leslie Howard, actor, writer, and patriot–now posted missing.
Had he been less of an Englishman, Leslie Howard could have spent the years of the war living in comfort and peace in the United States. He could have sopped his conscience with the fact that he had served in the Army in the last war and that he was well over military age.
Life in America must have been pleasant for him. Americans liked his acting: on stage or screen. They liked his writing, too, and magazines like the “New Yorker” and “Vanity Fair” were ready publishers for anything he wrote. In Hollywood, he commanded the respect of his fellow-workers and film executives.
And, quite important, he also commanded a large salary, which, from about 1936 on, was always round the £ 50,000 a year mark.
But, when war came, Leslie Howard gave up these things he had struggled to attain, to live in bomb-drenched England and devote his talents to helping his countrymen withstand their time of great testing.

Even when Hollywood was laying its most sought-after roles at his feet and America had taken him to her heart, Leslie Howard is said always to have nursed a resentment that the English film industry, for all England’s theatrical tradition, had to play second fiddle to Hollywood.
He frequently let it be known that it was his ambition to have his own production unit in England and produce films there that would offer the most rugged competition to Hollywood in winning world acclaim. He achieved this ambition but recently.
[…] With Europe setting the stage for her grimmest and bloodiest drama, the British film industry was at a very low ebb in 1938, when Leslie Howard and Gabriel Pascal went into partnership with the idea of making a film to help revive it.
The bombs already had begun to fall on England by the time that film was ended. But even the highly-exacting author of “Pygmalion” joined film critics in the United States and the Empire in acclaiming Howard, Pascal and their colleagues for the job they made of it.
See and hear Leslie Howard in “Pygmalion” and you might imagine him an exclusively Shavian player; surely the talent of an actor who could play Shaw so much in Shaw “manner” and with such authority could not take in other dramatists too.
See and hear him in “Romeo and Juliet” and you will lose all those ideas. Some who played with him in the Hollywood version of the Shakespearean tragedy must have been selected for their box-office appeal rather than their Shakespearean skill.
But Leslie Howard spoke the lines of Shakespeare’s unhappy hero with a sublime beauty; he always sounded the perfect lover even if he did not always look like him.
All his film work since the war began, like his weekly broadcast from the B.B.C., have been directed towards rallying British people to their nation’s cause and ensuring that British pride in being British did not diminished.
He had a hand in planning and also an important role in that magnificent British Government propaganda film, “49th Parallel”, and under the auspices of the British Department of Information he made and acted in a number of “shorts”, including “From the Four Corners”, which has been seen in Sydney.
Since the war, too, he directed and played the name part in “Pimpernel Smith”. As in “49th Parallel”, he preaches the moral in this film that the quiet, polite, easy-going Englishman can be something to be reckoned with even by the toughest bullies Nazism can produce.
Unlike many Hollywood leading men, Leslie Howard was never a puppet, jerked into saying and doing things by some director. He had his way of doing things, and generally did them that way. But, despite this, he brought a completely new character to each role, and, for the time being, “Leslie Howard” was submerged by that character.
Just think back on some of his films and be amazed at Leslie Howard’s versatility. […]
He was a delightful comedian: deft and smooth and with flawless good taste. He had the capacity, too, for making even the most banal and commonplace lines effective: an asset he doubtless found a godsend during his Hollywood years.
Wherever actors and those who go to see them play, gather together, there will always be a devout recognition of his sincerity and artistry.
(The Sydney Morning Herald, June 5, 1943)