Leslie Howard and Greta Garbo (1933)
In 1933 Leslie Howard was the most sought-after actor in Hollywood. He played the leading man with Mary Pickford in Secrets. He rejected a very generous offer to play with Marion Davies in Peg O’ My Heart. Big money was not important to him. He had already turned down a great contract because he didn’t want to be tied up for five years. “That was impossible under the terms of the contract that was offered me. It was a very generous contract, I might say. But it allowed no say in the choice of parts. And I couldn’t see myself doing anything and everything for five years. That length of time devoted to dull roles would be out of the question” he said in an interview with Malcolm H. Oettinger (Screenland, March 1932).
Greta Garbo wanted him to play opposite her in Queen Christina, but he said no.
“He is the most independent fellow in Hollywood when it comes to persuading him to take a role in which he does not absolutely believe. In fact, he has just politely turned down a gigantic offer to play opposite Greta Garbo in Queen Christina. ‘No thanks,’ said Howard. ‘It would be not fair to Miss Garbo. It would not be fair to me. Besides, I think I go home,'” wrote Film Pictorial‘s correspondent (Film Pictorial, July 1st, 1933).
I have added another article, published in Screenland of September 1933: ‘I’m Afraid to Play With Garbo’ Says Leslie Howard by Ben Maddox. “Leslie Howard said of Greta Garbo: “She has a peculiarly dominating personality on the screen, and that is exactly why I declined that part. I shouldn’t hesitate to play opposite the most glamorous of stage actresses. A play can be depended upon to materialize as rehearsed. A picture is different. Added to the terrific competition of her personality–which no man has equalled–the film would naturally be cut to her advantage. And where would I be?”
You can read more about Leslie’s reasons for this amazing refusal in The Life Story of Leslie Howard by John K. Newnham.