This article by Jimmie Fidler, a popular columnist, was written in June 1948. Food for thought, indeed.
Lobby card for the 1948 re-issue of Stand-in
I would say such an advertisement could have harmed Bogart’s reputation as it is one of his weakest roles. 😦 But Bogie’s fans who appeared not to have noticed him before “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” learnt later how to appreciate all his earlier movies.
However even now many films in which Leslie was a real and genuine star are presented as worth watching only because of his co-stars, e.g “Of Human Bondage” is praised as Bette Davis’ first significant role, “The Petrified Forest” as Bogart’s breakthrough, “Pygmalion” as Wendy Hiller’s triumph, Strangely that all the three actors were very mannered in their respective roles, whereas Leslie, with his important theatrical background, was easy and natural, and that was long before the method-acting came into fashion.
In my opinion, Hollywood studios never regarded Leslie as a good “product” to sell. He always remained quite a foreign body, very critical, very particular about the contracts he signed, demanding to have the last word in the choice of scripts and characters and even of the cast. They wanted him because of his immense popularity, but when he got tired of playing the romantic lover, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him. They were very willing to forget him, and did it as soon as possible. Bogart and Davis widely deserved the recognition they received, but their personal stories are totally different. They would have never left Hollywood. Leslie did it, and condemned himself to oblivion…
I fully agree with you, but I meant more the current situation when modern technologies have returned to us the films of the 1930s. Looking at them in good notion of how the cinema art has developed during half a century we can appraise their assets and liabilities anew. However people seem to prefer watching only the films of the actors they know well from their later films. American movie fans appear to control the tastes on many popular film sites. Nothing bad in that, but the overall picture loses somewhat in objectivity.
I appreciated Fidler’s appropriately acid remarks about the practice of re-releasing a film to capitalize on the then-secondary player’s later stardom. I recall it as a frequent occurrence at one time. I especially enjoyed his singling out STAND-IN. It brought to mind following a re-release of it from theater to theater across my hometown. I was enthralled by Leslie Howard and couldn’t see him often enough — literally, in those days.
On one occasion I was in the Imperial Theatre back home for a fifth viewing of STAND-IN when a burly man came in and sat in the row in front of me. He was wearing overalls and did not remove his cap bearing the logo of a trucking firm (freight company). In my youthful snobbism I wondered what the big truck diver was going to make of Leslie Howard and STAND-IN. What transpired remains the best example I’ve ever seen of audience identification with a character — not the actor, but the character he’s playing.
At one point in the story, Howard’s character is attending a Hollywood party at which he is ridiculed and humiliated. After a confrontation, he ends up on the floor, his absolutely necessary glasses broken. The trucker in front of me suddenly blurted out into the darkness, “Come on, Buddy, get up and show ’em what you got.”
Leslie Howard had developed so clear a character and had, despite so much against him including his own shortcomings, had made him so likeable that the audience at the fourth-run Imperial Theatre stood with him to the rate of every ticket holder.
I encourage anyone not familiar with STAND-IN to get busy and discover it. It is a delightful but biting movie about making movies. Howard and Bogart of course play well together. (Bogart my have the film’s best line, addressed to the crusading Howard: “Carry on, Joan of Arc.”) Leading lady Joan Blondell is outstanding and does a wicked send-up of Shirley Temple and her “Good Ship Lollipop.”
I appreciate how beautifully illustrated your blog always is. It was fun to see the STAND-IN lobby card.
Thank you very much for your comment! Your anecdote is so lively and amusing, I really had the feeling of that audience. “Stand-in” is a little gem of a film, it should be re-released for the new generation. And the Howard-Bogart duo was perfect: though I’ve watched the film so many times, the final dialogue on the phone always makes me laugh heartily. I wish they had made more films together
Thanks for that funny wee story! Stand-In is an absolutely gem, and so is Leslie in it! One of my favourite roles of his, actually!
Leslie was such a natural, subtle, understated actor, esp. for those times.
In his more serious roles he sometimes reminds me of my other two favourite actors, Stephen Dillane and Tom Hiddleston…sometimes with the way he moves, sometime the voice (and visually he has certain aspects in common with them as well).
But when it comes to comedy he’s in a league of his own. Just absolutely brilliant. The timing, the delivery, and the physical comedy never going over the top. Just an absolute joy to watch.
On another note, I watched Mel Gibson’s Hamlet last week (because Mr. Dillane played Horatio in that one)…and two things popped up in my mind. That I would die to have seen Dillane’s stage version from 1994 – and that it’s such a shame Leslie didn’t get to make a film version of Hamlet. Those are the two takes on that character I would love to see!
(Which brings me to the wonderful post on Leslie’s stage production of Hamlet from December…what a gem! Thanks GDV!)
Thanks so much for your message! I’m especially happy from a generational point of view, since both Stephen Dillane and Tom Hiddleston were born many years after Leslie, and I love the fact that their fans can still appreciate Leslie Howard, though he is so underrated and almost forgotten nowadays. And I agree, I’d pay millions to see Leslie’s Hamlet, and other important Hamlets of the past. Unfortunately, we won’t have this opportunity, but we can at least imagine. That’s why the reports written by more or less objective witnesses are so important.
I am afraid I might seem a bit iconoclastic as far as American actors are concerned. I do not mean it. But I had not been raised on American movies, and many American cinema icons had been just names in film history to me before I saw them in films (being quite adult). Leslie made a great impression on me being totally different from other male stars of the 1930s. STAND-IN is a fine example of Leslie’s cinematic “otherworldliness”. I wonder if anyone could have said “Don’t you think I have been honoured enough for the evening?”as he did, sounding neither facetious nor pitiful. A wonderful sense of proportion.
And he WAS totally different. And unique.
Fortunately still fondly remembered also by film directors and actors. This is from an article about Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” in La Reppublica:
“Allen ha citato in più occasioni Pigmalione, non My fair lady ma il film del 1938 con Leslie Howard. E infatti rispetto al mio personaggio mi ha nominato Howard in più occasioni, penso fosse un ottimo modello per il personaggio di Stanley – dice Firth – di recente sono molto preso dai film degli anni Trenta”
Yes, I read what Colin Firth said about Allen being ispired by Leslie’s Pygmalion and I was surprised, pleasantly surprised. This is the kind of recognition Leslie deserves. I wish he received more declarations of esteem and admiration from actors and directors of today. Just to compensate the obliviousness of film industry.
Perhaps you know about this project:
and have seen this (not about Leslie, but about the place of his death)
Yes, I know that project, by I’ve only seen the trailer, until now. It seems interesting, anyway, though I can’t judge whether it is historically accurate (I mean, from a biographical point of view) or not
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