A Woman’s Angle on Leslie Howard (1936)
A Woman’s Angle on Leslie Howard
by Helen Hover
He’s Not Handsome or Fiery or Dashing–Yet He Is the Attraction of the Largest Audience of Women in Radio. One Who Knows Him Tells You Why
It’s strange about Leslie Howard. It really is.By all the laws of human nature and flapper psychology, he should be the last man in the world to cause even the slightest ripple among a limousine-load of females. He’s not handsome in the accepted sense of the word. He has a wife and two children–one a boy close to 17– and he makes no bones about his home life. When you compare him with the matinee idols of the past ten years, he doesn’t possess any of their box-office charms. He’s certainly not as dashing as Valentino, as fiery as Gilbert, as youthful as Vallee or as vital as Gable. Yet look:
When he last appeared in New York to start work on his first radio series, Amateur Gentleman, some reporter let slip the news that he was staying at the Ambassador Hotel. The next day, if you had passed that ultra-dignified street, you’d have seen a cordon of police rope off a mob of girls who tried to push their way through into the hotel. Leslie Howard was back in town!
And when his present sponsor cast the dragnet for a program that would appeal to women, Leslie Howard loomed as the ideal person to attract the largest female audience.
Matinee Idol Number One! Whether he likes the title or not–and I have a sneaking hunch he doesn’t–I think it will cling to him long after the Gilberts, the Vallees and the Gables are allowed to walk down the street unnoticed.
Somehow or other, though, he’s a different type of matinee idol. I was in the Columbia studios the time he was to appear on the air. There were groups of girls clogging the corridors–matter of fact. Columbia had to put on an extra doorman to handle the huge crowd.
Now, I have watched a mob of girls outside of NBC, gone almost hysterical with the idea of seeing Rudy Vallee emerge. I have seen a small army of acquisitive females besiege Clark Gable on a New York street to an extent where a few kindly policemen had to come to his rescue. I have heard about the mob that came out in the rain to look at the face of Valentino as he lay in his casket. In all of these cases, some were maudlin, some frankly a little silly, and some were gushy.
But I was struck by the brand of girls who waited for Mr. Howard–and incidentally, don’t you instinctively feel like addressing him as “Mr. Howard” rather than the more informal “Leslie?” Well-groomed women, many appeared to be teachers and in the professions, mature ladies past fifty, girls of obvious breed and culture. A good many, I later learned from the doorman, came in their own cars. The important point, though, is that they were not at all the fan-struck, love-hungry type you usually find trailing a current pulsehopper.
A well-known producer, with a string of successes to his name, one said to me: “When Leslie Howard first came to America from London, to appear in the movies, most of us in show business predicted that he’d be a flop. His appeal is intellectual rather than physical. Who would have guessed that this frail-appearing young man who looks more like a math professor than a movie star, would ever become the target for women’s adoration?”
The life of a matinee idol is a short one. It’s so easy to topple from the impossible standards the public sets. But I think Leslie Howard will last. And for two reasons. First of all, he’s so darned nice. I mean it.
I have seen many a radio and movie success take his adulation for granted, shove aside an autograph book, grow pompous or curt when an exuberant fan has rushed up to talk to him. I remember being in a radio studio during rehearsals, when one of our most popular romantic singers ordered several girl fans rudely ejected from his studio because they sneaked in without passes. I can’t imagine Leslie Howard doing such things. He’s gracious to the point of actually being inconsiderate to himself and his personal friends.
He once dashed into a restaurant for a hurried lunch because he had to run off to the studio and select his radio leading lady. Several girls rushed to his table for his autograph, and one girl in particular wouldn’t leave. Something in her manner or her speech must have attracted him, for he spoke to her for over an hour, while a half-dozen of the town’s highest-paid leading ladies were combing the town hunting for him.
At another time, after a broadcast when he was to go on to a large society party given in his honor, he plunged pell-mell into a group of women who had waited for him in the studio halls. he sat down and chatted with them, forgetting about the party and his impatient hostess. He does things like that because he wants to. Not because he feels it’s good business. And these women can somehow or other sense his sincerity.
The second–and the most important of all reasons for his consistent popularity with the ladies–is his wife Ruth. She so definitely knows how to cope with the trying situation of being a matinee idol’s wife that she has acted as the stabilizer and buffer between him and the swarm of women who have trailed him. During the time when he was alone in Hollywood, and she was in London tending to some of their affairs, her steadying influence reached across the waters to ward off the troubles that might easily have beset a popular bachelor-husband in the hectic movie colony. When there was talk last year that Leslie was leaving his wife for a younger and more glamorous movie actress, the Howard’s intimate friends laughed it off. “Ruth is would up irrevocably in Leslie’s life and career,” they said. “She understand him better than he does himself. No woman could ever seriously tempt him.”
How many other women could walk into their husband’s dressing-room to find them the center of groups of gushing girls–and know how to handle the situation gracefully? When Mrs. Howard notices that her sensitive husband is squirming under all this effervescence, she calls out to him, “Oh, Leslie, the baby wants you to take her to the zoo,” or some such commonplace thing, and the girls flee. If, on the other hand, she sees him expand and glow under the smiles of these women, she departs and leaves a message with his valet as to where and when he should meet her.
Theirs is a marriage that has lasted for close to twenty years, and flourished in a frenzied profession that has choked many a romance. Considering the fact, also, that their courtship was a furious and short one–they knew each other less than three weeks when they married–the fact that Ruth Howard has adjusted her life to his is particularly remarkable.
At that time, Leslie had left a cashier’s job to go to the war. And Ruth Martin was a beautiful blonde girl of the wholesome English variety. Before he went back to rejoin his troop he was a married man. Fortunately for him, this girl-wife whom he had married so impulsively was fashioned of the same sensitive fiber as he. After the war, when the idea of working in a grilled cage counting pennies terrified him, she encouraged him to turn to the precarious acting game.
Through all those years she has stayed more or less in the background, watching her shy, young husband attain success after success. Sha has seen him surrounded by some of the most beautiful women in the world, and more than once has had to listen to some Hollywood gossip about him; but she never has worried about the love of her husband. In fact, once when he was about to be presented to a beautiful actress who was known for her adeptness at stealing husbands, she nudged him and remarked: “Take off your glasses, Leslie. You’ve got to look romantic!”
But looking romantic is just a part of Leslie Howard’s appeal. Because I can catch the reflections only of my own impressions, I made it a special point to ask a few other women about the Howard tug, and it was surprising how that word _romance_ stuck out.
_Interesting_ is another prominent word in any feminine summary of the Howard charm. But that’s one of those words that remind you of a flannelette nightgown in that it covers a great deal but doesn’t particularly touch on anything. But so few women actually have talked to him of the countless number that rave about him, that I had to probe deeper by asking: “How does he express those particular charms?”
There was a striking unanimity to the replies. “It’s his voice,” they breathed in the ecstasy which indicates that something more than an ordinary emotion has tipped at their hearts. I guess that’s what it must be.
“I have pretty good reasons to know it’s his voice,” one admirer assured me. “Frankly, I didn’t know Leslie Howard was on the air as a regular thing. One Sunday night I went to a friend’s apartment and she had left orders to admit me, and instructions for me to wait a while as she was detained. I turned on the radio and the dial just happened to be set to a station which was broadcasting a dramatic sketch. I didn’t have any idea who was in it or what it was about, but there was one performer who had the most arresting voice I had heard in years–you know the kind I mean–the kind that makes you wonder how you came to get goose pimples in such warm weather.
“I waited to find out who it was–learned that it was Leslie Howard. You can believe I mean it when I tell you that at the cost of a couple of pretty hot dates I haven’t missed him since.”
Interesting? Romantic? Evidently that’s only the half of it.
I wasn’t very charm conscious during the Valentino era. To me Frances X. Bushman–as a national hero–is just story-book stuff. Doubtless both had their moments–but Sheik to Sheik, I have an idea Leslie Howard could have reduced them to mere extras.
The makers of Hinds’ Honey and Almond Cream present Leslie Howard every Sunday over the CBS-WABC network at 2 p.m. EST (1 CST; 12 noon MST; 11 a.m. PST); also rebroadcast for West Cost listeners at 12 midnight EST (11 p.m. CST; 10 MST; 9 PST).
(Radio Guide, January 11, 1936)