A Good Pal Is Worth Three Dollars (1934)
A Good Pal Is Worth Three Dollars
And not many Englishmen can get enduring affection from an Irishman for that price
by Carl Bosworth
“Mr. Howard–” A very appealing but very broke young Irish actor touched the sleeve of the producer-boss who had snatched him out of the sheriff’s clutches by giving him just a small part in his play.
“Mr. Howard, you don’t suppose you could lend me five bucks?”
And a cool, sophisticated, dignified Englishman, sho hall all New York at his feet with his performance in “Berkeley Square,” turned to stare into the pleading, blue Irish eyes. Then his own lighted up with an amused twinkle of understanding.
“I’ve only got three,” said Leslie Howard to Bill Gargan, turning his pockets inside out, “but they’re yours.”
That was five years ago, when Bill Gargan was just an unknown actor behind in his rent, and Leslie Howard, the sensation of Broadway, was rehearsing his cast for “Out of a Blue Sky,” which he was co-producing with Gilbert Miller.
But it was the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most enduring friendships–the Leslie Howard-Billie Gargan entente, which no one knowing both the shy, reserved Englishman and the boisterous, impulsive Irishman can quite figure out yet.
Because if you searched the world over, you’d have a hard time finding two people who would seem to have less in common than the ebullient Bill and the serene Leslie.
But they’re inseparable; Bill and Leslie, Ruth Howard and Patricia Gargan–yes, and the children, Leslie and Ronald Howard and Barrie and Leslie Howard Gargan, too. The latter is named in honor of Bill’s friend.
And if you have anything to say against the Howards to Bill Gargan, better smile when you say it. That goes both ways.
Of course, hollywood remains a little puzzled about it–but Hollywood doesn’t know the story of how this friendship started and grew. How this understanding, which you couldn’t help but feel if you saw Bill and Leslie together in “Animal Kingdom,” developed from stage lines to real life.
Leslie’s venture at producing on Broadway ended in two weeks, and with it Bill’s job. Bill was debtor for three dollars, and for plenty of dramatic instruction and advice from Leslie.
Two years rolled around, during which Leslie had become a tremendous success in England, while Bill–well, he was just keeping in cigarettes and clean shirts.
Then one day he read where Leslie Howard had arrived in New York to direct and star in “Animal Kingdom.” Bill read Red Regan’s part. He wanted it, but–
“I felt kind of backward about getting in touch with him,” says Bill. “He was a big man now, bigger than before, and I was still hunting a job.”
But that three dollar debt worried Bill. It ought to be paid.
So he walked down to the Lyceum Theater, in onto the stage, and once more touched Leslie Howard’s sleeve.
“Here’s that three bucks I owe you, Mr. Howard,” said Bill.
And then, his honor cleansed, his courage rose. “And I’d like to play Red Regan,” he said.
Howard regarded him coldly. “Sorry,” he replied, “but I don’t picture you as the type.”
Then he met that anxious, half-funny, half-sad map of Ireland, and the frown dissolved into a smile. Bill grinned back.
“Okay,” said Leslie Howard, “we’ll try it out today.”
And when rehearsal was over in the evening, he said, “Bill, you’re good for my money. The part’s yours.”
During all the four weeks that Bill Gargan rehearsed “Animal Kingdom” with Leslie Howard, he never could quite make up his mind whether the Englishman liked him.
“An Englishman can like you a lot, and still look like he doesn’t even know you,” Bill explains.
But on the play’s opening night in Pittsburgh, something happened which cinched his own mind about one thing.
The opening was what every actor dreams about all his life. Riotous applause, twenty or more curtain calls. Bill was standing in the wings while Leslie took five calls by himself. Then he ran off stage.
“Come on, Bill,” he commanded. “The want you, too.”
Together, Leslie leading Bill by the hand, they took bows. Then Leslie retired, pushed Bill out alone on the stage, while the audience deafened him with their approval.
What a moment for an unknown actor, a sensitive, sentimental Mick!
Those blue Irish eyes swam in grateful tears.
“I didn’t care whether Leslie Howard really liked me or whether he hated me,” says Bill. “I knew that from then on I was going to like him for the rest of my life.”
Next morning when the producers called a conference with author Philip Barry, because of the comparative weakness of Howard’s part, Leslie stood firmly on one thing.
“I don’t want one line of Red Regan’s part cut,” he said.
Which was just the same as handing Gargan a ticket to fame. He scored a hit during the twenty-three week New York run of “Animal Kingdom.” And that eventually led to Hollywood.
Those weeks on the stage were what really cemented the Gargan-Howard family friendship. Leslie Howard’s dynamic wife, Ruth, met Bill Gargan’s quiet, reserved mate, Patricia, and they became fast friends. Ruth was the only one who could handle tempestuous little Barrie Gargan. She awed him and made him mind his manners. There were dinners together and pleasant evenings.
Once Bill and Leslie went with the play to Cleveland for a week. Leslie put up at the swankiest hotel in town, but Bill still had to watch his nickels, so he registered at a less pretentious house on the outskirts of the city. It made it hard for them to get together much except during the play.
“Look here,” said Leslie one night, “this won’t do. I’ve an idea. How would you like to be my secretary?”
“You see, there’s half-rate here for servants,” Leslie explained, “if you don’t mind coming down in the world.”
Bill didn’t mind–not so long as it meant a luxurious room and bath adjoining Leslie’s in a ritzy hotel.
But if Leslie did bring Bill down in the world one week, he helped boost him up in the world a few weeks later.
“Bill came to me one day just about to explode with excitement,” Howard relates. “Hollywood wanted him to play in ‘Rain’ opposite Joan Crawford, he said, and he was practically all packed to go at the moment.
“‘But look here,’ I told him, ‘you can’t do that, you know. You’ve a run of play contract with ‘Animal Kingdom.’
“Well, at that Bill worked himself up into a typical Irish state. I knew from past experience that it was no use refusing that fellow anything, and sure enough, before I knew it, I was talking the producer into letting him leave the play.”
Bill came to Hollywood, to be followed not long after by Leslie.
Hollywood isn’t particularly famous for cementing friendships, but in this case it has done very well. Neither had very many close friends when he arrived; neither has yet–so they “take it out on each other.”
Leslie plays the role of father-confessor, as he has always played for Bill. And Bill–well, Leslie, himself, says:
“You know, that crazy Irishman has a sixth sense about me.”
Bill never calls Leslie by his right name, to Howard’s never-ending amusement. It’s always “Charlie,” or “Joe,” or “Ralph”–or some new one.
They baffle each other in some ways. Leslie can’t understand why Bill is so incurably outspoken that he continues to get himself in jams. Such as the time when a chance remark about Joan Crawford, greatly amplified by Hollywood’s gossip system, came back to her so distorted that Bill lost a possible lead in “Dancing Lady.”
And Bill can’t understand why Leslie is so quiet and abrupt most of the time. The English mannerism puzzle him.
“Like the other evening,” says Bill, “when we were over at Howard’s for dinner. Afterward we went into the parlor, and suddenly I looked around to find Leslie gone. A couple of hours later I strolled upstairs–and there he was lying on the bed reading a book!
“I’ve sat with him all night and not more than ten words have passed between us.”
A striking example of this difference in volubility occurred when Leslie Howard Gargan arrived.
At the time, Leslie was on the Berengaria just out of New York harbor en voyage to England, and Bill was in Hollywood.
Breathless, Bill rushed off a radiogram, complete with all the details–words and words, costing him upwards of fifty dollars.
Came the reply,
“Topping. Regards. Howard.”
Another thing which has Bill Gargan completely licked is Leslie’s ever-present composure.
“Why, when we were doing the play in New York,” recounts Bill, “the stage manager and myself were almost in a state of nervous collapse about Leslie. Howard and I had found a secluded little restaurant where we would usually arrive to eat about seven o’clock. About eight-twenty I’d get nervous.
“‘Listen,’ I’d say, ‘that curtain goes up at eight-forty. And we’re fourteen blocks away. Let’s go.’
“‘Right!’ he’d say, and then deliberately help himself to some more cheese and coffee. As cool as a cucumber, while I was sweating blood. Somehow we always got there on time.”
But there was once when Leslie didn’t “get there in time,” and it gave Bill a chance to repay a long standing favor in its own kind.
It was during the bank holiday of last year. Bill had just cashed a five thousand dollar check, on a hunch, and had put the bills in a safe-deposit box.
Leslie got the bank closing news too late, and being in the habit of never carrying any money around with him, found himself virtually penniless.
So Bill gave Ruth Howard a thousand dollars and Leslie said a hundred would be enough for him.
When the banks reopened, Mrs. Howard paid back the thousand, but Leslie forgot all about the hundred–just as Bill, five years ago, had forgotten all about the three.
A few weeks later Leslie was called to England. Bill went with him to the train. There was some business of making change and Leslie handed Bill four dollars and a half.
“That makes ninety-five, fifty you owe me,” mused Bill.
“You’re going back to England and who knows if I’ll ever see you again, or my hundred bucks you borrowed?” said Bill.
And for the first time in his life, Bill Gargan thought he saw Leslie Howard blush. Then he burst into a hearty chuckle.
“Bill, you’re priceless,” he said. “I swear, I had forgotten all about it.”
Even when he hits him for a debt, Leslie thinks Bill Gargan is funny. As Bill says, “Charlie’s a pushover for laughs.”
But Mrs. Howard–and Mrs. Gargan–they don’t laugh quite so easily. In fact, it will probably be a long time before Bill tries anything funny on them again.
Recently Bill and Mrs. Gargan drove to the location of “Of Human Bondage,” where Leslie Howard Gargan, ten-months-old, is making his screen début with his illustrious namesake.
Bill and Leslie decided to ride back together and let the better halves take the other car.
On the way, Bill thought it would be lots of fun to pass Ruth and Patricia and cut them cold. So stepping on the gas, the two jokesters whizzed by with their noses tilted sky wards in the best ritzy manner, looking neither to right nor left.
Then, happening to turn around, they noticed the snubbed wives accosting a motor traffic cop.
The next moment a siren wailed and the officers waved them over.
“You’re arrested,” he growled. “Speedin’ and crowdin’ a car to the curb. Those ladies complained. Pull over.”
And as Leslie and Bill meekly signed a traffic ticket, Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Gargan, their noses elevated conspicuously, whirled by shouting, “See you in jail!”
Just one big, happy family–the Howards and the Gargans!
(Photoplay, July 1934)