Acting Is Woman’s Work (1931)
Acting Is Woman’s Work
So says Leslie Howard, brilliant young actor, sho is tired of the stage and screen and the crowds that follow them – and intends to live in solitude as an author
By Faith Service
He may have achieved unusual success – but Leslie Howard is not satisfied with being and actor. He says acting is woman’s work– effeminate. Besides, it is boring. In all but a few cases, it is futile. He’d much rather be a hermit.
It isn’t a pose. He means it. And in this story he gives you the true slant on himself.
A new slant.
Leslie Howard was born April 24, 1893, in London. The son of non-professional people. He did the things he shouldn’t have done in the suburbs of the city.
He was, he says, “doomed to life.” We are all doomed to life. Worse, we are doomed to death the day we are born. He says that of his own two children. “And so,” he adds, “to hell with not spoiling them–”
He went to private school and Dulwich College. Liked amateur theatricals and cricket. Harbored an ambition to write. Still harbors it, more and more.
He is on the verge of finishing a play. If it is not as good as some of the plays he reads, he will write another. If it is as good, and he modestly believes that it is, he will produce it with himself in the title role. And after that he will appear on the thespian boards no more. He will retire from acting for all time. He will become a hermit– and write.
After birth, school and college the next vital Howard statistic wears a mercantile hue. He banked. He was a clerk. A bank clerl. He banked rather vaguely. He found it dull to count the petty savings of costermongers.
Then the War. A very vital statistic.
Leslie went with the English troop to France. You’ve read “All Quiet on the Western Front” and the new one about the road back– yes?
The Biggest Event of All
While on leave, Leslie went one Spring day to the little ivy-covered chapel called St. Mary’s-On-The-Wall. He was married there. He wonders at Hollywood marriages. He says that ceremony at St. Mary’s-On-The-Wall was something that mattered. “One never forgets a thing like that.”
It has mattered, enormously, to him. More than anything else in his life.
He returned from the War and was never quite the same again. Separated from life by a gray haze in which move bloody shadows and shattered forms.
Banking was even duller after that. He turned to the theater.
There were severeal struggling starts. And then meteoric recognition– in “Mr. Pim Passes By,” “The Green Hat,” “Escape,” “Her Cardboard Lover,” “Murray Hill” (which he produced himself), “The Truth About Blayds,” “Outward Bound” and “Berkeley Square.”
While appearing in “Outward Bound” he attracted the attention of motion picture execs (surely a Vital Statistic!) and repeated the stage role in the talking shadows.
He want back to England. He says, “We saw a house in Surrey. Eight acres. Trees. The green Surrey hills.”
“We.” I had almost forgotten the two most vital statistics in Leslie Howard’s life– his children. His son, twelve. His daughter, six.
“They are my immortality,” he says.
They all wanted that house. They wanted to own it, to live in it forever. Their children and their children’s children.
Why He Came Back To Hollywood
They couldn’t afford to buy it. Leslie said, “We will go back to Hollywood. I will make a few films. We’ll buy the house.”
They returned to Hollywood– it is always “we” and “they” with the Leslie Howards. They are never separated. It would not be bearable.
Leslie signed a six-months’ contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He made “Never the Twain Shall Meet,” “A Free Soul” and “Five and Ten.” He has bought the house in the green Surrey hills. He will not, though urged, sign another contract. He doesn’t understand motion pictures. Perhaps he is too near-sighted. There can be no individuality in pictures, he says. Pictures are a gigantic machine. He doesn’t in the least know what he is doing and why.
He likes to know what he is doing. So do you.
He looks like an English conception of a college professor.
He is thin and blond and nervous and wears horn-rimmed glasses, because he is so near-sighted he can’t see an inch ahead of him. He peers at his food when he eats.
He might be called homely by those untrained in observation of fine bone structure and sensitively-modeled features. He is certainly no Gilbert, no Colman, no Brook. He is more, a Roland Young.
He says, “If people only understood our physical disabilities, perhaps they would judge us differently.”
We were talking about Garbo, and Dietrich and Bow and others. He believes that people are as they are, do what they do, because of the flesh-and-blood machines they inhabit. In his own case, it is nerves. He suffers from nerve exhaustion. (A vital statistic.) By the end of a day he is so fagged, so extremely exhausted, that he must get away from people. He does. And he is called temperamental, high-brow and a poor mixer.
What His Children Do for Him
He has never delved into mystical matters
despite “Outward Bound” and “Berkeley Square.”
Hours of play with his children do more to re-vitalize him, re-animate him than any diversion he can imagine. He has the gift of becoming a child again. I mean, really a child. And his children know that another child, an enchanting child has come to play, and they are enchanted. They love him. Which is his only belief in any form of reincarnation. Children can give us our childhoods again.
He wants to be a recluse, a hermit. People jade his nerves. Which is why he wants to be a writer. So he can work alone.
I suggested to him that he play “Jude the Obscure.” He liked the suggestion. He added “And I know the Hardy country–”
He is absent-minded. You have to prompt him. “You were saying–?”
He hasn’t any friends among the picture people.
He never goes to parties, never gives them.
He isn’t interested in women (another very vital statistic). Perhaps he is, but doesn’t know it.
A pretty girl spoke enthusiastically to him from across the studio lunchroom. He responded gallantly. When he had finished, he peered across at me and said, “Who is that person? I couldn’t see–”
He thinks Hollywood is a tragic town. He wishes somebody would dip his pen in heart-break and farce and shadow and light and write about it.
He believes that life is more important than art. More important to live in flesh and blood than to create in paint or powder.
He is afraid of Death– and somewhat afraid of life.
He is playing opposite Ann Harding at Pathé ath this writing. He admires Ann. His admirations for women are impersonal and abstract.
He says, more definitely than he says anything else, “My family mean more to me than anything in the world.”
He is a gentleman– another very quaint Vital Statistic.
The Slant On Leslie Howard
Served with English troops in France in World War.
(Motion Picture, October 1931)