Can Love Last in Hollywood? (1935)
Can Love Last in Hollywood?
In a daringly frank interview Leslie Howard discusses marriage and divorce in the film capital and gives his views on their importance to the movie stars
By Maude Lathem
Leslie Howard and his daughter, Leslie, spend an enjoyable afternoon at the star’s Hollywood residence.
“I think there is too much sex-consciousness about Hollywood these days,” Leslie Howard says. “The decencies of life are almost submerged by the flood of free thinking and free speaking on the subject of man’s most intimate nature.
“Even our young girls cannot turn in any direction without coming face to face with something concerning sex. Society seems organized to force it on her notice. What with revealing clothes, and beauty shops on every side, and pictures glossed over, she can’t help but be impressed with bodily sex-appeal — half truths, alluringly presented. Then this is followed perhaps by association with a young man who has a glib familiarity with sex and its terminology and a distorted philosophy of sex — the philosophy that justifies transgression as a natural and purely personal matter.
“For myself,” he continues, “I utterly rebel at the treatment of sex as a mere matter of physical pleasure. I contend that sex appeal does not necessarily arouse the sex instinct, although it is an urge that quickly springs into being.”
Furthermore, Mr. Howard has his own ideas about both marriage and divorce. He thinks that fifty years from now man may not marry at all. But he doesn’t think that there should be a special marriage code or regulation for professional people.
“What good would new regulations do?” he asks. “They would not make a husband less jealous, nor a wife less demanding. The only helpful change
that can take place will have to be in the mind of the husband and wife. But, whether marriage be regarded as a sacrament or as an institution, it is one of the most difficult and delicate of all relationships, requiring a maximum of emotional balance and patience.”
Personally Mr. Howard has no quarrel with either marriage or divorce. Perhaps he feels both, under present social conditions, are necessary.
“The chief thing wrong with marriage now, as I see it,” he says, “is our conception of it. What we expect from it. Young people today think that happiness is the sole aim of life. More and more they are taking matters into their own hands and doing what they think will make for happiness. We can do nothing about this. We can only hope that they will absorb something from their association with their elders that will help them.
“But it is their attitude that makes me feel that they will continue to change, reconstruct and arrange, going to the furthest extremes in their tests to prove whether they even want monogamous marriage at all.
“In Hollywood, like every other place, in love and marriage they demand that exultation shall remain at fiercest blaze every minute. When it begins to cool, as it must, they think it is time to dissolve the marriage and try another.
“Certainly I’m not intimating that there will be less falling in love than formerly. Young people may reasonably expect to fall in love oftener than they did a century ago, because there is so little to keep them from nursing each small flame into as large a fire as it is capable of becoming. But, I insist, even though they will inevitably fall in love oftener, they will not get as much from the experience.”
No one need tell you that Leslie Howard’s success on stage and screen has been built on his appeal to women — his almost indescribable charm, which confuses and intrigues them. Women like the way he peers at them quizzically, a little aloof, as though he were ready to fly. And men like the swift wit of his tongue. His subtle, adroit manner of making love, one suspects, was not learned from a book, and his deep understanding of the significance of marriage did not come from reading printed slips in Chinese rice-cakes. For this reason one can be doubly interested in his views on marriage now and fifty years from now.
“Of course,” he smiles, “should Mr. Huxley’s prediction that eventually the continuance of the race will be controlled by the state, ever come true, then I should say that fifty years from now we would have neither marriage (a “ceremony”) nor a permanent union of any sort.
“To me, it is nothing short of miraculous that there are as many happy marriages as there are, when you consider the manner in which marriage is often approached.
“There is so much humbug attached to it. So many times it takes place purely because of romance. Romance, alone, is the poorest, the least sensible of all bases upon which to build marriage. Every intelligent person recognizes that romance is made up of mystery, wonder, adventure, and is necessarily temporary; and unless marriage is the result of a deeper understanding there is little hope for it. I feel, like Montaigne, that ‘marriage has for its share usefulness, justice, honor, and constancy . . . the more durable pleasures.’
“Yet,” he continues, “I would not have my children or my grandchildren, if I am ever blessed with any, cheated out of one least bit of romance, for the touch-and-go contacts with the opposite sex, which spirit the imagination on wildest flights of fancy, afford the most fascinating pastime in the world. Pastime, I said, but not a foundation on which to build a great institution like marriage. In the language of a building contractor, romance would be excellent ‘staff work’ with which to ornament the building, but that is all.”
“So many of my friends insist that the romance with their wives is as strong after ten or fifteen years as it was in the beginning! That is foolish. If they would only say they love their wives as much as they did fifteen years ago, I would likely say, ‘You probably love her much more.’
“My idea is that, when two people are considering marriage, romance should not enter into it. First they should find what they have in common. What are their aims and what kind of background do they want for life? Surely everybody wishes to build some kind of background. If a man and woman find they have something fine to contribute to this union, and there is no antipathy between them, they have the first plank for their marriage platform.
“In my own case, I know my marriage was the most important step in my entire life, and the fact that Ruth and I agreed before we married that we wanted children was another momentous occasion. When couples have talked over the subject of children — and it should be talked over before marriage, make no mistake about this — and find they agree, they have a good start. Our boy and girl gave us a joy and an incentive that nothing else in the world could replace.
“I was disgusted when I read last week that two-thirds of the children today are biological accidents. Never in the history of the world have as many children been planned for as are being planned for now!
“Why, in the picture industry, if we have no children and are not making preparation for the arrival of the stork, we are as much taboo as if we had never heard of Emily Post. The woman who hasn’t a baby now is terrified that all her friends will think she is too old to have one. And we men are all jittery for fear some one may cast a look of condemnation in our direction. Everybody is keeping especially fit, and babies are the order of the day in Hollywood.” Many artists of the stage and screen believe that romance — new romance, is absolutely necessary to the life of any creative artist.
NOT Mr. Howard. He believes that this is an adolescent viewpoint. “But.” he adds, “the probabilities are that fifty years from now we shall have two kinds of marriage, if we have marriage at all. One, a marriage between two people who want the balance of the world to know that they have chosen each other from all the world, but who have no idea of having children. This would not be unlike Judge Lindsey’s companionate marriage.
“The other marriage would have, as its prime reason for being, the purpose of having children, and the marriage would be legalized so all the interests of the offspring might be protected.
“Of course, should the time come when we have two marriage ceremonies, the childless couples would undoubtedly be taxed heavily, as bachelors are now in some localities. Strangely enough, I imagine there would be some sort of stigma attached to that sort of marriage, for unless physically unfitted for parenthood — they would be proclaiming loudly to the world at large their selfishness.
“Fifty years from now,” he mused, “my children will have made most of their important decisions about life. My little boy is now fourteen, and my little girl eight. Their children, however, will come under the new regime.”
He hesitated a moment, as if making up his mind.
“I suppose I am going to incur the everlasting ridicule of physicians and psychoanalysts when I say that I do not think that physical compatibility is the most important factor in marriage. If all of us were as exclusively interested in sex as Dr. Freud would have us believe, before long there would be no human beings left in order to carry on the race!
“Naturally, I can speak more positively about Englishmen. I know they do not select a wife largely for her sex appeal. An Englishman feels his wife is part of him, just as much as his family into which he was born.
“The attachment for a wife is based on something far more lasting . . . love, tenderness, kindness, nurture . . . the instinct that unites one to some other one as if a part of self, with a desire to benefit and bless. Marriage is like that. It clicks and locks … an interlocking
of personalities. English wives do not have to be wondering every minute if they are still able to charm their husbands. Some English wives have even been accused of looking ‘dowdy’ because they give less thought to ‘dolling up,’ as it were. And Englishmen sometimes appear less chivalrous because it does not occur to them that they must be winning their wives over every day
in order to hold them. She is simply the other half of him . . . and his better half. She, too, I believe, takes her marriage more seriously, recognizing the obligation as a partnership.
“Don’T misunderstand me, though. I have no objection to divorce when there is need for one. If neither party attempts, sentimentally or financially, to exploit the other, I don’t see any more
disgrace in divorce than there is in the dissolution of any other partnership . . . say, like real estate. But every court seems determined that somebody shall sin before that somebody can be freed from the exclusive rights vested in another.
“I can only hope that my children will be ready to meet any conditions that arise. Young people of today are making new evaluations of this lopsided world. They have more knowledge than any previous generation has ever had, yet they are looking for escape. Every advance in learning, I
fear, has tended to impress upon them our gnat-like insignificance in the general scheme of things, so they rush headlong into deeper and deeper experiences, always fighting to make their stand intellectually respectable.
“Even now, their attitude is not sentimental. While they may not agree that marriages are made in heaven, neither do they concede that ‘Theodore Dreiser’s rearranging chemisms are an adequate explanation of the way a man feels about a woman in the springtime.’
“Of course, fifty years from now the world will have moved up immeasurably; science will have contributed so much that it may change habits and dispositions as much as they have changed in the last fifty years. It is not unlikely the physicists will have discovered how to release the energy in the atom, and the results of this will be too far-reaching even for anyone to contemplate.
“And if babies are then produced by chemists in laboratories, as many honestly believe they will be, it will not matter so vitally whether you have followed the advice of a sex exponent or
listened to a rather more practical viewpoint as presented by yours truly.”
(New Movie, March 1935)