Explaining Leslie Howard (1933)
Explaining Leslie Howard,
Who Needs Explaining!
By Jack Grant
He isn’t the Great Lover type—but he’s putting all the Great Lovers in eclipse. What’s the secret? When you read about his private life—never revealed before —you’ll have the explanation
LESLIE HOWARD isn’t particularly handsome, as handsomeness is judged by screen standards. He isn’t the brawny, burly type that women the world over are alleged to adore. He isn’t the embodiment of the dashing, breath-taking lover of whom schoolgirls dream and whose image they carry always in their hearts, although they grow up to marry entirely different sort of men. He has none of these qualifications for movie preferment. Yet Leslie Howard is unquestionably the most romantic fellow in Hollywood. What is the secret?
Producers shake their collective heads in complete bewilderment as they admit the fact of his popularity. Boxoffice returns and the unusual deluge of his fan mail have forced upon them the knowledge of Howard’s tremendous romantic appeal. He has long since established himself as the most sought-after leading man in films. Ask any feminine star to choose between Leslie Howard and Clark Gable, Fredric March, George Raft, Herbert Marshall or anyone else. Almost invariably, they signify Howard as their choice. And the producers, still unable to understand the whys and wherefores, attempt to obtain his desired services.
Really, Hollywood has made a mystery of a thing that isn’t at all mysterious, if you know Leslie. The answer to the riddle is to be found in his private life. It is very simple. He is to-day’s most romantic screen actor because he is, himself, romantic—incurably so!
Unfortunately, most examinations of an actor’s offscreen life are all too cursory— and this is particularly true in the case of Leslie Howard. His calm British exterior repels intimacies.
He tells interviewers that he is happily married and the father of two fine children. Further than that reserved statement, he does not reveal much about himself. Adroitly, he turns the conversation into the more general topic of the art of acting and, somehow, the interviewer forgets to steer it back into intimate channels again later.
I know all too well. Twice has Leslie thus charmingly evaded my attempts to pry into his off-screen life. And each time, I have been unaware of his artful dodging until after we had parted. He is that elusive. Determined upon a third try, I requested an appointment at his home. If I couldn’t nail him on his own hearth, I might just as well go out on called strikes. (Three is out, you know, Leslie, in American baseball.)
His Private Life Unknown
TO my knowledge, Leslie Howard’s family life has never been reported for publication. It deserves to be. His is one of the most unusual households in Hollywood. Let me take you there, just as I went for tea that afternoon. You arrive at four, the appointed hour. Outside the house, several young boys are engaged in a game of scrub baseball.
One looks so startlingly like Leslie that you have no difficulty in identifying him in the
crowd as Ronald Howard, aged fourteen. A butler admits you and guides you to a large cheerful room, where Mrs. Howard, an accomplished and lovely hostess, sits before a blazing log fire.
Mrs. Howard’s cordial greeting and explanation that Leslie has not as yet returned from the polo field are interrupted by her small daughter, aged eight. The daughter’s name is Leslie, too, though she is called more intimately “Doodie,” just as Ronald is called ” Winkie,” a name that his advancing jears have caused to become distasteful to him.
Doodie’s dog is lost, strayed or stolen— therefore the interruption. The dog’s name, it seems, is “Whimsey.” The police have been notified, but please may she go out to join the search? Mrs. Howard grants permission with the admonition that the afternoon is becoming chilly. “Wear your coat, Doodie,” she says.
Like Father, Like Son
NO sooner has Doodie gone than Ronald, otherwise Winkie, arrives. He comes in with the moisture of honest play on his brow. His mother takes one look at him and orders a quick shower and fresh clothing.
“Winkie is just like his father,” she explains, “Vague, impractical and careless about his health. He needs to be told what to do and kept after until he does it. 1 shall have to listen now for the running water in the shower—although even that is not an evidence of bathing. He may turn on the water and, half-through undressing, sit with one shoe off and one shoe on, absorbed in one of his hobbies.
“Right now it is Napoleon. Winkie reads everything he can lay hands upon about Napoleon. He is collecting books and prints having to do with the Napoleonic era and has a regular army of little figures which he moves about to re-enact historic military maneuvers. Musically, he is currently inclined toward martial airs. How long his devotion to Napoleon will last it is
hard to say. His father changes hobbies rapidly. Only photography has endured for any time with Leslie. He putters about with other things only spasmodically.
“To see the great resemblance between father and son, not only physically but mentally, you should see Leslie correcting Winkie. He approaches the task much in the manner of the scene in ‘The Animal Kingdom’ in which he was attempting to tell the pugilist-butler that his services were no longer desired. ‘Look here, old man,’ Leslie will say to Winkie. Then there is a long pause before he resumes, ‘Your mother says—’ Another pause while he apparently
searches for a gentle wording of the reproof. If Winkie can think of another subject to introduce during these pauses, he can easily divert the conversation!
His Eight-Year-Old Protector
NOW, Doodie is a completely different child. There is no evading her. If she asks a question, she will continue asking it until it is answered. She is positive and direct about everything she does, and she mothers her father.
“Leslie’s interests are Doodie’s, also. She worries about him and in his behalf, and takes violent dislikes to people she believes might impose upon his unfailing good nature. Leslie would run a mile, rather than become embroiled in a quarrel. Doodie does his fighting in her championship of him.
“She is actually jealous. Not very long ago, Leslie changed masseuses, and Doodie did not like the new woman who came. She was too attractive, Doodie said, and wore her white nurse’s dress much too tight. ‘That woman’ is flirtatious, I was warned by my child, eight years old.
“Doodie has always been like that when it comes to Leslie. She was only six when she conceived a tremendous dislike for the movies. It came about upon her first—and, incidentally, her only—visit to a studio. Leslie at the time was appearing in ‘ Never
the Twain Shall Meet,’ and Doodie went down to see him one day.
“When she came upon the set, Leslie was playing a love scene on a couch with Conchita Montenegro. Doodie watched the scene for a moment in silence. Then she uttered her now-famous comment. ‘Amazing business!’ she said, and, turning on her heel, walked out and has refused to go near a studio since.
“She can seldom be induced to go to the movies, although she is fond of the theatre. And she is an amazing little critic. ‘Animal Kingdom,’ which she loved on the stage, she thought was not so good on the screen. ‘They left out the best scene,’ she said and, in naming it, found Leslie in agreement. ‘Cavalcade’ is the single picture she has seen that she enjoyed thoroughly. And that’s hardly to the taste of the average eight-year-old.”
Mrs. Howard’s Third Youngster
TALKING about your children, my dear?” asks Leslie, as he makes his appearance in the doorway.
“Yes, all three of them,” Mrs. Howard replies. And looking at Leslie’s flushed, boyish face, you are inclined to agree.
Returning from his polo, he is exactly like Ronald coming in from the baseball game. And Mrs. Howard makes the same fuss over him, omitting only the shower orders.
“Imagine,” she says, “going out to the polo field with your ankle in that condition! Had I known you were planning to ride, I wouldn’t have allowed you to go. He hurt himself yesterday,” she explains to you, “and he shouldn’t ride so soon.”
“I am perfectly fit,” Leslie protests.
“You weren’t fit last night when I had to send for a doctor,” his wife overrules. “He told you not to exercise—when you stopped discussing wet-plate photography long enough for him to examine you.”
Doodie causes a halt again as she rushes in to greet her father and tell him about the lost dog. Then Ronald puts in an appearance, his hair giving evidence of a shower taken, to request a cup of tea and to start off bearing two cups. His mother wants to know why the second cup.
” I have a friend in the other room, waiting for a game of chess,” Ronald states.
” Is there money involved? ” Mrs. Howard asks.
“My word, no! I only taught the chap to play yesterday!” exclaims Ronald, who has the broadest English accent in the family.
Tell How They Fell in Love
SOMEHOW, the conversation turns to the Howards’ first meeting. It was in London during the second year of the Great War. Leslie was a British officer on leave. They met in a tea-room.
“You were eating sponge cake and drinking milk,” Mrs. Howard recalls. “That was what drew my attention to you. You looked just like a boy whose mother had told him to eat sponge cake and drink milk.”
“As a matter of fact, she had,” Leslie admits.
“A fellow-officer from your regiment presented you. And three weeks later we were married.”
“Three weeks?” you ask, amazed. You hadn’t suspected Leslie of a whirlwind courtship.
“It was romantic, wasn’t it?” Mrs. Howard continues. “Leslie was engaged to another girl, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine owner. Her name was ‘Buzz,’ and she had two sisters called ‘Fizz’ and ‘Pop.'”
” Nicknames,” says the embarrassed Leslie, for fear you may misunderstand. “The girl was only eighteen and it really wasn’t an engagement. Her father would not acknowledge an engagement until she was twenty-one.”
“Still, Leslie wrote Buzz long, endearing letters every Sunday. We had been seeing a good deal of each other—theatres, dinners and dancing nearly every night. After the first week, I stood by while he wrote to Buzz on Sunday; in fact, I added a postscript, telling her not to worry about him. Then we went to tea. The third Sunday, Leslie didn’t want to write. Finally, he said ‘Look here—'”
“I said,” Leslie interposed, “‘Look here, let’s chuck it and get married!’ It took a bit of arguing, but I eventually convinced you. We planned a wedding the next day, but I couldn’t get leave. It was Tuesday before the ceremony was performed. You should have seen me pacing camp.”
“I saw you pace the church. You were too nervous for words. And you had forgotten to get a ring.”
“But I did get one.”
“Yes, but you told the jeweler you were buying it for a friend who was being married.”
“Do you remember,” inquired Leslie, who was up to his old trick of introducing a new subject to turn the spotlight away from himself, “how we left the church and went to stand by those flood gates? As we watched the water racing madly past the gates, we imagined ourselves aboard ship.”
Their Proudest Possessions
” I THINK of it every time we do actually cross the ocean.” Mrs. Howard is rather wistful. “And I think, too, of my medal.
“You see,” she says, turning to you and displaying a small golden medal that hangs by a chain around her neck, “Leslie gave this to me when I had a very serious operation years ago. I was unconscious for three days and, when I awoke, I found I was wearing it. I’ve worn it ever since. It is a copy of the Victoria Cross and is inscribed ‘For Valor.'”
“And my proudest possession is this sovereign,” says Leslie. He, likewise, wears it on a chain. “My wife gave it to me as a good-luck piece when I came alone to America to play ‘The Cardboard Lover,’ my first New York appearance. It seems to have brought me luck.”
“I have a medal, too,” says Doodie, very soberly. She is back from her periodic search for the dog. “Father gave it to me when I had my tonsils out. It is just like mother’s, only smaller. I’d rather have it than a real Victoria Cross, which is bronze. Mine is gold.”
Yes indeed, it is, Doodie. The purest gold, wrought in beautiful sentimentality.
Now, do all of you understand why Leslie Howard is the most romantic fellow in Hollywood? You have seen revealed the true romance that is his private life.
The riddle is solved, and you need no explanatory comment from me. In case you might worry about it, “Whimsey,” the dog, came home of her own accord.
(Motion Picture, July 1933)