He Remains an Englishman (1932)
He Remains an Englishman
Leslie Howard, Returning to Broadway, Has Been Called American, but He Is True to the Old Country
Leslie Howard has torn himself away from Hollywood at last to reappear on the Broadway stage next Tuesday evening, January 12, in Philip Barry’s play, “The Animal Kingdom,” which he is producing with Gilbert Miller at the Boadhurst Theatre. Born and bred in England, owner of a home in one of the fairest corners of Surrey, to which he some day hopes to retire, Mr. Howard is frequently spoken of by Englishmen as “that American actor.”
He made his first American appearance in 1920, in “Just Suppose,” after only two and a half years on the stage in his native country. Discharged from the army in 1917, he took tho acting Charley in “Charley’s Aunt” and Jerry in “Peg o’ My Heart” in the provinces. Then he played a piece called “The Freaks” in London, and thereafter, as one British biographer write of him, “rose steadily in the theatrical ranks.” After his appearance in “Just Suppose” in this country came an immediate and growing popularity with American audiences; he played in “The Wren,” “Danger,” “Outward Bound,” the Milne plays, “The Truth About Blayds” and “The Romantic Age,” became a matinee idol, much to his discomfiture, in “Aren’t We All?” deftly lifted naughtiness to piquancy in “the Werewolf,” conquered the Arlenites in “The Green Hat,” gathered more superlatives in “Her Cardboard Lover” and scored definite personal successes in “Escape” and “Berkeley Square.”
There are certain qualities in Leslie Howard, aside from the obvious superficial one of his British speech, which mark him as an Englishman. Not the least of them is the fact that, as one critic said, “he can play light comedy as if light comedy had been invented for no other purpose than to give him an opportunity to act.” The English, more than any other race, are said to be masters of that wit, sophistication and good sound sense which make up light comedy. There has been in London a succession of writers and players of polite comedy which has no equal in any other country.
Mr. Howard, talking of this eminence of England in light comedy, said not long ago: “England will probably never have a Eugene O’ Neill; we are not open to any great solemnity over the elemental things in life. The British audience prefer cynicism. it is a kind of sadness with them, I suppose, a feeling that they have seen the basic tragedy in life and prefer not to have it brought home to them too often. It is almost a kind of fatigue in them, I think.”
This mastery of polite sophistication is due, in part, he says, to the type of person who has turned to acting in England. There it is the resort of persons of good education and breeding: the stage there carries none of the disgrace that for so many years has clung to it in other countries, America in particular. “And wit,” says Mr. Howard, “is unquestionably the result of that thing we call ‘background.’ Coalheaver have humor, without a doubt, but not wit. Their plays may be farce or slapstick, but never parlor comedy. Wit is–whether we like the idea or not in these proletarian days–definitely a social development, the product of education.
“I don’t know whether an actor is an artist in any serious sense,” says Leslie Howard, “but granted that he is not, that he is no more than a human being (surely he is that, although some people have been known to deny it), then he should have roots. He should, if he is ever to live a satisfactory life, have a home and a native land.” From which one must infer that Mr. Howard, despite the fact that American audiences look upon him as a native son, is British by intention as well as birth.
(New York Evening Post, January 9, 1932)