Hollywood Over-rates Romance (1933)
Hollywood Over-rates Romance
Leslie Howard claims that you can’t expect reality in a Make-Believe Town! And so, true values are discarded in the cinematic shuffle
by Caroline Somers Hoyt
It was the night of Leslie Howard’s eighteenth wedding anniversary. Ronald Colman, the Clive Brooks, the Frank Lloyds, the William Gargans, and many more members of Hollywood’s English colony, had come to celebrate the event.
The house was aglow with the spirit of cheer, hospitality and friendship. Everywhere baskets of gay flowers lent radiance to the scene and white-ribboned packages also betokened the joyous and festive occasion.
After the guests had departed, one man lingered. His face wore a wistful expression as he shook hands with Howard and said, “You’re awfully lucky, old man, and I am happy for you. But I wish your lot were mine. A fine wife, lovely children and a beautiful home. Why is it that some of us can’t have what we want most? My marriage was beautiful while it lasted, but it ended when romance died.”
Howard looked at his friend, and then, in that sympathetic way of his, replied, “I’m terribly sorry, really, but aren’t you, perhaps, wrong about that? I don’t think marriage ends when romance dies. That is the very time it begins. All of us are inclined to exaggerate the importance of romance. It is only a preliminary to the real things that make marriage permanent and worth while.”
The day before Leslie Howard left for England we had a long talk along this same line–the whys and wherefore of success in wedded life, the causes and reasons for divorce, especially in Hollywood. I asked him why people just didn’t seem able to stay married in the film colony, why there is so much unrest.
Everybody knows what Leslie Howard’s home life and his children mean to him. Without either, I think he would be a lesser artist than he is. Family and home haven’t been hindrances to him. They have been vital and contributing factors to his career, to his progress.
Why should his marriage survive, in the face of the disturbing influences that beset an actor’s life, when so many fail?
An attractive, celebrated actor always has trouble on his hands from the opposite sex–to name just one of many “disturbing” influences. Leslie Howard is attractive. Furthermore, he is also attracted by lovely women. He is too sensitive a man not to be conscious of, and susceptible to, beauty.
How has he avoided having these extraneous forces, and his own human impulses, from colliding with his marital existence? Is it to his credit–or his wife’s? And just why hasn’t Hollywood broken up his union?
We met in the private office of his business manager. He looked a trifle wan and weary and when I commented upon the fact he admitted, “Well, to be truthful, I am very tired. I had scarcely any sleep last night. You see, Mrs. Howard left for New York a day ago, where I shall meet her shortly. So a few of us men got together and went to the fights. Afterwards we came over to my house for a bite to eat. Sort of a stag affair, you know. I guess we stayed up too late.”
When I asked him if this would have happened if Mrs. Howard had been home, he replied quickly and emphatically, “Oh, no! I assure you. She looks after me much too well. She is very sensible about those things. The time taken for a snack to eat, and post mortems on the fights, wouldn’t have been as prolonged had she been home.”
After a moment or two of deliberation, he said, in quiescent, meditative manner, “I suppose really the reason so many marriages end quickly in Hollywood is because of the sophomoric approach to romance. Hollywood is make-believe and tremendously sentimental and naïve. Romance is as great a part of it as camera and lights.
“Everything in Hollywood is supposed to last. Whereas, nothing is truly permanent here. Neither careers, fame, riches, nor romance. Nothing could be more false, as I see it, than the premise that romance must continue unceasingly through marriage. It can’t last. It shouldn’t. If ever it did there would be something wrong with it.
“I think in Hollywood, where everything assumes a false value, an actor or an actress who marries expects too much from the very start. And when there isn’t perfection immediately, they run away from marriage in order to escape reality and to be able to return to their world of make-believe.”
I asked Mr. Howard whether he thought two players should marry, and whether an Englishman’s point of view on marriage differed from a Hollywoodite’s.
“It seems to me it would be frightfully difficult for an actor and an actress to be wed. I realize that they would have strong mutual interests, but their very similarity would be against one of the fundamental reasons for success in matrimony, which is the avoidance of monotony and dullness. I think it best for an actor or actress to marry out of the profession.
“Yes, I suppose everything that I say and think reflects an Englishman’s training and psychology. Our whole system of education is to develop national spirit in the individual. We are very proud of this. We aim to extend this spirit to the institution of marriage also. I think you will nearly always find an English couple extremely earnest in their efforts to preserve the “holy state of matrimony.” We do every thing possible to avoid divorce, and our stern British divorce laws also are designed toward that end.
“We regard marriage as a great institution. Children are the pillars of it. We build and strengthen the structure from those pillars. They are the all-important equation in the marital union. It seems to me that when couples are able to have a family, and don’t, they must have a strange sort of courage and easy philosophy to be able to continue on. The whole purpose of marriage is to have children, to build for future generations. If not, why marry?”
Mr. Howard is educating his children in England rather than America. I asked him why?
“Well, for one thing we have bought a lovely Tudor house in the country of Surrey. My family for several generations has come from that part of England. The house, consequently, has tradition for us. It is a wonderful place for the children. They can have a grand time of it there. We have thirty acres of ground and they may have horses and animals, which they love.
“The other reasons are that the children both prefer England for school, especially the boy, Ronald, who had a most unhappy experience in American schools, when he was in this country two years ago. And then Mrs. Howard and I both believe that the children should be brought up with the same mental training as our own.
“About Ronald’s experience. We had him in a New York public school, but soon found that we were putting him at a disadvantage, because he was being teased by the other boys and girls about his accent. He immediately changed it, and then he was using two accents, one at home and another at school. We felt if he continued in school here and became Americanized, we should become so ourselves–which is not the simplest thing to do. But we felt definitely then that the boy and girl both should either remain British or become Americanized. There must be a decision in such a matter. The children decided themselves in favor of continuing their education over in England.
“It is a great sacrifice for us to be away from them during their school terms. But we feel we are doing what is best, and it is better to be separated for a period each year than to be completely alienated from your own. I have seen some of the children of English parents in Hollywood and they are entirely different from their fathers and mothers. I just can’t seem to connect the children with their parents at all. The sympathy is lost between them when the lives and training are different from their parents.
“Then again, I do know that the culture in England has many centuries behind it, and that the training on the whole is very satisfactory, because it is not easy, not soft. My children can always explore new things when they are older, after the first bricks are laid.”
Getting back to the ever-present divorce disease in Hollywood, I asked Leslie Howard whether he thought the wife of an actor should severe the bonds of matrimony if ever he were guilty of transgression.
“Most men,” he replied, “in any walk of live, have temptation pass their ways sooner or later. Actors are no exception to this rule. In fact, they are rather generously included. A mild flirtation, a minor transgression or a major one–these are offenses which every wife handles in her own way, naturally. But I believe the wise wife regards marriage as an institution erected to withstands just such happenings.
“It has already seemed to me that the wife in Barrie’s ‘What Every Woman Knows’ revealed infinite wisdom when she observed: “Woman was not created from man’s rib, but from his funny bone.” I know a wife like that!”
From Mr. Howard’s closing remarks, following his illuminating commentaries on marriage and divorce in Hollywood, I should say that successful marriages might be traced directly to wives with a sense of humor–and divorces to wives totally lacking in one.
(Modern Screen, October 1934)