Hollywood Thinks He’s “Ga-Ga” (1933)
Hollywood Thinks He’s “Ga-Ga”
Elusive Leslie Howard Is Caught For You By Our Hollywood Correspondent
It is difficult to predict in what sort of mood one will find this Leslie Howard.
He may be wearing a pair of old flannel “bags,” and be flaunting a red geranium, of massive proportions, in his blazer buttonhole. Accompanied by half a dozen hounds of miscellaneous breeds, and with blue eyes sparkling like a mischievous ten-year-old, he will be indulging in that schoolboy practical joke of “ringing front-door bells, back-door bells and side-door bells and running away.” Usually, Doug. Fairbanks, jun., is persuaded to take part in this pestering of the maids in the select Beverly Hills residential district. There is method in the madness of this invitation. Doug. has a dachshund puppy and part of the game is to see whether the dog can slither his long body round the first corner successfully before an astonished maid opens the door to find an empty doorstep.
The following day finds this same Howard strolling sedately over the green lawns in film studio, gazing intently at the bright flower beds… lost in deep meditation. In which case it is twenty to one he will cut you dead, with no apologies.
You may be his very best friend, in which case he will say, “Lunch at 1.30 with me to-morrow,” and forget to turn up at all; or he will eat his own meal at midday and then slang you for being too late to join him when you turn up at the right hour of appointment. On the other hand, you may be a casual acquaintance, in which case he will feed you like a prince and win your heart and admiration for ever by his graciousness.
On a film set Leslie is just a Jack-in-the-box. If a picture is to be shot in scheduled time, then at least three assistants must be deputed to keep track of the star, or he will disappear like a wraith twenty times or more during the course of a morning’s work.
“Mr. Howard. Where is Mr. Howard now?”
And the truant may be in his dressing-room, he may be up the rafters taking pictures with a new camera, he may be hidden behind a large piece of furniture while he rehearses the next scene; more than likely he will be sprawled on the grass two hundred yards away, gazing down into the goldfish pond.
“Mr. Howard. They want you on the set.”
“Set? Oh yes! Of course. I’ll be there immediately.”
Yet he is so easy to work with, so little trouble to direct, has such a vast understanding of what is required of him, that he gets forgiven all his forgetfulness.
In the thirties, he is a personality with all the sophistication of a man double his age, yet still retaining the lovable, naïve qualities of a small boy of ten summers.
He is the most independent fellow in Hollywood when it comes to persuading him to take a role in which he does not absolutely believe. In fact, he has just politely turned down a gigantic offer to play opposite Greta Garbo in Queen Christina. “No thanks,” said Howard. “It would be not fair to Miss Garbo. It would not be fair to me. Besides, I t’ink I go ‘ome.
“I want to get back to England and a new estate I have recently bought near Dorking. I want to wake up and look at my own meadows, see my own horses grating in the paddocks. I want my boy to go back to his English public school, from which I have been keeping him while he spent a holiday out here with me. I have promised to do a stage play and a film for Gilbert Miller in London. And because Mr. Miller helped me substantially in the days when things were not so rosy, I must certainly not break that promise.
“Yes, California! Sunshine! A big banking account. All grand things, but home sounds better than any of them just at the moment. And this break is only temporary. I am coming back in the autumn.”
As he talked he balanced himself precariously on the side of a horse trough full of water. He was “outside the Black Dog,” an 18th century posting house, which figures in one of the scenes in his favourite film to date.
He took a long drink of beer from the pewter mug in his hand, pushed his tall fawn “topper” over his eyes to shade them from the glare of the lights, gazed quizzically at the coach which was waiting to take him to “London,” and continued:–
“Quite sincerely, I think that Berkeley Square is going to be a great successor to Cavalcade. The stage play was a tremendous success. The film will be better, for on the screen one can depict more scenes and more incidents than the limits of the stage permit. Frank Lloyd, who directed the Noel Coward story, is directing Berkeley Square for Jesse L. Lasky. Heather Angel is putting up such a fine performance as my leading lady that she is more than likely to win world-wide approval in just the same way as Diana Wynyard.
“The sets have all been build by experts from sketches and data brought over from England by me when I staged the play in New York. Everything is absolutely authentic. Berkeley Square in 1933 as built up on a four-acre lot in the studio grounds, looks so real that I walk round it each morning and imagine I am really back in London.
“Valerie Taylor, sho gave such a fine performance in the stage play in London and New York, is re-enacting her role for the film. Irene Brown, Colin Keith Johnston, David Torrence and Alan Mowbray are all British featured players.
“I am more enthusiastic about this picture than I have ever been about a film in my life,” exclaimed Leslie Howard, as he handed his pewter mug to a white-capped-lavender-gowned serving maid from the “Black Dog,” and, as “Peter Standish,” climbed on to the coach en route to “London and Berkeley Square,” there to live the strange events which spanned two centuries and wafted him into the past, present and future.
And as the cameras were turned I felt this Howard man began to act a character which is himself… a little dreamy… a little mysterious… wholly charming… and next week, when he takes his salary for a month’s work, I wager he’ll lie down by the goldfish pond again and wonder what to do with it.
Hollywood, of course, thinks the man is plain “Ga-Ga.”
(Film Pictorial, July 1st, 1933)