Leslie Howard, 1931
By Donald Henderson Clarke
“Say, is that fellow a reporter and has he permission to stick his head into the cameras and everything else on the set?” a technical man asked one day recently. “He has asked me more questions than a dozen ordinary reporters. What’s he doing? Writing a story on what makes the movies move?”
It was Leslie Howard’s first appearance on this particular stage at the studio. The technical man who had never seen the actor before was merely trying to find out who this man was and whether he belonged on the set. He crawled into his shell when he found that the calm looking inquisitor was the leading man.
Howard, English by birth and upbringing, is the most typically American happy go lucky young man possible to find. If you did not know he was an Englishman you would not suspect it. If he ever had an “Oxford accent,” he left it on the other side of the Atlantic. He is like a boy with a new electric train. He wants to see how everything works and is not satisfied until he knows the inner working of every mechanical contrivance on the set.
Aside from knowing that any part Leslie Howard is to play will be done with grace and ease the directors can always be sure he will never be far from the scene of action. After his first week at the studio he had poked into every article of equipment on the set and was looking for more information. Now only on his third screen production, the former stage star has a greater store of technical knowledge of motion pictures than the majority of the players who have spent many years before the camera.
It has not always been a bed of roses for the care free young actor. Just about the time he was to leave school in England the World war broke out. Thou still a youth, he was one of the first to join the army.
The four years that followed were not happy go lucky ones for him. Enlisting as a private, he rose to the ranks of first lieutenant before the ware ended. The bitter years in France are a page in his life that he does not like to discuss. When he was released from the cavalry, life was just starting.
“If it had not been so tragic, it would have been funny after the conflict when everyone was looking for a job. Somehow I conceived the idea I wanted to be an actor but it seems the same idea had entered the heads of about half the British army. I didn’t know how to go about getting a job so I answered an ad in the papers and listed my name with an agent. I guess I got a bit persistent for they finally gave me a bit part in “Peg of My Heart,” after I had twiddled my thumbs in waiting rooms for weeks.
“The $20 a week I got looked pretty good but I soon realized that I was getting nowhere as we were playing on the road in the most out-of-the-way places imaginable.
“After a short time I collected enough to get back to London and made myself a nuisance until I landed a job as secreatry to a theatrical producer. Then the rope pulling got under way. In my capacity as secretary I met a lot of producers and whenever I saw one I asked for a part in a London play. One of them got so sick of saying ‘no’ that he gave me a bit part.”
Howard’s rise was rapid. His London successes came in such quick succession that New York producers sat up and took notice. He became almost a commuter between the world’s two largest cities with a continued success in each place.
In 1930 he made his first picture, “Outward Bound,” following closely upon the stage production of that play. Again he went back to the stage in “Berkeley Square,” a play that he directed himself. The movies could not make him give up the stage altogether. He is to play in at least one stage production each year, according to his contract.
Howard is loyal to both the stage and screen, but, if the whole truth were told, he is far more interested in moving picture filmed, produced and exhibited by Leslie Howard. He would rather sit on the floor behind his excellent projection machine and show a group of friends the last summer’s activities at Cornwall where he has a summer home, and point out the familiar landmarks of the British coast than go to a mammoth production that some film company had spent millions making.
The slender blond leading man is essentially a boy. He like to play. He enjoys acting. He enjoys puttering around, taking things apart. He is the kind of man that will never get old. It is not in his make-up.
(Milwaukee Journal, June 28, 1931)