Leslie Howard (1943)
by the Editor [Hubert Cole]
The tragic death of Leslie Howard is a sad blow to the British film industry ad a great personal loss to many of us who counted him as a friend.
It was only a few weeks ago that I told of a talk I had with Leslie Howard after the Press show of “The Gentle Sex.”
I wrote of Howard’s ambition to make a picture dealing with the future.
“It’s up to you, Mr. Howard,” I wrote in these columns, “to help our fighting men and women from becoming disillusioned civilians.”
Now Howard is no more– murdered by the Nazis.
Only those of us who know the personnel of the British film industry can gauge what a loss his untimely death is to that industry. Howard was destined to do great things. He had courage, imagination, and ability.
My own personal friendship with Leslie Howard goes back to 1920, when he was an unknown stage actor playing in “Mr. Pim Passe By.”
We once crossed the Atlantic in the same boat, and it was on occasion like this that Leslie would tell– if asked– of some of his ambitions.
“Hollywood will not think of me as anything but a star,” he one said. “I am determined to give up acting to direct or produce.
“Stars don’t make motion pictures. It’s the men who use the stars in the creation of vital screen plays.”
It is strange to record that Leslie Howard disliked the routine of the studio as an actor.
He wanted to be a writer. Even at the age of fifteen, when he was, as his mother described, “a very dreamy and vague little boy,” he wrote a one-man operette, “Masie’s Diplomacy.”
At that age he wrote stories and plays and despised acting.
In 1927 he wrote and appeared in a play, “Murray Hill,” produced in New York, and the following year it was staged in London at the Ambassador’s under the title “Tell Me the Truth.”
It was rewritten later as “Elizabeth Sleeps Out.”
So it was no surprise to those who knew Leslie when he said a couple of years ago:
“It will be understood why I am looking for an escape from greasepaint, and for some other occupation which will be sufficiently absorbing, and at the same time sufficiently remunerative, so that I may continue to be kept in style to which, heaven be praised, I have become accustomed.”
What was the secret of Leslie’s popularity? Especially with women.
Was it that women felt they would like to mother this quiet, dreamy philosopher in glasses?
Or was it that he never showed any condescension to women?
He was not handsome, he had irregular features, but there was nothing artificial or “preserved” about his youth.
He had a voice that stepped up feminine pulse and kindled their imagination.
Finally, a tribute to Leslie Howard, the Englishman.
Leslie came back to this country from America after playing in “Gone With the Wind.”
He was here by choice. No other actor in this country could have written his own contract for Hollywood with such ease as Leslie Howard.
He could have picked up a fortune– in money– for the asking.
But he preferred to stay here.
He appeared in propaganda shorts, he broadcast, especially to America where he was so popular; he helped to stabilise the British film industry, and he met his death doing a job for his country.
He had been to Portugal and Spain and had scored a brilliant propaganda success.
He stayed over a few days beyond his scheduled time to be present at the premiere of “The First of the Few” in Lisbon.
So he met his death. He will not be forgotten.
(I regret that it is not possible to deal with the tremendous number of letters dealing with Leslie Howard’s death.)
(Picturegoer, June 26, 1943)