Leslie Howard as ‘Amateur Gentleman’ (1935)
Leslie Howard as ‘Amateur Gentleman’ Adds Radio Series to His Busy Life on Stage and in Motion Pictures
During the rigors of rehearsal, Howard makes the long hours pleasant for his colleagues by tackling the job in something of the spirit of a lark.
The other day when Bradley Parker, one of the radio’s ace animal imitators, was present in the studio to crow like a cock in a pastoral scene from “The Amateur Gentleman,” Howard appeared to get as much boyish glee out of watching him work as a 10-year-old at a circus. He took him off to one side while other actors were rehearsing and persuaded him to run through his repertoire of animal sounds, exclaiming “Marvelous! How convincing!” after each cluck and crow and bark.
In fact Howard, frantically busy man that he is, appears to be getting as much of a kick out of becoming a regular radio performer as radio is getting out of him. He has been mulling over the urge to join the radio ranks for some time, but there had to be adjustments made on all sides before this was possible.
He discussed the possibilities of a series with the sponsor last spring when he was winding up his long and successful run on Broadway in “The Petrified Forest.”
Howard was enthusiastic–but he made two conditions. First, a series of scripts must be found which would give him an opportunity for fine characterization. He wanted each program to be as pointed with drama and humor as an excellent one-act play. Secondly, it must be arranged that the broadcasts could be picked either from New York or Hollywood, as he had both theater and picture commitments which would necessitate some coast to coast commuting. Time was another element, but he agreed that Sunday evening would be perfect–even if it was his only day off.
Last Spring, before he left New York for a brief vacation in Bermuda, planning to go thence to his home in Surrey, England, for a vacation with his family, he talked with Edith Meiser, novelist and script writer. They discussed likely material for a radio series, but no definite story was decided upon.
Throughout the summer cables flew across the Atlantic, bearing different suggestions. Finally it was decided that an adaptation from Jeffery Farnol’s novel, “The Amateur Gentleman,” would be just the thing. Edith Meiser went to work on the script and, in Surrey, Leslie Howard perused the novel to study a characterization of Barnabus Barty, the hero.
Howard returned to Manhattan early in October to choose a leading lady and launch the series before departing for Hollywood. He wanted to find a heroine to play “Leone” of “The Amateur Gentleman” who had an extra amount of “it” in her voice. She needn’t necessarily be a well known stage actress.
A great number of girls were auditioned for the role. Leslie Howard chose Elizabeth Love, attractive young actress from Lakeland, Fla., who had played the part of Betty Graham in “Roses and Drums” for more than two years. It had been her first radio job. Elizabeth was auditioned on a Tuesday. On Wednesday she received a call informing her that she had the job. She is still pinching herself to make sure she isn’t just dreaming.
Leslie Howard paused long enough in New York to inaugurate the program, the he flew to California to start work on the Warner Brothers production of “Petrified Forest.”
Tom McKnight, radio director, signed an agreement to reserve his services exclusively for the “Amateur Gentleman,” to be free to follow Howard wherever his contracts took him. Elizabeth Love was also signed as a nomad of a leading lady. Edith Meiser arranged to remain in Manhattan, making occasional flying trips to the coast.
Until launching this series, Leslie Howard’s radio appearances have been on a one-time shot basis. He never attempted a serial, having been fearful, up to now, that a prolonged story would be tiresome and lacking in the dramatic punch present in condensed Broadway plays.
He made his first appearance, several years ago, in a scene from “Outward Bound.” Later he did “Berkeley Square” for “Radio Theater.” But what really sold him on the radio was the overwhelming applause in the form of fan mail which followed a scene from “Dear Brutus,” with his 11-year-old daughter, Ruth Leslie, playing the part of the phantom child. The reaction was so enthusiastic that it resulted in what was practically a command performance of the scene three weeks later! That incident not only sold Leslie Howard on radio, but it sold radio on Howard in a big way.
“Goody” [sic]–as Howard has nicknamed his daughter–is more interested in becoming a lady veterinary than a professional actress.
It was the World war which indirectly decided Leslie Howard’s career for him. Dramatics had been in main extra-curricular activity at Dulwich college, England. Upon graduation he, the son of a British stock broker, had become a bank clerk by way of following the family bent. But when he returned unharmed from the front he found an alarming shortage of jobs.
While pounding the London sidewalks he stumbled upon an old college crony who was helping to run the provincial road company of “Peg o’ My Heart.” This experience brought him jobs on the London stage, where Katharine Cornell saw him play. She brought him to New York as her leading man in “The Green Hat.”
He was a huge success with American audiences and thereafter scored in a succession of hits, “Outward Bound,” “Her Cardboard Lover,” “Berkeley Square” and a number of others. He wrote a grand play, “Murray Hill,” and starred in it.
Hollywood angled for him after “The Animal Kingdom” and he made a number of movies, the most recent being “Captured,” “Of Human Bondage,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “British Agent.”
Perhaps one of the secrets of this quiet and charming star’s success is that he has always turned down parts for which he felt himself unfitted. For instance, he turned down a flattering offer to play opposite Greta Garbo in “Queen Christina.” He said he felt that he “wasn’t at all the type and would probably muff it.”
Now that he has come to radio, you may be sure that Leslie Howard will maintain his usual standards in whatever he tackles. Good judgment has always marked his career.
(The Milwaukee Journal, November 17, 1935)