Leslie Howard Faces 300 Scholastic Interviewers
Forecasts and Postscripts
By Wilella Waldorf
Leslie Howard Faces 300 Scholastic Interviewers for an Hour and a Half and Retires Under His Own Power
‘I’M HERE to be fired at!” said Leslie Howard, leaning nonchalantly against a pulpitlike arrangement rigged up on the stage of the Broadhurst Theatre yesterday afternoon, facing an aggregation of something over three hundred interviewers from high school and college publications.
A battery of flashlights promptly went off in the balcony and Upper boxes, indicating that local photographic snipers were at work. The interviewers seated on the stage and overflowing the auditorium had to be warned sharply to look at Mr. Howard instead of at the camera.
The popping of flash lights continued intermittently during the question-and-answer session that followed for an hour and a half Without a let-up, but eventually the cameramen grew tired of it all and went home. Not so the interviewers. Warned that they must not expect autographs and treated by Mr. Howard to some pretty devastating remarks about autograph hunting as a popular pastime, a number of persistent idolaters nevertheless flapped Up after the show bearing the inevitable notebook and pencil. Mr. Howard was finally rescued by the theatre staff and departed in good order to get in a bit of rest before the evening performance of “The Petrified Forest.”
“Autograph hunting,” opined the actor in answer to a question from one of the academic interviewers, “is a curious thing. Something to do with the movies. Nothing to do With the theatre at all. The typical autograph hunter has become a sort of freak, a bad influence. It’s not their fault. They’ve been educated into a false point of view. The only thing that matters to me about an actor Is what he can do. The moment an actor ceases to give service as an actor, I’ve no further use for him. And I don’t approve of actors mingling too much with the public. I mean that when an actor goes out in public and people go up to ask him for an autograph they’re taking advantage. You wouldn’t go up to an ordinary stranger, why should you do it with actors? Why should you go up to an actor when he’s
having lunch, for instance, nudge him and say ‘Would you mind giving me your autograph?’ It’s bad manners! It’s a pity!”
Lady From Notre Dame
The wholesale interview at the Broadhurst was arranged by Miss Helen Deutsch, Mr. Howard’s press representative, whose mail has been ao cluttered up with requests from
collegiate and scholastic reporters that she sat down and issued invitations to the whole lot of them for 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Most Of the boys and girls who arrived armed with questions for Mr. Howard to answer were high school students, but here and there one found a lofty browed college man from Yale, Princeton or Cornell. Even Wast Point had a representative present, but not, alas! in uniform.
Asked if any one had come on from, Leland-Stanford or the University of Southern California, the Committee of Welcome shook a reluctant head, but added hastily that somebody was there from Notre Dame. This, however, proved to be a false report. Just as we were beginning to wonder if Notre Dame’s editors were as widely traveled as its football team, it developed the representative from Notre Dame Was named Estelle. There is, it seems, a Notre Dame College as Well as a Notre Dame University.
Seated well up front, in easy smelling distance of Mr. Howard’s low-slung pipe was Helene Wald, aged ten, who came down from the Bronx to represent her school paper, The Rue and the Gold. To Helene, youngest of the assembly, went the honor of asking the first question, Which turned out to be: “What part of England were you born in?”
It was finally decided that biographical facts must be ruled out, chiefly because Mr. Howard couldn’t remember for the life of him what part of England he was born in, what plays he had acted in, and other exploits “of the past sixty years.”
Propaganda Versus Art
Followed a bewildering array of queries about the stage, the screen, acting, scenery, makeup, costume dramas, favorite sports, London contrasted with New York, dramatic schools as a means of preparing for the stage, censorship, the Pulitzer Prize, long runs, repertory, takina a bow after dying on the stage, state subsidies for the theatre, theatrical amotions, artifice, dramatic critics, English movies versus Hollywood movies, theatre ticket prices, educational value of the stage, and an actor’s philosophy of life.
Mr. howard bore up under the barrage remakably well, though he was forced to rule out early in the game what he termed “fan magazine questions.” The decision finally was reached when somebody in the rear inquired what his children thought when they saw him making love to Peggy Conklin or Merle Oberon. Miss Conklin acts opposite him in “The Petrified Forest.” Miss Oberon was his leading woman on the screen in “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“I read in the fan magazines that you’re quite mischievous,” piped up another voice (feminine, needless to remark).
“They’re probably true,” admitted Mr. Howard after some cogitation.
Dodging the customary stumpers […]ing a preference for stage rather than screen, or London over New York, and admitting that his favorite play is “Berkeley Square” and that he hopes to revive it sometimes, he was finally chased int a corner by the persistent left wing element which insisted in deep baritone voices upon knowing what he thinks of the Radical theatre.
“Do you mean politically or dramatically?” inquired Mr. Howard. “Do you mean the Communistic theatre?”
It seems they did.
“I haven’t seen very much of it,” he replied. “I don’t think the theatre […] The theatre […] conditions as they are… I do disapprove of a theatre which places propaganda above drama…”
Aha! The Master Gesture
“Do you think,” inquired an earnest young man at this juncture, “that every actor should possess a Master Gesture?”
“I give up,” replied Mr. Howard. “What is a Master Gesture?”
“Well,” explained the inquirer, “if you watch Lionel Barrymore you’ll see that when he gets excited he
ruffles his hair…”
“Really!” ejaculated Mr. Howard. “Well, I suppose we all have our little mannerisms, but the answer is no. I don’t approve of the Master Gesture.”
The star of “The Petrified Forest” then had a chance to embark on one of his favorite topics, i. e., the debilitating effects of playing one role for too long a period. Admitting that this is often necessary in the commercial theatre, he took time out to reiterate what he has already stated in public, that this is his last appearance in a play of indefinite sticking power. He did not elaborate on the subject, except to say that he has no definite plans for the future at the moment, but that he does not expect ever again to tie himself up for a long run.
“Are you satisfied with yourself as you are now?” inquired an eager soprano. “Do you hope for something better or do you think you’ll always be an actor?”
Recovering from the shock, Mr. Howard replied gravely: “Am I satisfied with myself as I am now? I could say I’m crazy about myself. I could also say I’m very disgusted, but I’ll admit for years and years I’ve had secret ambitions to better my station in life. The minute I see my way…”
“Is physical attractiveness a necessary element in a stage career?”
The fan magazine influence was creeping back again, slowly but surely, ban or no ban.
(The New York Post, April 6, 1935)