Leslie Howard Is Elusive (1934)
Leslie Howard Is Elusive
Which is one reason why he will make such a good “Scarlet Pimpernel,”
says Maud M. Miller
“I sought him here,
I sought him there,
I sought that Frenchman everywhere.
Was he in heaven?
Or was he in hell…
That demmed elusive Pimpernel…?”
(With apologies to Baroness Orczy.)
And that, more or less, is how I felt the other day at Elstree.
“That’s Leslie Howard… the old woman in grey, with the straggly hair…” said somebody. I’m afraid I was uncourteous enough to retort “Oh yeah?” in tones of distinct unbelief.
Presently he came swaggering on to the set, in yellow buckskin trousers and black suede boots, russet coat and a big stiff silk bow tie above his immaculate silk cravat. … The Scarlet Pimpernel in person.
I could hardly believe the transformation, until Leslie himself assured me that it was he. But, he added, his trousers were so “demmed tight” he couldn’t sit down!
Here and now, I had better make a public confession. Until that moment, I had been unable to “see” Leslie as “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” But I take it all back. He looks simply marvellous, and has just that air of nonchalance that we always associate with Sir Percy Blakeney; disguised as the old woman who smuggled the French nobles out of the city of Paris in a vegetable cart he was equally perfect.
We went along to his dressing-room where, with great care, he extended his six-feet-nothing on the divan. As he did so he reminded me of a man with lumbago, letting himself down gently… but it was just those buckskin trousers.
I noticed that in a couple of hops he has achieved a regal status. In private life, plain “Mister,” he is “Sir” Percy Blakeney in the film; in his dressing-room the cushions of his divan are none other than the big pillows used in The Private Life of Henry VIII, with the royal crest and the initials “H.A.” embroidered thereon. Remember that scene where the women of the bedchamber are seen preparing for the arrival of another queen?
Leslie wanted to talk about books and films but I wanted to talk about Leslie. I wanted to discover, if possible, why it is that the women of America rave about him. In the United States he can hardly move without a mob of autograph hunters in pursuit. Yet until last year, when Smilin’ Through was generally released in this country, Howard wasn’t considered so hot among British “fans.”
He is, of course, in many ways the opposite of the average American man. He has a lazy, whimsical way with him; a dreamy look about the eyes that is quite fascinating. His voice is perfectly modulated, quiet and musical… and, of course, there’s that lovely blond head with the wavy hair that is enough to send a woman crazy–especially if she has straight hair herself!
It must be the contrast. Leslie Howard has none of the dynamic hurry and energy associated with American men; instead, there is an air of repose about him that is very deceptive unless you know him well.
Actually, a more energetic man never breathed. He is the essence of fitness; seen on horseback he seems more a part of the animal than a separate being. In the saddle, he is perfectly happy. His horses are among his most precious possessions, and now that his small daughter has a hunter of her own, she goes around with daddie and shares his enthusiasm.
It is when he talks about his home and his family that you discover the real Leslie Howard, the charming dreamer, whose dreams are build round his loved ones. While on his last trip to Hollywood he telephoned his children almost daily at their schools in England. What his phone bill must have amounted to I’d be staggered to think! To him the cost doesn’t matter, though. It’s the children who matter. … If he can’t have them with him, then he wants to hear their voices; if that costs a lot of money–well he’ll have to make more money, that’s all.
Success did not come to Leslie very early in life. He fought in the War; when that ended, he decided not to return to the “safe career” of banking, upon which he had embarked on leaving college. No, it would have to be the stage–or he would die in the attempt.
London had not much use for him, and he had to be content with provincial tours until he was offered a trip to New York. New York liked him; New York encouraged him, and adopted him as one of its favourites. He became the rage, and his success gave him one great satisfaction… he had now two children and could give them all the advantages of education and comfort he desired. At last he could settle down in New York, or so he thought, and be done with hotels and the ups and downs of life on tour.
Then London wanted him, and he wanted London and home… And he has moved about consistently ever since he began to act. He told me that it has become a kind of fear with him; a “phobia,” the experts would call it.
“Always moving,” he said. “Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, in terror… a dream of going away again, of leaving the children–home and all it means…”
He was silent for a moment, drawing hard at a pipe.
“I don’t think I’ve ever put that fear into words before,” he confessed. “But it has been at the back of my mind for years. I hate travelling, uprooting myself, leaving friends, horses, dogs–and places, too, getting used to another atmosphere.
“Crowds and noise, that’s another complex. There is something terrifying about a mob of people surging round an individual. I can quite understand how Garbo feels,” he smiled at me, but his eyes were serious. He has had to conquer that particular “phobia” however, because “mobbing” is a common pastime in America.
He is rather a shy individual; he makes friends slowly. His closest pal is William Gargan, and their friendship dates from the day Leslie lent “Bill” three dollars. Bill paid the money back and then asked for a job in Leslie’s new picture, which was The Woman in his House. He was the butler who annoyed Myrna Loy so much, do you remember? Leslie discovered that Bill was “the right kind of fellow for a pal” and pals they are in every sense of the word, understanding one another as only men can; theirs is the kind of friendship that seems to exist only between men, not among women, or even between men and women.
Leslie Howard dreams and lazes; but life won’t let him be lazy. He knows the right story for himself at the first reading of a manuscript; he almost caused a civil war in the Radio camp by turning down stories, until in desperation they asked him to find one himself. He at once handed them Of Human Bondage, about which they were doubtful. But strong-minded Leslie won, and the film, which has not yet been seen over here, is proving a winner in America.
So girls, don’t think because a man has wavy blond hair and blue eyes, that you can twist him round your little finger… remember Leslie Howard!
(Film Pictorial, September 15, 1934)