Leslie Howard Will Be “Lawrence of Arabia” (1937)
The Nomad’s Gossip
Leslie Howard Will Be “Lawrence of Arabia”
So Lawrence of Arabia is to be made at last. And Leslie Howard is coming back from Hollywood to play the part of the famous young Englishman who, by his amazing influence over the Arabs, paved the way for a great British victory in the Great War.
This should make an epic British film, for there is no true story of this century which can compare with Lawrence’s career for drama and suspense.
T.E. Lawrence was a young dreamer who first showed signs of brilliance when he was studying at Oxford. He was a great classical scholar and he showed a special interest in Arabia. In two years he learned to speak and write Arabic, which is one of the world’s most difficult languages because one writes from right to left.
Then he grew tired of Oxford and persuaded his family to give him £220.
Wore Native Dress
With that money he went to Arabia, where he stayed for two years, living with the Arabs and wearing native dress. In that time he learned to love the Arab race and the hot, white desert. When he came home, after two years, he had spent only £100.
It was during the war, however, that Lawrence came into prominence. He was attached to the British intelligence service at Cairo, where his unrivalled knowledge of the Arabs was discovered. Promptly he was sent into Arabia to win the support of the Arabs in Britain’s fight against the Turkish empire.
At that time a large percentage of the Arab race were under Turkish rule. So Lawrence called together the Arab chiefs and painted a beautifully imaginative picture of the way that the British had come to rescue them from slavery. Such was his eloquence that the chieftains decided to help him.
Price On His Head
Now comes the drama. A British army was invading Turkish territory, and Lawrence banded together a small Arab force to help them by making raids upon the enemy and blowing up their railway lines.
The Turks placed a price on his head, but this did not deter him from disguising himself as an Arab and spying among their armies. Upon one occasion he was arrested and flogged. Yet despite the agony which he was suffering, he had the presence of mind to cry out in Arabic instead of in English.
That, to my mind, is the most amazing episode in Lawrence’s career. More than anything else it reveals him as a man of terrific will power and courage.
Refused All Honours
When the war was over and the Turkish Empire had been shattered, the victorious armies gathered to divide the spoils. Lawrence had dreams of a vast Arabian empire, but this tid not win the approval of the more practical statesmen. They decided to establish several small Arabian states instead.
Lawrence, feeling that the Arabs had been betrayed, refused all honours for his great work and retired into the country. Later he joined the Royal Air Force, where he became better known as Aircraftman Shaw. He took this name legally and tried to forget that he had ever been Colonel Lawrence.
Then, in May, 1935, he died. William K. Howard, who will direct the film of his life, tells me that it will end with his death, which he describes as “that ironic death on a motorcycle.”
There were no women in Lawrence’s life. There will be none in the picture. William K. Howard is firm about that.
Leslie Howard is a good choice for the part of Lawrence. Not because he looks like the man, but because he is in the public’s popu[lar opinion the actor who most closely resemble the] conception of what a dreamer look like.
Actually there is an actor who is very much more like Lawrence. And there lies an ironic story.
He is Walter Hudd, a London stage actor, who had a big part in Elephant Boy, who was originally selected by Korda to play the part. When he was photographed in Arab costume and the picture were compared with ones of Lawrence, it was difficult to tell who was who.
Hudd was especially pleased at the opportunity because he had met Lawrence and had corresponded with him for some time before his death.
The story of their meeting is an interesting one. In Bernard Shaw’s play, Two True To Be Good, there is a character named Private Meek. He is a soldier who is also something of a philosopher and, as Lawrence and Bernard Shaw were firm friends, it was assumed that the character had been based on Aircraftman Shaw.
Walter Hudd was playing this part, and one evening after the performance, he was told that Mr. Shaw wanted to see him. Thinking it was the famous dramatist, Hudd anticipated a criticism of his performance that evening. But a shy, slim man came into the room, offered his hand, and said, “I’m Shaw.”
They talked for some time and then Lawrence went away. But his quiet yet forceful personality had made an everlasting impression upon Hudd’s mind.
Worried By Delays
Therefore, when told that he was to act the part of Lawrence, Hudd plunged with enthusiasm into the task of trying to understand the complex personality of a man who could be both man of action and dreamer. He read every book in which Lawrence was mentioned, talked to people who had known him, and gradually built up an idea of the way how would play the part.
Then came the series of delays. It was announced that a unit would go to Arabia on location, then that their departure was delayed for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Hudd was in a fever of impatience. He confessed to his intimate friends that he had become so absorbed in the character of Lawrence that he cold think of nothing else.
Now someone else is to play the role. I have no doubt that Leslie Howard will give a performance that will be excellent entertainment. But while congratulating Howard, let us spare a little sympathy for Walter Hudd–the “man who might have been.”
(Film Pictorial, August 21, 1937)