Listing a Few of Leslie Howard’s Peculiarities (1935)

Listing a Few of Leslie Howard’s Peculiarities

Leslie Howard, in his conservative and unobtrusive way, manages to be something of an iconoclast. This popular actor, who is generally acknowledged to be one of the finest on the English-speaking stage, is now making a welcome return to the stage in Robert Sherwood’s “The Petrified Forest,” the Gilbert Miller-Arthur Hopkins venture current at the Broadhurst Theater. The production, which combines four of the most distinguished names in the American theater, is already proving something of a Roman holiday for the ticket brokers.
It happens also to provide a holiday for Mr. Howard and for his favorite form of iconoclasm– his attitude toward clothes. As an actor Mr. Howard is conceded to be a model of sartorial perfection. He wears dinner clothes with that easy elegance which seems to be the prerogative of British actors. To date, this ability has been well utilized by directors, so that when a Howard play is announced, the adoring multitude of matinee ladies look forward to an opportunity to say to their husbands and sweethearts, “Look! That’s what I mean! That’s the way I want you to look! Why can’t you get a suit like that?”
But “The Petrified Forest,” must be something of a disappointment for those ladies and a relief to innumerable husbands, for in this play Mr. Howard appears as a not-very-elegant hitch-hiker.
“At last I have a role in which I’m going to be physically comfortable,” he said the other day, to the horror of a female interviewer, “I shan’t have to dress up in dinner clothes! One of the things I like so much about California is the fact that I can get along there night and day in a pair of old slacks.
“Do you know,” he continued earnestly, “that I can arrive in California with no baggage at all, buy a sweater and some slacks, and live comfortably for months?”
Another of his departures from custom and routine is his attitude in the matter of make-up. He uses no make-up at all on the stage. “I think it’s a mistake for an actor to make his face look like an expanse of pink blotting paper,” he says. He has blandly carried out this excellent theory to Hollywood, where he has flatly refused to use make-up for motion pictures. Many other actors are following his lead in this, to great distress of motion picture photographers, whose work is thereby made more difficult.
Leslie Howard is also an image-breaker in regard to what many look upon as the chief attribute of an outstanding actor: an ardent devotion to drama. Acting has not been his chief goal in life. “For, after all,” he says, “life is so confoundedly short and there are so many places to go and so many things to do.” He himself admits that he became an actor only by accident. In his undergraduate days at Dulwich College, he frankly confesses, “I had no idea of acting. I was then more interested in playwriting and production. I wrote some one-act things that were put on. Acting to me is something that amounts to imprisonment,” he confides. He wants to be up and doing; he wants to go places and see things.
Since home to Leslie Howard is Surrey, in England, the business of arriving at theater every evening is not only imprisonment but also exile.
A secret about Leslie Howard which one hesitates to impart for fear of destroying his reputation for sophistication is the fact that although he plays inebriated gentlemen to a fare-thee-well, he finds it extremely difficult to down anything more potent than beer. Questioned concerning the reason for this, he explains somewhat naively, and with a shame-faced grin, that “it burns my throat.” It this is not iconoclasm in the matter of Thespian tradition, then what is?
Differing from other outstanding actors, who until recently felt that acting in the movies was a terrific artistic comedown, Leslie Howard is outspoken in his opinion that cinema acting increases the performer’s delicacy of execution. “Before the camera,” he observes, “there is no need for any exaggeration. The camera brings the actor’s face so close that the least flicker of an idea carries. There is something almost telepathic in pictures– the thought in the player’s mind is so apparent.
“It is possible, however, for an actor to keep doing pictures till he goes stale– and that is something I hope to avoid by coming back to the theater often. In the theater there is that direct touch of the player with the audience which nothing in a studio can replace. And it is the greatest corrective of an actor’s work. I like to feel that response– that’s why I’m here.
“In pictures one depends on memories– memories of how an audience reacts. As time goes on those recollections blur and grow dimmer– an then the performer may lose his bearings. The stage is the place the actor must come to, nearly always, for renewal.”
And back to the stage Leslie Howard has come, in “The Petrified Forest.”

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1935)