Not a Sock in a Hundred Reels (1932)

Not a Sock in a Hundred Reels

by Katherine Albert

Leslie Howard’s return to Hollywood gives the gentleman lover a break at last


Leslie Howard and his children

Off for a canter in London. Leslie Howard with his son Ronald and daughter Leslie. This picture was snapped with the actor’s own camera

Make way for the new screen type! Get ready for an about-face in screen lovers!

Take a long last look at Clark Gable slapping his leading lady’s face and Jimmy Cagney giving the girl friend a good sock in the nose.
The new actor is going gentlemanly with a bang (or rather, without a single bang). He’ll combine charm with his ardor.
And Leslie Howard is the cause of it all. When, a little over a year ago, Leslie Howard said the movie moguls, “I’m not interested in your long-term contracts, sirs, since they mean I must take any part that I’m tossed,” five young actors who would, for a contract gladly play the off-stage noise for a rhinoceros, swooned; four executives were rushed to the hospital and the rest of Hollywood talked of nothing but this amazing attitude for nine days.
But this local furor was not the only result of Leslie Howard’s sudden leave-taking. An entirely unexpected thing happened. When he uttered those now famous words of rebellion, “I can’t stand the pace of picture making,” and “I refuse to be caught up in the machine,” thousands of women and girls throughout the country wrote to the studios, to Photoplay Magazine and, for all I know, to the President of the United States, begging that all forces be combined in an effort to bring Leslie back.
The picture executives were, to put it mildly, flabbergasted, for none of them had spotted Leslie as the type to promote palpitations of the feminine heart. The vigorous face-slapping Gables, Cagneys, George Brents et al. were the accepted type. These young bloods were riding the crest of the cinema wave. Howard was their direct antithesis–a gentleman both on and off screen (a British gentleman, at that) and a stage actor more subtle than spectacular.

The executives figured him as one of those good, capable leading men but not, by any manner of means, sensational. He was okay–this Howard–but women wouldn’t lose any beauty sleep over him.
And then–the miracle! With only a few films to his credit–the highbrow “Outward Bound,” Norma Shearer’s “A Free soul,” Marion Davies’ “Five and Ten,” Ann Harding’s “Devotion,” and “Never the Twain Shall Meet”– he became a rage. And in all the pictures he played the rôle of a sensitive soul with nary a sock for a lady in a hundred reels.
The movie pundits shook their heads and looked bewildered. And immediately began to besiege him with offers. But Leslie, having declared himself, worked away in England in a film called “Reserved for Ladies” and then returned to the New York stage in “The Animal Kingdom.”
And even though he was off the screen for several long months, he was not forgotten. Each mail brought more and more letters begging for his return. And each day some movie company had a shiny new offer ready for him.
But now that he held the whip he realized he could dictate his own terms.
And these are the terms. He will make one picture for M-G-M and that will be “Smilin’ Through,” with Norma Shearer. Incidentally, he will play the old man–young in the earlier sequences–but old throughout most of the picture. Fredric March will be borrowed from Paramount to pla the other male lead, the younger man. Leslie then goes to Radio Pictures to do “The Animal Kingdom.” And that’s all. But there’s a clever clause in the contract. If he likes Hollywood and if everything goes smoothly and nobody asks him to play a rôle that does not suit him, he’ll knock off another picture for the folks. Otherwise, he’ll return to the stage.

So cheer up, you languishing ladies. Gentleman Howard is coming back.
To me, the craze for Leslie is rather a proof that movie-goers are not so moronic as some of the lads would have you believe. For here is an intelligent actor of just a little different stamp from the average run–and they love him.
He lives a sane sort of life with his wife, also British, and his two children–a daughter, Leslie, and a son, Ronald, who is now at school in England. He putters around with a camera, at which hobby is exceptionally able; he draws a bit; plays the piano by ear; likes tennis and swimming and has a nice appreciation of all the arts.
As far as colorful background is concerned the Gables, Brents and Cagneys have him beat. But Leslie Howard has something more than that.
It was a subtle things that fans saw in Leslie Howard and it was not merely that he was a good actor, for many good actors have failed in Hollywood. Entirely lacking in the obvious sex appeal that seems to be in such demand at the moment, he possesses a rare, faun-like quality and a whimsical humor that seems to get through to the camera as it gets over the footlights.
Anent his long hold-out he said, “I’ve no quarrel with the motion picture producers. They have created a Frankenstein. They have this tremendous thing and do not always know quite what to do with it. Pictures interest me–but I refuse to be a part of the machine. I could never be happy nor do my best work under a contract that did not allow me to select the rôles for which I know myself to be best suited.”

And it’s my hunch that before there are many more full moons at Malibu, movie-goers will be fed up with those all too obvious he-men types and that Leslie Howard will open the door to a new school. Personally, I’ve always been just a little suspicious of he-men. It seems to me that when a man must slap another man on the back, punch him playfully in the ribs and knock women around, he is making too great an effort to prove his masculinity.
Real masculinity, my dears, does not need to be proved.
And I’ll wager that it won’t be very long before being a gentleman will be a better movie trick than being a so-called he-man.
If this comes to pass, just point with pride to the Leslie Howard you and you and you demanded. He will be responsible for the new type.

(Photoplay, August 1932)