by Whitney Williams
Though their tastes are widely different, there is a strong tie that binds Leslie Howard and William Gargan in one of the finest friendships in Hollywood
The friendship existing between Leslie Howard and William Gargan is one of the finest in Hollywood.
Unlike as Summer and Winter, Howard is quiet, reserved, studious… Gargan, diametrically opposite, typically the lovable rough neck.
Where you find one, it’s almost a certainty the other is in the immediate vicinity. They’re as inseparable as the fabled Ike and Mike, and neither will accept an invitation for dinner, the theatre, ball or banquet without the other attending also.
Their friendship is so deep-rooted that it extends as well to their wives. At night, the two couples invariably dine and pass their evenings quietly together.
Staunch friendship, of course, are frequent in the film colony. The late Ernest Torrence and Jack Holt were as close as two men could possibly be, and the devotion Janet Gaynor and Margaret Lindsay feel for each other is well known. To list the outstanding cases of Hollywood intimates would be to mention scores of famous names… but never once could you find two persons with such widely divergent views, yet linked by such bonds of harmonious understanding, as Leslie Howard and William Gargan.
Up until five years ago, the two men were Mr. Howard and Mr. Gargan to each other. Gargan had appeared in a play directed by Howard on Broadway, that lasted less than three weeks. The latter already had established himself as an actor of parts, but it remained for the former yet to prove himself for popular acclaim. After the closing of the show, they didn’t see each other for nearly a year.
During this period Howard went first on the road, then made a trip to England. Gargan entrained to the Middle West, for a Theatre Guild engagement, where a friend forwarded him a copy of Philip Barry’s latest play, “The Animal Kingdom,” in which Howard later was to be starred on Broadway.
When he read the script, Gargan knew what he wanted most in life… to play the part of the hard-boiled butler. Ever since embarking upon his theatrical career he had striven to appear in one of Barry’s plays, and this part, he knew, suited him perfectly.
For six months he lived the role of the butler, testing every phrase, every nuance of the part, until he felt he could play that character better than anyone else. He met Howard at the dock when the Englishman returned from London, recalled for Howard’s benefit their previous association and asked to be permitted to play the role.
“I don’t think you’re old enough, my lad,” Howard remarked, “but come along, anyway. We’ll give it a try.”
After the first rehearsal, the English actor went over to the younger man, wrung his hand enthusiastically and said, “I was wrong. You were ripping.” Gargan won the role, and the company went out to Pittsburgh for a try-out.
“Our friendship started from the moment Howard grasped my hand and said I was okay for the part,” Gargan relates. “We seemed to click from the start, and on the way to Pittsburgh we really had a chance to get acquainted.
“Mrs. Howard accompanied her husband, and both accepted me as one of the family. The play made a great hit at its first try-out, so much so that Barry declared my part, the butler, too important for the sake of the starring role. He told Howard he’d cut it down.
“‘You won’t cut down any of the parts,’ Howard informed him. ‘If you have to make the play stronger, build up the star, but don’t chop any of the lines the others have.’ At that opening night, too, Howard made me take five curtain calls of my own.
“When the show went to Cleveland, before returning to Broadway, we stopped at a hotel near the station. There was a great deal of noise, which Howard, being an Englishman, couldn’t stand. So he inquired regarding accommodations in the residential district.
“Finding a quiet location forty-five minutes by taxi from town, really a delightful place, he and Mrs. Howard engaged a suite and insisted I go along. When we signed the register, my room was thirty-five dollars a week. At the other hotel, I had paid at the rate of sixteen dollars a week.
“On my salary, with a wife and apartment to keep in Brooklyn, I couldn’t figure how I could stand the gaff until Howard went into his act and said thirty-five dollars was too much for his secretary’s room. ‘That’s different,’ the manager told him, ‘in that event, the rate will be twenty-two dollars.’ At that reduced rent, I occupied a room adjoining the Howards. After the manager had seen the play, he seemed to get a great kick out of the trick played on him.
“In New York, our wives became chummy and pretty soon we began to spend our evenings together, before the show and after the performance. After ‘The Animal Kingdom’ closed, and Howard went on tour in another play, we continued to hear from each other by frequent correspondence. Later, we met in Hollywood.”
That two such vastly different personalities should become such warm friends is only another indication of the vagaries of human nature. It is all the more strange when you consider Howard represents all that is fine in English culture, while Gargan lives up to his fighting Irish ancestry. After centuries of conflict, the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts are calling it a day and merging their pleasure-seeking talents in Hollywood.
There is something inspiring in the friendship of these two actors, who, through close association, have come even to think alike. Their channels of vision and thought coursed along entirely different lines until they started their comradeship, and each unconsciously has absorbed certain qualities from the other.
This is particularly manifest in Gargan’s choice of language. “When I first knew Howard,” he says, “I talked like any chap reared on the sidewalk. I said ‘goil’ and ‘foist’ and ‘thoid,’ for girl, first and third. Howard’s diction is so perfect that I soon dropped my former manner of speaking.”
From Gargan, Howard converted an already developed sense of humor into rousing proportions.
Both love the deset, Howard its quietude, Gargan as a romping ground. So when they trek desertward, Gargan and his wife drop off at the popular Palm Springs, while the English couple continue on to La Quinta, an exclusive resort twenty miles beyond, removed from the fanfare most of the picture people prefer.
But even on the desert they hold daily communion. Each rides horseback, and at an hour decided on over the telephone they set forth from their respective abodes and meet out in the sage, midway between the two playgrounds.
“Sometimes we spend an hour or so talking,” the Irish actor explains, “or scarcely speak. Almost always we have a couple of books. Along about twelve o’clock, one or the other of us will say he has to get going for lunch with the missus… and we repeat the performance the next day.”
Before Gargan’s baby was ushered into the world, the two men entered into numerous serious discussions regarding its future. The child would be named Leslie Howard Gargan, no matter whether a boy or girl. Howard would contribute to its professional welfare, if, when old enough to reach a decision, he or she should choose to go on the stage or screen. The future of the happily anticipated child weighed heavily upon both of then.
When the baby finally arrived it was a boy, and immediately was named after the celebrated English actor. Howard started a small trust fund, upon the day of the infant’s birth, to assure his having a proper start along the lines he later would decide to follow. And impatiently is awaiting the day he can start the lad’s dramatic education.
The friendship of Leslie Howard and William Gargan seems like a single soul inhabiting two separate bodies. Neither is satisfied without being near the other… and when the Howards left Hollywood in the early Summer to open their new house in Surrey, outside of London, the Gargans accompanied them. And as you read this tale of Hollywood’s most unusual association both couples are enjoying the life of rural England.
(The New Movie Magazine, October 1934)