To Whom It May Concern: A Message From Korda (1935)

The Qualifications of Leslie Howard

To Whom It May Concern: A Message From Korda

The scene might be Liverpool, England. The time, Nov. 18, 1934. As the curtain rises two gentlemen might be discovered in conversation on an upper deck of the liner Rex, its nose pointed west. A few moments later a warning gong might sound and authoritative voices cry: “All ashore that’s going ashore!” And two gentlemen might separate, one to return to London, the other to seek the comparative seclusion of his cabin.
In the recesses of that ivory tower, among mountains of telegrams, fruit baskets and current novels, he might spy and rescue a slim, white envelope addressed, “To Whom It May Concern,” and signed “Alexander Korda, Elstree, London.”
Mr. Leslie Howard (for he is our voyager), having but a few moments before bid a comprehensive adieu to the author of this missive, would be at a loss to account for this postscript. So, adjusting a pair of silver-rimmed glasses to his romantic features, and assuming an attitude of expectancy, he might read.
“To Whom It May Concern:
“This is to certify that the bearer, Leslie Howard, has been in my employ for the past eight weeks, having played the leading role in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and that he has given satisfaction. But for the benefit of potential employers I find it necessary, however, to give a few details concerning the character and abilities of this player:
“1. He is not an actor–in the sense that he is not actorish. By this I mean that he owns no storehouse of tricks upon which to draw for his stock in trade. In “The Scarlet Pimpernel” he plays the role of Sir Percy Blakeney, a dandy of the Regency who cheats the guillotine across the channel of its prey. It is a part calling for dash, a rich vein of romance, heroism and great personal charm. Well, as luck would have it, Mr. Howard possesses those qualifications to a greater degree, perhaps, than any actor I know. And so devices would have been a hindrance rather than a help.
“2. Directors who are planning, at some time in the future to avail themselves of his services should be warned that while he gives every appearance of being agreeable and easy to work with, he is sometimes refractory. He is apt, for instance, to ruin a make-up taking hours to perfect by eating apples between scenes. In “Scarlet pimpernel” he ate three apples while dressed as an old woman. The dried fishskin pasted at the corners of his mouth split wide open and the entire make-up had to be removed and a fresh one applied.
“3. He is frequently given to changing lines of dialogue either in rehearsal or during shooting. While it must be admitted that these alterations are beneficial to the script and the character, they still mome under the head of irregular business.
“4. He is unable to pronounce the monosyllable ‘no.’ I have observed him in situations demanding ‘no’ for solution. I have watched him squirming beneath the pleas of bit players and aspiring actresses and I have overheard him (with dire forebodings) promise them jobs simply because he did not know how to turn them down.
“3. A word of advice to the next cameraman assigned to a Howard picture: Train your camera on Leslie Howard and keep it focused on him no matter what he does, for the gentleman has a disconcerting habit of moving out of range. In one scene in “Pimpernel,” which he had rehearsed many times to get the exact juxtaposition of the player, he stepped completely out of the camera’s range. Why? Merely because he thought the scene rightly belonged to Merle Oberon.
“6. Producers, if you are planning to give your next Howard vehicle newspaper and magazine publicity, be forewarned that it is extremely dangerous to permit your star to be interviewed. Not that he doesn’t talk well. On the contrary. The point is that he is more likely to discuss a rival producer’s efforts (favorably, you may be sure), the latest book he has read, the work of another actor (appearing in a picture you don’t especially care to advertise), the weather, the stock market, the interviewer himself. On the subject of the film he has just completed and his own part in the proceedings, he is mute.
(Signed) Alexander Korda.”

It would be an agreeable task to report that the foregoing letter of recommendation is now a treasured item in the Howard library of momentos. Such, alas, is not the case. For Korda’s writing of the letter and Howard’s reading it are things that might have been. Whether they actually occurred is another matter.

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1935)