Why Is Leslie Howard the Man of the Moment?, 1933
Why Is Leslie Howard the Man of the Moment?
Leslie, himself, won’t admit that it is–but there is no other actor on the screen (not even Gable) who is so much in demand by women stars, directors and writers. Leslie won’t admit a thing except that he’s an actor who knows his craft–but between the lines of this interview you’ll find the answer to the question!
By Gladys Hall
WHY is Leslie Howard the Man of the Moment in Hollywood? That is what
people are asking themselves — and others.
Why do all the lady stars want Leslie Howard and none other to play opposite them? Why did Mary Pickford, with all the possible Gary Coopers and Weldon Heyburns and Lyle Talbots and other handsome he-men to choose from, select Leslie Howard above them all to play her adventurer-husband in “Secrets?”
Why do all the companies dicker for him, frantically? Why do all the directors sigh for him? Why do all the writers get down on their knees and pray that he and no one else will star in their “Animal Kingdoms” and “Berkeley Squares,” et cetera?
Marion Davies is said to have remarked that she learned more from Leslie Howard when he was playing with her in “Five and Ten” than she had ever learned from anyone else, at any time. Which was flattering to Mr. Howard, but hardly explained why all the women stars want him as a co-star. It would be nice to believe that the stars go through life consumed with a passion for learning, but this is scarcely true, I fear.
Leslie is slender, and a gentleman. He doesn’t talk or look or act as if he would be the Life of the Party. The strength of his face and the grace of his body are not theatrical, but the strength and the grace of breeding. He is quiet. He is domestic. He is reticent. His passions are for country homes (in England, where he has one), for his children, for books and plays, and for as much seclusion as possible. He has none of the vivid appeal of a Gable or the debonair come-hither of a Chevalier. He appeals to the mind, rather than to the blood. He speaks to the spirit, rather than to the flesh. Which is something, if you pause to consider it, that few picture actors have ever done successfully. George Arliss is, perhaps, the one other exception.
I think I know, however, why Leslie Howard is the Man of the Moment. I asked him point-blank. And though he disclaimed the title, I think that, while talking with him, I stumbled on the answers to this question. I’ll tell you about our talk first and then, at the end, I’ll give you what I feel to be the answers.
Pays Tribute to Mary
ON the way to his portable dressing-room off the set of “Secrets,” I stopped for a moment to talk with Mary Pickford, resting between scenes — Mary looking younger than she looked fifteen years ago and photographing even younger than that. At the moment, she was reclining in a deck chair on the set, talking with the Countess Di Frasso and director Frank Borzage. Mary said to me, “I should have played this deck-chair scene
romantically. I was imagining I was with Douglas.”
In the dressing-room, Leslie Howard said to me, “I like doing this picture with Miss Pickford. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have missed. You know, Mary Pickford will go down in history. She has made history -and deservedly. She is one of the most extraordinary women I have ever known. Her mind works like the mind of a man — in an exquisitely feminine body.”
It was then that I came to the point and to the question. I said abruptly, “Why do you think you are the Man of the Moment in Hollywood? Why do you think that every star from Mary Pickford down would rather have you than any other actor on the screen as a co-star?”
Leslie demurred and shied the question, as I knew he would. But I persisted. I even hinted, rather strongly, that, after all, he has not the verve of a Gable or the roguish eyes and oh-that-mouth of a Chevalier.
He drank his tea, looking, despite his Western outfit, very British and very Galsworthy, and seemed to be unable to think of any graceful way in which to clothe an answer to so bold a question.
I said, “I think the answer is obvious. I think you are the most sought-after actor in Hollywood for the simple and obvious reason that you are a very great actor.”
Not “Talented” by Accident
“If I am,” Leslie Howard said, smiling into his teacup, “if I am — which I cannot agree with — it is NOT because I was born so. It is no accident. It is not any ‘happenstance’ of personality or of physical appearance. If there is any truth whatever in what you are saying, it is because I have learned my craft.
“I have worked at my craft for years and years. Oh yes, years. Unremittingly. I have learned my craft precisely as a good mechanic, or a good plumber, learns his. I cannot play Leslie Howard, you know, as a man like Gable can play Clark Gable and win the multitudes. I have to work. I have to act the part. I haven’t the personality or the looks to be — myself. That is the sole and only answer to any such assumption — I have taken the equipment at hand and I have learned how to use it.
“And I have only done, by the way, what every man must do from this time forth if he is to survive. The world has changed. There is a new philosophy in the world to-day. There is a new set of values. The new philosophy, the new values have little to do with Money. Little to do with Things, with material possessions, with luxuries, with accumulated savings. There is no sort of use in making prophecies about Communism or Socialism or Technocracy — but certainly and positively, Capitalism, as it existed in the Victorian era and later, is gone.
“There is no use, any longer, in saving money. Because there is no place to put it. No safe place. Time was when a man worked vigorously all through his prime to hoard a nest-egg for a rainy day. There is no place to put a nest-egg any longer. The government takes half of what you earn and there is no hideaway for the balance.
Art, Not Money, Matters Now
‘Time was, a year or so ago, when an actor might and often did say, ‘Well, I shall make four pictures this year. They won’t be very good pictures, but at the end of the year I shall have such and such a sum of money.’ The actor who figures that way to-day has not heard the overtones of the new philosophy, which says that there is no Tomorrow for material things. The only thing to say now is, ‘I shall make one picture this year. I won’t get very much money for it, but it will be supremely well done. I will be able to give a supreme performance. It will matter, artistically.’
“And this is the new philosophy — mine, at any rate. To do the thing you are doing, no matter what it may be, better than anyone else is doing it. To work for the joy and the pride of working. To be equipped to work with your hands and with your brain. To learn a trade. Only people with crafts are safe to-day — the earners, not the savers. There is no longer the golden bulwark of capitalism to rest upon.
“And it is better so. I, for one, like the way things are to-day, like the trend things are taking. Individual effort will be more worth while. We will be working for deeper and, certainly, more lasting satisfactions than luxuries and stocks and bonds and comforts we have never really needed.
“Our homes will mean more to us than they have ever meant before. Because we will not have the outside things we used to have. We will have leisure we have never had before, and we will have to learn to use that leisure, beautifully and self-profitably. Our families will mean more to us, for much the same reasons. We will have more time to give to them and there will not be so many outside distractions to interfere with personal developments.
“Our children will mean more to us, too, because the external things we can do for them will be decreased. We will have to bring them up to appreciate the things in life that do not come only as the results of money. Because, no matter how we may be fixed ourselves, individually, our children
will have to go out into a world where people are working for the pride of achievement and for values that have nothing to do with ostentation.”
Are These the Answers?
IT was while Leslie was talking that the answers to the question came to me.
Leslie Howard is the Man of the Moment because, for one reason, which he gave himself, he knows his craft. He does not consume time and patience and retakes by blundering and ineptness.
But he is also the Man of the Moment for another reason — he gives us idealism. He gives us something that is not materialistic, not wholly physical. He gives us something we need more than the material and the physical, which have failed us.
He speaks to us of dreams, of the things and the qualities that we may still have, though capitalism staggers completely and man ceases to work for gold alone. He gives us the sense of the man who is to be, the man who stands for individual achievement, for honest personal endeavor, for artistry.
Leslie Howard is an idealist. He prefers to do only the thing in which he can take pride. He says that he has compromised now and then, enforcedly. But he has not done those things of which he could be genuinely ashamed. He is the Man of the Moment because he is, also, the Man of Tomorrow — when men will be finer than they are to-day.
(Movie Classic, March 1933)