Fate of Leslie Howard Troubles Englishmen

Fate of Leslie Howard Troubles Englishmen

by Alice Pardoe West
Standard-Examiner Staff

Is Leslie Howard really dead? That is the question which is troubling England right now. There are some who already are speaking of him in past tense… while others refuse to believe he is lost and will not consent to holding a memorial service for him.
If it is true he lost his life in the plane on his way home from Lisbon… his quiet passing out of the public eye is just as he would have liked it. He has been always a genteel, retiring sort of person.
British Ideal
His loss overshadows every other topic in British film right now… for he is the ideal of the British people. Yet, publicity on the incident is curtailed… because of the uncertainty of his death.
He is loved in America too… yet very little has been said… in comparison to the heart-jerking stories put about the late Carole Lombard and Will Rogers.
“My country needs me,” is what he said when he left his career in America to go back to London, at the outbreak of war. “They need me now more than at any other time.” Yet he could have stayed here in safety, had he so wished.
One of his great desires was to play “Hamlet” on the screen with the same interpretation he gave it in the stage version.
“Hamlet does things for an actor,” he told me, once when we were discussing the play. It is a play apart by itself and has no relation to other plays. It makes an actor bring out something that he doesn’t know he has. Every actor should do “Hamlet.”
Really Not Actor
Then almost in the next breath he said, “I’m really not an actor. To be a good actor once must be an exhibitionist, and I am not that. It’s against my grain to expose my personal feelings, and that is just what an actor has to do.”
In speaking of the screen, he continued, “‘Of Human Bondage’ was of higher merit as to achievement, I believe, than anything I have ever done, but ‘Smilin’ Through’ seemed quite popular.” And then in his modest way he went on to say, “You know I was not born for the screen, but Gary Cooper is. So is Bill Powell. Their true medium is the screen. It is very difficult for an actor to give his best in pictures; in fact, I feel sort of like a fish out of water.”
Home in England
Then out of a clear sky he whirled toward me and said, “Do you really want to know something different? I have a lovely home in England and I would rather just live there and forget everything… but I can’t; acting is my living.”
Then he stated that he loved to direct and that he thought in the future he would go into directing exclusively. And that is just what he did.
Since he left America he directed a number of films. “Mister V,” “Spitfire,” and “The Gentle Sex,” proved some of England’s most popular pictures. There are many demands in Britain for his “Petrified Forest,” “Escape to Happiness,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and even his very early one, “Of Human Bondage.” Of late years he had become England’s best-loved film star and the letters coming in constantly concerning his absence now, speak with affection of the informality and charm of his recent broadcasts.
Loved America
Leslie Howard loved America and loved the American way of life. He was always eager to draw this country and his own more closely together.
Just prior to his leaving for Lisbon, Leslie was physically worn-out. He was over-tired and had been having poor health during the winter. What his plans for the future were no one exactly knows… only that they trended more toward directing and producing pictures… rather than acting in them.
“The public,” he said, “wants young faces and new voices.” However, regardless of his own convictions in this respect, I believe he had plenty of fans who will miss his acting keenly and will always remember him as “The Gentleman” of the screen.
If and when the word goes out that Leslie Howard is really lost, Americans will mourn his passing equally as much as his native people.. for at one time, he was one of Hollywood’s best drawing-cards. His passing is indeed a great loss to the cinema and the public.
(Ogden Standard Examiner, July 11, 1943)