Hopping Around With Ernie Pyle (1942)

Hopping Around With Ernie Pyle

by Ernie Pyle

Denham, England–More than a year ago Leslie Howard, broadcasting one of his moving messages to America, stood before the microphone and said something like this:
“I am no glamour boy. I am no matinee idol and I don’t speak as one. The Naval officer standing here beside me is taller than I am–and he is my son.”
Leslie Howard is 49. He could be a glamour boy, even now, if he chose to be. For he literally does not look over 35. His face is not lined and he is nearly as thin as I am. He has charm and poise.
But glamouring is not in his character. His pleasures come from the fertility of his mind, not from tinsel and show. His real interest in life is in devising and creating through the screen. That’s the reason he is gradually changing from the role of actor to that of producer and director.

Leslie’s son is Lieut. Ronald Howard. He is somewhere in the Indian Ocean or South African waters, but they don’t hear from him often. His daughter is 17, is named Leslie Ruth after her two parents, and was married in May to a Canadian–Maj. Robert Dale-Harris.

I spent a whole day with Howard at his studio, and his method of working is a violent contrast to some of the contortions that go on in Hollywood. He is never the least excited, and his directions are in such a low tone you can hardly hear him. His speech is just as you know it from the screen–exact, and soft.
In this present picture, the cast is practically all girls. When they do something exceptionally well he tells them so; when they bungle something it is often funny and he gets tickled instead of getting mad.

I noticed that between the scenes the girl starlets who wanted to thresh out a scene would take his arm and walk along with him as they talked. All the players call him Leslie, and he directs everybody by first names. They say the union workmen will do more for him than anybody else. He eats lunch in the same crowded dining room with the other players. He uses a 35-cent utility lighter.
He has a habit of rather scrunching his shoulders and leaning forward and frowning when he is thinking hard. His assistant says he has a beautiful vagueness about time. She says he isn’t thoughtless, but he’ll suddenly have an idea and sit down and start figuring on it, completely lost to everything in the wold. She both mothers him and Simon Legrees him successfully through the day.
Howad still wears his famous pre-war sports clothes and sweaters. His ties are knitted ones, and his shoes are fuzzy thick-soled ones of the Hollywood variety.
His wrist watch is on a woven gold band. On the other wrist he wears a heavy golden chain holding his golden identification disc. A great many civilians wear identification discs in England now–just in case. I do too, but mine, I’m afraid, is tin.
Howard wears colorless tortoise-rimmed glasses most of the time. I noticed he took them off at lunch. After lunch he smokes a cigar, a commodity quite rare in England nowadays.

He was here through the blitz, and often would drive to the broadcasting studios when bombs were falling. The film studio was bombed only once; apparently the Germans mistook it for a factory in the dark. Everything missed it except some incendiaries, which burned a dressing-room full of clothes. Howard had moved his own clothing out the day before.
Leslie’s assistant is a story herself. Her name is Violette Cunnington. She is a French girl who showed up in Hollywood five years ago, and Leslie hired he to look after him.
She wears dark blue slacks and sweater and a bright red coat, is pretty as can be, still talks with a French accent, and has a mind like a tracer bullet. She herds her boss around and looks after a million details and literally helps him think.
Her father was an Englishman living in Paris, and her mother a Frenchwoman. They are both still in Paris; in fact her father, being English, is interned. She sends them heavy clothes for winter, and thinks they aren’t getting along too badly. She loves america beyond words, and can hardly wait to get back.

Leslie is hoping to go to America again before many months. He was supposed to go more than a year ago, but things keep coming up endlessly and he doesn’t get away.
When he does go he’ll do a lecture tour in Canada, but he won’t act in any American pictures. Now that America is in the war, he is mulling over an Anglo-American picture. He might make the American scenes in the States.
After the war he wants to make a picture in the desert and mountains of New Mexico, for he feels about the desert as I do. Which is one more reason why I like him immensely.

(The Free-Lance Star, November 6, 1942)