Is Movie Love Too Real? (1934)
Is Movie Love Too Real? Leslie Howard Answers!
Those camera kisses! How deeply are they felt? The screen’s leading romancer knows–and tells!
by Ben Maddox
Haven’t you wondered?
Do movie love scenes tempt the stars?
When the virile hero reaches for the luscious lady, enfolds her so firmly in his arms, and when they gaze adoringly at each other in those intimate close-ups–is it just make-believe?
Embraces which display a technique you crave to contact–do they leap the border-line of mere acting? In the tenderest moments which often are hours in the filming, then are they artists concerned with their Art, or are they very human?
I thought I would query Leslie Howard, because he is back to Hollywood and because most women seem to agree that, concerning the finer points of romance, he should have the best answers.
He does, pals, he does! What I particularly approve of in the fascinating Mr. Howard is his delightful candor. Naturally, being a married man, he has to be respectfully discreet. Yet, being the one and only subtle Leslie, he is far too intelligent to stall.
“Screen love?” He registered concentration. (He does that by leaning his face on his right hand in classic thinker style.)
“Certainly it’s thrilling to the participants, assuredly it’s liable to be too realistic, and of course movie kisses are dangerous! Why, cinema sweethearts have all the external qualities of romance presented to them on a silver platter!”
Nothing evasive about Mr. Howard!
“When millions of fans are entranced by a gorgeous screen girl, can her hero be a man of iron? He probably should be, I’ll admit. But,” and he suddenly stared piercingly at me, “could you be nonchalant?” I reminded him that he was the interviewee, and he replied he didn’t believe it would be normal to be utterly casual.
Almost finished with “Of Human Bondage,” his first American production since the memorable “Berkeley Square,” he had slipped over to his manager’s office to visit me while his associate at Radio went into a huddle to decide how to wind up the plot.
“If it wouldn’t sound facetious or be a bad pun, I might confess that I myself learned much about women from Hollywood!” Now I was getting somewhere. I urged him to elaborate.
“Well, you see the leading ladies here are super-alluring. Stage heroines, for instance, climb to the top strictly on their acting merits. In the theatre a girl need only be passable as regards her face. The audience’s distance automatically endows her with sufficient glamour. You get what I’m driving at? While one may admire a fine technician, one isn’t struck giddy by her knack for acting.
“Here in Hollywood, surface sex-appeal reigns triumphant. The heroines, thanks to the close-ups, must be positively appetizing. Delectable! The public must literally see why the lady is so enchanting to the hero. More and more sheer ability is counting, but a beautiful personality has so far been an adequate substitute.”
His blue eyes sparkling with constant intensity which is so exclusively his, he warmed to the subject. Alternately he lounged lazily behind a massive desk and then strode vigorously up and down the room. There is a charm about him which is evident in person as on screen or stage.
“It’s all very well and diplomatic to declare that working in movie love scenes is purely business. But if you are a sensitive, emotional person–and you have to be to be an actor–you are predisposed for romance. You remind yourself that you’re acting, but the pretense can start you guessing about your partner’s reactions–if you are bold.
“You say to yourself, ‘Now here’s a person capable of feeling the ardor she pretends for the sake of the story.’ The director orders you to put enthusiasm into your scenes. Ah, it’s a problem–whether you’re sing, or married and in peaceful relationship with your own wife!”
Where high-pressure film affection has frequently led, we know. Few dare to be as frank as Leslie Howard. But Hollywood’s history is high-lighted with cases of screen thrills that wound up in real flame. Off-screen friendships become more serious when the two friends are cast together in love sequences–often. Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone currently, as Garbo and Gilbert in the silent days, exemplify this tendency.
But to return to Mr. Howard’s revelations.
“English screen girls are not so troublesome to the actor,” he continued. “The British fans haven’t been educated up to the high standard of beauty Hollywood has achieved. In London, when they cast a film, they just hire a competent actress and turn her loose on the set. She shifts for herself. The infinite pains taken her to enhance a lady’s looks are not taken there. Consequently, it’s easier on the actor’s conscience in Britain!
“I should interpret this variation thus. In America the film stars have established themselves as the supreme influence. The average girl is impressed by the beauty and the smartness of the Hollywood favorites. There is such competition that every actress has to exert herself to be exceptionally beguiling.
“In England, however, the old social traditions still persist. The society folk, who are proud of their titles and interested in politics, are the arbitrators of the mode. The higher you go in English circles, the less concerned the women are with obvious beauty and chic. The first ladies of the land either go in for political maneuvering or fox-hunting. Neither sport is conducive to plucked eyebrow, golden blonde coiffures, or startling gowns!
“Therefore, British studios don’t fuss with their heroines. Comparatively, Hollywood women are akin to hot-house orchids. The actor’s position? Well, daisies don’t tell and orchids occasionally do! So it all boils down to the man’s choice. He can get involved, or–he can’t!”
This struck me as the appropriate minute to interrogate Mr. Howard as to how he classifies himself. Although he blandly states that he is forty, makes no secret of having been married to the same wonderful wife for nineteen years, and shows you photographs of his two idolized children, feminine fans have not ceased to speculate about his love-life.
He threw me one of his most subtle glances and remarked, “I was fortunate in having passed my impressionable years on the stage.”
When I was so bold as to ask if he’d ever regretted he wasn’t the Gable type he amazed me by answering, “Oh, absolutely! Not in recent years, for I realize every person is blessed with unique characteristics which will appeal to some.
“But when I was in my ‘teens I envied the husky lads with all my heart! I was one of those people who mature slowly. I developed tardily as an individual. I was horribly shy. Mass beliefs didn’t convince me and I was afraid to stick up for my own ideas.
“Then, also, I was always in love, and that tended to depress me. The objects of my adoration were uniformly pretty and popular creatures. So you see I must have been slated for a Hollywood future long before I even planned to be an actor! In the interests of truth,” he observed with a smile, “I must inform you that I got nowhere with the girls during the ‘teens decade. When I’d mustered up the nerve to request one of ’em to take a walk, a dashing fellow had cut in on me and in less time than it takes to tell I was the forgotten suitor.”
At twenty-one, just as he was drafted from his insurance clerkship into the army, he met the pretty girl who wise enough to comprehend the fineness that lurked beneath his bashful exterior. It was love at first sight and they lost no precious time in hastening to a parson. Their happiness is proof that a whirlwind courtship can weather the years.
After the World War, the bitter realities of the battlefields having taught him to demand his own heritage from life, Leslie Howard tackled his suppressed desire–the stage. Inhibitions gradually were conquered as he painstakingly rose to fame of an international scope.
He refers to Mrs. Howard as “The Indespensable.” That she truly has been; an ideal wife and a splendid mother. Never an actress and ambitious only for him, she has built her life around his welfare. Because he is child-like in his extraordinary simplicity and trustiness, her business acumen and habit of protecting him from chiselers has been no small help toward his success.
A master of romance on screen and stage, a contented husband, his statement that romance and marriage do not mix is provocative.
“I have gone in for romance in my acting. It intrigues me as much as it intrigues theatre-goers. And yet I find it incompatible with a happy marriage!” All along we’ve been reading that one should retain that romantic air, nourish it assiduously, to hold love!
“The essence of romance is sex appeal,” according to Leslie Howard’s logic. “If you want perpetual romance, you’d better avoid matrimony! It’s like firing a gun. Romance flares just as a bullet shoots out of the barrel. At first the thrill is overpowering. But it is bound to diminish and, eventually, to cease.
“There has to be much more for marriage. There is an impetus of mutual attraction, surely, but other things have to enter it. Respect, for example. Common bonds of ideals, a sympathy with your mate’s ambitions and desires. Family ties. Familiarity–which is not romantic!
“I’m not denying that romance, the spell of the unusual and glamorous, isn’t fun. It is tantalizing. That’s why screen lovers are continually on the spot. They are apt to hop from the comfortable frying-pan of permanent marriage into the fire!”
Mr. Howard, furthermore, does not deny that he’s been on the so-called spot himself, at times. But he always has weighed the consequences and discovered that the love of his wife and children is a possession too dear to risk losing.
He confides that, actually, he grows less and less romantically inclined as the years pass. He says it would be hypocritical to argue one is not tempted, but mentions that he has the marvelous faculty of foreseeing the results. He’s glad he has such clarity of vision!
So far as he is affected, the only kind of person who is romantic is the one who is supremely honest.
“It is honesty, not mere beauty, which makes one exciting. Every man and woman has certain original, rare qualities. Develop these to their utmost and you have a real personality!” Mr. Howard feels deeply about this. Endeavoring to mold yourself to suit everyone is disastrous in his estimation.
“The vital, novel personality is the one inspiring romantic attentions. You don’t have to be mysterious, either. Take Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. To me both are exceedingly romantic, and yet they are opposites. Garbo’s is the lure of the unknown. Miss Shearer is frankness personified. You seem to know all about her at your initial meeting. Still, she is equally captivating as the other woman.
“The reason, of course, is that each has had the bulldog courage to be herself. Neither follows. They have studied themselves, and then have proceeded to scorn imitation. Katharine Hepburn likewise has become a vogue because of her _difference_.”
In referring to Hepburn he recollected when she tried out for a part in his stage version of “The Animal Kingdom.”
“She campaigned for the role Ann Harding did when we filmed it. She unfortunately wasn’t the type. Her individuality hampered her until she had the opportunity to express herself fully. But how clever she was to refuse to alter!”
Shifting his thoughts to his family, he commented, “Mrs. Howard and I didn’t bring the children back with us on this trip. We had to come to some conclusion about them. We couldn’t keep dragging them to and fro, for at their age they have to feel a loyalty to one country. We let them choose, and they voted to stay in England.
“No doubt it’s the environment they’re in that determined them. They’re too young to enjoy Hollywood’s social life and the unexcelled California climate. The sheltered, rural home we have over there is their notion of heaven. It’s really the exact converse of Hollywood. The neighbors are plain farm people. And they have fabulous conceptions of actor’s doings!
“I don’t get on at all with school-masters there. I’m sure children should be allowed their own integrity. Regular schools treat them as so many sausages. I worry considerably about my son, who is fifteen. They pound such conventional tripe into his head that I have to spend all his vacations saving him!
“He’s shy, as I was, and can be mislead into doing what he’s told rather than what he wants. I wouldn’t let my daughter, who is nine, begin school until this year. Then I put her in a very modern school where children plan for themselves. I needn’t bother about her! She’s already bento on being a personage. No one could subdue her!” He ended on a rapturous note.
Planning to divide his future between his native London and America, he will do several starring pictures for Warners. Late in the summer he will start for London to put a new play in rehearsal. Settled in the Elsie Janis place in Beverly Hills again, the Howards have introduced a suavity in entertainment that makes bids to their parties a mark of the highest local prestige.
Money to them is a means for doing what they want, however. They reject such stellar trimmings as chauffers and propose to ignore the dictates of the gaudier element in Hollywood.
“Yes,” the star of stars drawled whimsically as we parted, I realize I’m lucky to be an actor. It’s an excuse to get out of the every-day rut. All actors are suspected of being slightly crazy, you know, so we can escape conformity without being too severely criticized!”
In my book wherein are treasured sentiments of the notable, Leslie Howard has penned his autograph, prefacing it with this phrase: “In the hope that you will not make public all your knowledge of me!”
A superb interviewee. And I haven’t, Mr. Howard, now have I?
(Screenland, April 1934)