Leslie Howard Fears the Film Fame Which Makes Hollywood Heroes Idols for an Hour (1936)

Camera Angles on Film Folk

Leslie Howard Fears the Film Fame Which Makes Hollywood Heroes Idols for an Hour, and He Says Movie Making Isn’t Fun for the Actor

by Mildred Martin

A matinée idol’s existence does not appeal to Leslie Howard. In fact, he is suspicious of the sort of popularity that brings admiring throngs to the stage door at the Forrest every night. Like the Danish Prince he portrays so movingly in his own magnificent production of “Hamlet,” Mr. Howard believes the play’s the thing.

“I like to think people go to a play or a picture for the same reason they have always gone,” said Mr. Howard, running his fingers through his blond hair and adjusting his shell-rimmed spectacles as he talked to interviewers in his suite at a mid-city hotel. “They go to see a good play, well mounted and fairly well performed–not, I hope, just to see some actor. If they don’t get this, they say ‘To —- with it,’ and the next time they stay away.
“I don’t even like to consider the other sort of thing. It is too brief, too unreal and too dangerous. I’ve been scolded sometimes for not pandering more to it. But I just can’t believe in it.”

The directness, the simplicity, the complete lack of affectation that is Leslie Howard’s speak more eloquently for his artistic integrity than can any words. Pose is not for him despite his long association with Hollywood. Nor is afternoon tea when he’s in America. If matinée idols there must be, here at least and at last is one who shows no feet of clay, no mental paralysis, when met informally.

How does Mr. Howard look to himself on the screen? “Well, you have to get used to that,” he smiled “just as you must get used to the way your voice sounds when you first hear it projected form a record or a film.”

As for acting in pictures, Mr. Howard says it isn’t any fun at all for the actor. “The actor’s reward, if any, comes later when all the little bits have been put together. Then, if he has done a good job, he gets his reward. The only person who gets any immediate satisfaction out of film-making,” continued Mr. Howard, “is the director.”

It doesn’t take many minutes, listening to the actor-author-producer-director, to realize that his present production of Shakespeare’s greatest play is the culmination of years of study, a tenderly nursed ambition–a real labor of love. Momentary success, a “smash hit,” are not what Mr. Howard hopes for. He wanted to play Hamlet and he is playing Hamlet–superbly, though he claims still to be far from satisfied with his own performance. He trusts they make “break even,”… the expenses of the production are heavy… but as for making a fortune out of this venture, that is an idea he has never even entertained or considered.

The present production, however, may prove a gold mine at that. With any kind of success, the newly founded British film company, of which Mr. Howard and Dudley Murphy are the heads, may beat all the Hollywood studios, which have for year been “flirting”–Mr. Howard’s term–with the idea, to a screen version of “Hamlet.”

Having held out for a year against playing Romeo–“a bad part and one for which I was not fitted,” he says–Mr. Howard has no such qualms about attempting “Hamlet” on the screen. He also intends to play “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in films, though he doesn’t believe the Stuart struggle in Scotland can be summed up in one character any more than can our Civil War. It was suggested he read “Gone With the Wind” at this point.

Both stage and screen are definitely “out” for the Howard children, Ronald and Leslie Ruth. “You know how it is,” their father sympathetically explained. “Children brought up in a certain environment develop a natural defense against it. Ruth at first was anxious to appear with me when we did “Dear Brutus” on the radio. Then her heart failed her and she wanted to get out of it. I think she enjoyed the pleasant things said about her performance, but she isn’t interested in acting now. She is happily settled at school in England.”

Mr. Howard’s son is, according to his father, equally un-stage and screen-minded. He wants to write and is at present going through the poetic stage at Cambridge where being a poet, he recently failed grandly in mathematics.

Deftly sidestepping nominating his favorite role, Mr. Howard said he believes “The Scarlet Pimpernel” was the most universally popular; Philip in “Of Human Bondage” the one most exciting for him, and Alan Squier in “The Petrified Forest” the most static.
“But Hamlet,” said Mr. Howard, “is active, both physically and mentally. Each time I play it I feel as though I had had a vigorous workout.”

(The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 29, 1936)