Leslie Howard Just Folks At Christmas (1934)
Leslie Howard Just Folks At Christmas
Famous actors are just folks, after all. They save their Christmas shopping until the last second, too. Or at least Leslie Howard does. At one o’ clock the day before Christmas he was dashing out to “buy a couple of Christmas presents.” But he was much too polite to “dash” until the friendly chat was brought to a graceful end, some time longer than the five requested minutes. None of the adulation from playgoers and the adoration of movie audiences has at all changed this young man. He is as charmingly himself and as unaffected as one’s best friend, met again after a few years of separation. We know all this has been said before, but it did our heart good to find out for ourselves just how spontaneous he can be. He nodded now and then to someone passing thru the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, but was entirely alert to the questions of his interrogators, and entirely at ease and frank in his answers.
Doubtless the sales girl (ah, their golden opportunities–the little shopgirl’s reactions to life, indeed!) who sells him these trinkets for his family will be so overcome at the honor that he’ll have to carry them to New York minus the appropriate wrappings. For no one would fail to recognize him. Unless he dons the goggles. And he should for when he glanced across the room for his companion he squinted like a little boy. It adds enormously to his boyishness, that other evidence of being like the rest of us, and only wearing the disfiguring glasses when absolutely necessary.
As his new play, “The Petrified Forest,” by Robert E. Sherwood, opened Monday at the Shubert Theatre in Boston, he took the midnight train to New York to spend Christmas day with his wife, son and little Leslie, his daughter, who everyone knows is his greatest enthusiasm, flying back Christmas afternoon, for another performance Tuesday night. A few hours is better than being away all of Christmas day. His family have been in New York a day or two. Came over for the holidays. His boy has been going to school in England but there is a change of plans afoot and he may be tutored for a time and enter one of the universities here. We persisted about the son because we’d heard so much about little Leslie. Oh, yes, he was a quiet fellow, more interested in writing than acting. Something of a poet but nothing published. Didn’t believe in spoiling a talent.
Mr. Howard had never been in Boston previously on Christmas. But indeed yes, he had heard of the unique celebration native to Beacon Hill. And he hoped before the evening performance to find a few minutes to run across the corner of the Public Garden and mingle with the carol-singing throngs. Of course any of the open houses would be thrilled to entertain so distinguished a visitor. But he’d prefer to quietly look on, and enjoy other people’s enjoyment. Might make him a little homesick for his home in England. A little wistfully he admitted he had no real home here. But he likes American audiences, and one got the impression that he wasn’t being merely tactful in saying it for he’s the sort who would like everyone in his unostentatious way.
He is thinking of taking “The Petrifed Forest” to England later. His part in the play is quite different from anything he’s done, hitherto, and almost entirely removed from the real action of the play. He says, “Exactly the right sort of play. Has everything an audience will like in it. Altho it is melodramatic in tone, has plenty of humor and action.”
He is ready to talk about the play, his family, Boston and anything one might suggest, except himself. Just switches the subject, in his quick way. And he never “acts” when he talks. Slouches at ease in his corner of the davenport. His light, bantering tone is more the one he uses in conversation. And his chuckle is superbly natural. As to appearance, he is far better looking at close range than one could hope. His hair is entirely gold, but his eyes are brown instead of the expected blue. He was pleased to have us notice his famous hat, which he wore on the back of his head in “Of Human Bondage”. Had bought it some seven years ago in St. James Street in London. When we inquired what he would do when finally it fell apart, “Get another. I suppose. And hope it will be as lucky.” And he clapped it on his head and joined his “bodyguard” to join the last minute Christmas shoppers.
Mildred F. Brown
(Lewiston Evening Journal – December 29, 1934)