Leslie Howard Story Bland (1982)
Leslie Howard Story Bland
In Search of My Father by Ronald Howard, St. Martin’s Press. $11.95
By Margot Dee Kunkel
Just say the name Leslie Howard and women of any age inevitably gasp a wistful sigh of appreciation for his affectionate warmth and apparent understanding. Didn’t he stand for all that was noble and romantic, with love and kindness in his soulful limpid eyes? Isn’t that what we saw in “Gone With the Wind?”
Regardless of the many other roles he played on stage and screen, Howard was remembered for Ashley Wilkes or the professor in “Intermezzo.” His untimely and tragic death at the age of 50 in an unsolved plane crash during World War II was a blow to theatrical culture and to his many friends.
Leslie Howard was also a nice guy in real life, according to his son and biographer, Ronald Howard. Because he was such a private person, little gossip or highly charged events, other than his dramatic demise, are recorded here in this bland and dry narrative of his career.
Although Howard tried to hide it, his love affair with Violette, which nourished his emotional life, was probably his most passionate experience. He was utterly devastated when she died.
With no desire for a divorce, for he did love his wife, Ruth, and family, he had managed somehow to maintain both relationships. According to his son, his mother was responsible for the serenity. Understanding Leslie’s need for Violette, she had decided years before that she would rather have “half,” remain silent and keep his loyalty.
Ronald Howard tried to explain why his father was killed, and he feels certain that the plane was shot down, because Leslie was suspected of being an enemy agent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sensing the danger, he objected strenuously to making the diplomatic trip to Spain and Portugal where he had been requested to give literary lectures in 1943, the author says. The supreme tragedy lay in the fact that at the last minute Howard changed his return flight for the preceding day. Three passengers were pulled off to accomodate him and the rest is history.
Ron Howard esteemed his fater as did everybody else. He had no enemies. In fact, Ron likened him to the fictional Ashley Wilkes, a character Leslie abhorred as being “a dreadful milksop, totally spineless and negative.” Howard never saw himself as a parallel, but others did.
Carefully documented by his son, the book is paced much like the life of the subject. Missing are the emotional expressions one would expect from so colorful a figure. Absent are the daily ups and downs that must have been part of family life, life with a man who was devoted to another woman.
A genius in his profession, equally skilled in acting and directing, Leslie Howard showed no interest in elusive glitter that surrounded him, preferring the quiet unruffled scene. His son has told it as it was.
(The Pittsburgh Press, February 23, 1982)