Leslie Howard tells you about “the unhappiest woman in Hollywood” (1933)

Leslie Howard tells you about “the unhappiest woman in Hollywood”

By Isabel Myddleton

Asking Leslie Howard a question is like dropping a stone into a still pool. As a stone creates ring upon ring in the water, so a question creates thought upon thought in the brain of Leslie Howard, and, as the ripples in the water go on and on, so he will talk on and on, from one subject to the next.
Then, suddenly, he will glance up at you–for he talks with his eyes on the ground most of the time–smile that famous smile that has launched so many films and plays on their long and successful run, and be silent.
This makes talking to Leslie Howard exciting and intensely interesting. It is not until you have left him that you realize he has told you practically nothing about himself; that however deeply you may seek to solve the riddle of this young man who has all the film world at his feet, you can never get very far. For Leslie Howard just “does a Garbo.” Not in the accepted sense of that term. He never runs from photographers. He grants you interviews with the greatest courtesy. He answers your questions. But he answers them with a far-away look in those blue eyes of his–eyes that can be so dreamy and yet so alert–that you feel there is something behind his answers that you will never know; that he is seeing deeper and farther than you; that the real Leslie Howard is always withheld from you.
For Leslie Howard seems to live in a world of dreams and thoughts all his own. These dreams in which he wraps himself are his armour against which your leading questions slant off like arrows and all the adulation and hero-worship that would have swamped any ordinary young man leave him quite untouched. This armour has kept Leslie Howard from being spoiled, has prevented him from “going Hollywood.” He is one of the “untouchables.”
All this is why Leslie Howard is such a delightful young man and the most popular hero on the screen to-day. For he combines an elusive, unknown quality with natural charm–a combination which is irresistible to men and to women alike.

It was down at Elstree, where he was busy on The Lady is Willing, that I first met the world’s most popular screen hero. He wore a grey lounge suit. He is tall and thin, and has a long and pale and sensitive face. His hands are slender and white and shout to the world that he is an idealist, a dreamer and an artiste. Those hands give him away!
He smiled, shook hands with me, and said, “it is nice of you to ‘beard’ me like this.” Then he laughed. “I have to ‘beard’ myself in a few minutes–for my rôle in The Lady is Willing. I wear a beard. It makes me look an awful ‘nanny goat’!”
“How do you like filming in England after Hollywood?” I asked, dropping my first “stone” into the pool of Leslie’s mind.
A grey, cold wind that matched the grey, cold day, rattled the windows of Leslie’s dressing-room as I spoke.
He sighed.
“I love England, of course. It is the only place in the world–but not for picture-making–yet, at any rate. To begin with, the weather is so often grey and depressing; it weighs down your spirits–especially early in the morning when you have a long and tiring journey through traffic out to the studio. By the time you arrive some of your zest has gone.
“But Hollywood is, climatically, ideal for picture-making. Over there there is sunshine and warmth and the vision of soft green mountains to whip your enthusiasm as you drive to your studio early in the morning. You cannot fail to arrive full of the joy of living, full of enthusiasm. That is, of course, if you feel at all–and all film artistes do that, or they could not register the emotions necessary for their screen work… Or unless you have the wrong angle on Hollywood. Ann Harding has this. To her the mountains and the sunshine are not beautiful at all. She is the unhappiest woman in Hollywood. She has suffered so much and deeply that she feels that not people, but Fate itself is against her. She has had some hard ‘breaks’ that make her feel that way…”

Leslie Howard paused, looked up and smiled his famous smile.
“Yes, Hollywood is better for picture-making,” he said, jerking back to my original question.
“You know Ann Harding well?”
“Yes,” Leslie sighed again. “Ann has been by friend for many years. She is a most charming person and very artistic. She would rather act in a play she thought was good, in a tiny theatre that holds about twenty people, than play in a show that she felt was less artistic but more popular in appeal. Ann is like that. She is terribly sensitive, too.
“In Hollywood everything is a business–even being artistic. Ann can’t see it like that. In consequence her pictures never please her; she is never satisfied with her own work because she is always eager to progress farther and quicker than is humanly possible. She gets impatient with herself. Then even Hollywood’s sunshine seems grey and the lovely countryside is blinded from her sight by the feeling that Fate is against her.
“Ann’s domestic trouble upset her very deeply, too. She is so sincere that when anything or anyone in her world is proved less sincere than herself–and, believe me, this is a very high standard to live up to–she is beaten by an overwhelming disillusion. That is a hard thing to fight–and Hollywood isn’t the place in which to forget disillusion easily. Especially when success in work alone are but ‘bare bones’ to you, as they are to Ann. Success in living also means much to her. And circumstances have not been kind.

“Now Ann has a new contract and, where I know she will add fresh success to her already long list, I hope she will find happiness also.”
Leslie Howard was silent, thinking, no doubt, of the sad-faced Ann with the pale, lovely hair, the tragic eyes and the wistful mouth; Ann who goes from artistic success to artistic success, the unhappiest woman in Hollywood…
I asked him what he thought of Heather Angel, our tiny British star who recently went over the “herring pond” to win fresh laurel and to play opposite him in Berkeley Square.
Heather is a delightful little person. Dainty and sweet and quiet. I only hope they won’t try to make her a ‘second Janet Gaynor.’ Se isn’t the type. Small and dark–there the likeness ends. Janet is alert and provocative and pert; Heather’s charm lies in her quietness and her demureness. She is a different, but equally attractive type if treated in the right manner.
“As for our other British stars who have recently gone to Hollywood, they have hardly been tested out yet. We shall have to see.
“But the difference between most British and American girls is very marked. Every American girl, whether she is pretty or plain, is what I might call ‘sex conscious,’ and it is this element that ‘gets over’ on the screen the whole world through.
“English girls are, as a rule, ‘jolly good sports,’ and–well, ‘jolly good sports’ may be attractive in real life but the camera doesn’t reproduce them too kindly.”

At this point a large and inquiring face appeared round the door of Leslie Howard’s dressing room; said, “Excuse me,” and “What about your beard, Mr. Howard?”
“It takes half an hour,” said Leslie Howard.
“You are wanted on the set in twenty minutes,” said the inquiring face reproachfully.
“Then I may be late,” said Leslie Howard. The far-away look was in his eyes again. The inquiring face obviously knew this look for it waited at the door. Leslie Howard stood up.
“Beards!” he said. “Oh, well…” He held out his hand. ” I am afraid I haven’t told you very much,” he added, and I realized that I had really heard very little indeed about Mr. Howard…
I left him standing dreamily in the middle of his dressing-room. I wonder how long that beard took him to put on? I wonder if he was thinking, as I was thinking, of a sad-faced woman with honey-pale hair–the unhappiest woman in Hollywood?

(Film Pictorial, September 30, 1933)