Long, Lean and Lovable (1935)
Long, Lean and Lovable
A Chat about Courage as Portrayed by Gary Cooper and Leslie Howard
Women despise cowardice. Conversely, courage, among all masculine characteristics, gains most admiration and applause from the female of the human species, even though she suffer agonies of apprehension when her menfolk display that deliberate disregard of personal danger which we call courage.
Proof abounds that courage, more than anything else, is certain to arouse a sudden flush of emotion and excitement. Frequently this fervid admiration is impulsive applause, superficial and illogical; for it is just as intense when the courage is acted, when the danger is non-existent.
Two of the most popular performances on the screen this year are perfect portrayals of intensely courageous men. They are men who value life as nothing when conscience and duty make their call; men whose every action thrills and stirs the deepest emotion of the heart: Lieutenant William McGregor, of the 41st Regiment of Bengal Lancers, in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Sir Percy Blakeney, baronet, of London’s clubland, in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Both men’s performances make you leave the theatre tingling with excitement and pleasure. Both fill you with a fervour of admiration for men who can so conquer the innate urge of self-preservation. And in both cases, though you may not realize it, the man who has mainly stirred your emotions and extracted your applause is the scenario writer. He has simply been supported by excellent acting.
Leslie Howard and Gary Cooper are both excellent actors, and both are very suitable to portray courageous men. Only in few other points are they alike. They both love horses. They both have been to English public schools. Both have married only once. Both are long, lean, and lovable.
Leslie is the more subtle actor, polished to a degree; Gary is more forthright, with an essentially human quality in his work. Leslie looks precisely right in his exquisite lace and ruffles, whereas Gary looks as if he would be quite at home sitting with your family round the dinner table. Gary would look as out of place in the dandy’s finery of The Scarlet Pimpernel as Leslie did a year or two ago in the Westerner’s check shirt and chaps of Secrets.
Gary is typical of the finest type of young American. Leslie is as little like an average American as anyone could be, with his fascinating dreamy eyes; his lazy, whimsical manner; and his quiet, musical voice, perfectly modulated.
The two men’s careers have been almost as different as their natural make-ups. Courage, mental, moral, and physical has figured prominently in both.
Leslie Howard’s blond locks first enchanted the ladies on April 3rd, 1893. He may be considered a “born actor,” but he certainly was not born into acting. His father was a stockbroker, and Master Howard spent his nursery days among toys bulls and teddy bears, like any other kid. He was a completely normal youngster, and at Dulwich College proved himself an all-round sportsman. When maiden aunts asked him what he was ambitious to become when he left school, he invariably suggested a Surrey and England cricketer and a great writer.
He did neither. Instead he became a bank clerk, with Cox’s Bank. He doesn’t know why, except that his parents thought it a good idea. And it gave him the leisure to amuse himself with an amateur society and with horse-riding. They had been his keenest hobbies for years.
Then the War came, and Leslie went. He joined the cavalry and was attached to the 10th Hussars, with whom he served until, late in 1917, he was discharged as unfit for further service.
On returning to civilian life, the prospect of more banking seemed deadly dull, so, although it meant throwing up a safe and pensionable job, Leslie determined to try his luck as an actor.
Eventually, to keep him off the doorstep, a theatrical agent gave him the part of Jerry in a Peg O’ My Heart touring company, at a salary of £ 5 a week. One or two other tours followed, but he soon obtained a modest start in the West-end, and in 1920 attracted considerable notice in Mr. Pim Passes By. His popularity quickly boomed to exceptional heights, mainly through Her Cardboard Lover, Let Us Be Gay (both with Tallulah Bankhead) and Berkeley Square.
He dashed to and fro between London and Broadway, and built up huge followings in both places. Film offers that came his way were regularly refused, until at last he was tempted by the role of Tom Prior in Outward Bound, which he had played on the stage.
This, though, was not his film début, although you will find it so described in the reference books. Soon after the War he had played the juvenile lead in a British Silent film, The Happy Warrior, made at Croydon studio. It may explain why he refused Hollywood’s bait for so long; he showed a similar distaste for films after making two or three of Hollywood’s most mediocre talkies.
When one of the biggest studios offered him a long-term contract, at quite an attractive salary, he told them bluntly that they would have to guarantee to give him stories of which he approved. The deal fell through, and that studio barred him all round Hollywood on the ground of his so-called obstinacy. No one would give him a job, so he told them some more truths and packed his bags for England.
Here he was immediately signed on for Service for Ladies at £ 500 a week, the first time such a salary had been paid in British films.
Howard went back to New York to produce The Animal Kingdom on the stage there. It was an immediate success, so much so that every film company tried to buy the rights. But here Leslie had the whip hand, and he declined to sell the rights unless the buyer would also engage him as the star. He won, and made the picture with Ann Harding.
When the film was shown the producers swarmed round him like flies, all offering good contracts. But Howard had the courage to stick out for his own terms, which were that he had the final say about stories. Again he won. Leslie Howard’s pre-eminent position to-day is due almost entirely to his wisdom and courage in refusing to sign the contracts offered to him. If he had accepted one of them he would to-day have been just another movie actor.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that that courage will have added £ 150,000 to his earnings by 1945!