Lovers Three – What Have They Got? [Gable, Novarro, Howard] (1934)

Lovers Three – What Have They Got? [Gable, Novarro, Howard]

English Gentleman–American He-Man–Latin Lover. Yet figures prove that they are audience sweethearts of more movie-going maidens than any others. Why, since they are so different? This story tells you

By Douglas Gilbert

Clark Gable, Ramon Novarro and Leslie Howard are audience sweethearts of more movie-going maidens than any other tailored trio on the Hollywood lots. Don’t argue with me about Robert Montgomery or Fredric March. I’m citing box-office information straight from the auditors’ statements. It is a fact that most feminine movie-money is spent on the aforementioned threesome.
More curious, indeed astonishing, is the fact that all three are so widely contrasted in type and personality. Here are the great screen lovers you girls rave about, so it must be true. Yet each bears about as much relation to the other as a slice of ham to a filet mignon. Where is the distinct singular preference of yesteryear?
I mean, of course, the old days of the one-star system when Valentino–alone–caressed a harem that was nationwide. Before Rudolph-the-Only, Billy Anderson with his wagon-tongue sinews rallied you gals (who are wives and mothers now) to his manly chest in a voting strength that would re-elect Hoover. I repeat–it is astonishing that the country’s feminine interest should be pooled in a trio of stars whose characteristics are so dissimilar. It is also interesting.


Leslie Howard

Charm is the word for the third of our threesome. I suppose Howard will writhe when he sees this. I can only offer him the alibi that he is giving my term the wrong emphasis. By “charm” I don’t mean clotted cream dripping over a saucer of peaches, that sort of thing. I mean graciousness, a demeanor that is courtly, but withal friendly. I mean that some of the poise by which a man is always above his surroundings but never beyond his guests, or his servants. This is Howard to his faultless cravat. He makes the sporting thing to do the obvious thing to do, without stress, and no condescension.
The man is a master of the impromptu, often driving his colleagues crazy with his ad libbing and gags. It takes a smart cast to pace him. Mostly his casts, as you may have noticed, are smart. Your routine actor, who masters lines and business by rote, has a tough time with him. Let me relate an incident during his last Broadway appearance in “The Animal Kingdom.” In one of his scenes, alone upon the stage, he had to drink a rye highball. I needn’t tell you good readers that a stage “rye highball” carries about as much jolt as cold tea–which, in fact, it is. Well, he’d been gagging the cast to distraction. They saw this bit of business as a chance to out-smart him.
Coming to the wings for his entrance the property man handed him his highball which he was to drink on the stage. No quotes on this one–it was a highball and no foolin’. The cast had jolted it with real rye, two-fingers of dynamite that would have lifted W. C. Fields into the flies. Then they hastened behind the set to various points of vantage where they could watch Howard unseen by the audience. Howard took the drink, drained it, and without batting an eye, turned to the set where he knew the prankers must be stationed and, his back to the audience, raised his glass in a toast to the hidden cast and bowed low.
I suspect that your liking for Howard carries a slight tinge of social elevation. He is British gentry; an admirable box-office foil to Gable, his American country cousin. He knows what a Vanderbilt looks like and can find his way around York house, the domicile of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. But never lets his tony suggestion mar the easy camaraderie of his manner. Unlike Novarro’s appeal, unlike the breezy assurance of Gable, Howard is safe. He means well, his intentions are honorable. He will pay you court with kid glove nicety, while presenting his credentials to your mother.
He represents a manor house on the Sussex downs. Riding breeches, the ‘unt, the ‘ounds and, Twombley, a Scotch and soda. Savage Club, glowing logs, comfort and the refinement of ease by the cheque from Hilary, Hilary & Hilary, barristers rendering their monthly statement.
You are always belles and grand-dames at his films. What a delightful antidote he is to Cagney’s slapping around! He is the ultra exponent of the kiss-you-hand-madame school–a comedian of manners. In his earlier films I sometimes suspected him of a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude, as though he were having himself a time taking you girs over while gathering in a lot of Hollywood dough.
But my first impression must have been wrong. He is a sincere artist, and a great one.
It is an amazing, and a heartening, response you have given him. I should never have suspected that Howard would have captured our girls in such wholesale lots; that you women-folks would have taken up with him. I told you you were softies; that you’d gone romantic. And, by Jove, intelligent.

(The New Movie, December 1934)