Quotes From Books
I have gathered here short excerpts from various books. The sources are rather different in style, reliability and importance. Some of these books contains more passages about Leslie Howard; I have made a very subjective choice.
On 25 October 1929 appeared in New Haven the British actor Leslie Howard, for the première of that magnificent play Berkeley Square. At about five o’clock I went over to the theatre and found Leslie and the whole company in a state of feverish excitement. I invited him to take dinner with me and the undergraduate Pundits at six o’clock. One of the actresses exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mr. Phelps, do take him! It will do him good. He is not needed here any more and it will refresh him before he goes on the stage.’ In the presence of the undergraduates he seemed to forget the imminent ordeal. He was a delightful dinner companion and so captivated the students that they elected him an honorary Pundit.
We went from the dinner to the theatre; the play had an enormous success and ran for a year in New York. I particularly enjoy fourth dimension plays like this and Outward Bound and Hotel Universe and Lost Horizons.
William Lyon Phelps, Autobiography with Letters, Events in 1929-1930, Oxford University Press, 1939, p. 842
Terrible news in the paper. The Germans shot down over the Atlantic the airliner aboard which Leslie Howard was a passenger. All Broadway is mourning this magnificent actor as if he were a close relative. I knew Howard, whose family was of Hungarian extraction, only from his films. But at one time M. [Molnar] saw a good deal of him. This was in America in 1928, and later in Berlin. The last time he saw him was in a joint in Berlin. Along toward dawn three of them were sitting at a corner table: M., Leslie Howard, and Anna May Wong, the Chinese actress. Howard whispered in M.’s ear: ‘I see you’re surprised; that’s good guessing, because in the time we’ve been sitting here I’ve fallen in love with Anna May Wong. But don’t worry; I’ll be over it in an hour.’ The three of them sat there for a long time, eating and drinking beer. Finally Leslie Howard looked at his watch, and said with a sigh of relief, ‘I was right; it’s over.’
Ferenc Molnar; Barrows Mussey: Companion in Exile: Notes for an Autobiography. London, W.H. Allen, 1950, p. 263
A farewell lunch with Gilbert at Simpson’s, just as wonderful as when Gregory an I ate our first London dinner. Leslie Howard came over to the table. He was leaving soon for New York to do a production of Hamlet.
“Who’s your Ophenia?” asked Gilbert.
“I haven’t one.” Leslie looked at me. “I don’t suppose you‘d want to play it?”
“No.” What a horse’s-ass thing to say! Was it the diffident way Leslie put it? Leslie was always diffident. Was it because he seemed to take it for granted I wouldn’t? Mid-September and only a faint hope of The Country Wife. Too late to say yes to Elizabeth Bennet, why not say yes to Ophelia? My day to be a horse’s ass!
Ruth Gordon: My Side. New York, Harper & Row, 1976, p. 343
Looking bedraggled and feeling very damp, I arrived at the studio at ten, to find I was expected to go at once to the home of Leslie Howard for work on Southern accent. I went.
The house, in Beverly Hills, is modest and unpretentious and I had expected a glamorous, imposing residence that looked like a movie set. But once inside, I was charmed.
The living room which is two steps down from the hallway, was decidedly English in appearance, with its beamed ceilings, ivory walls and masculine furnishings. A log fire warmed the room and made it the cozier. On the walls were etchings and prints in natural wood frames and books which looked as if they had often been read filled a recessed book case opposite the fireplace; a baby grand piano stood open and the whole room had an air of good taste and modest luxury that was heart-warming.
A soft-cushioned couch upholstered in cream faille stood near the fireplace and before it was a black-walnut table with cigarette boxes, two pipes, matches and two bowls of smoking tobacco.
The rug was a pale green and there was a large easy chair in darker green, while the dull colors of the room were complemented by the black and henna design of the taupe draperies at the windows.
Mr. Howard’s maid explained that he would be down in a moment and she brought me a cup of coffee while I waited. She pulled aside the brass fender and urged me to warm my feet; then she stood and talked to me of Gone With the Wind.
She is Scotch, she explained, and to her Gone With the Wind had a peculiar appeal; for she lost a brother in the World War in 1916. Another brother is in the hospital in Edinburgh as a result of shell shock and many cousins and uncles were killed in the war. Therefore, she felt a vast sympathy for the South and the trials the Southern people suffered after the War Between the States.
She expressed, also, great pleasure that Mr. Howard is to play Ashley for she thinks Ashley was a gentleman and she is sure Mr. Howard is one. In fact, she is a complete refutation of the old statement that a man cannot be perfect in the eyes of a valet, for she thinks Mr. Howard is the finest gentleman in the world.
Susan Myrick: White Columns in Hollywood: Reports from the GWTW sets. Mercer University Press, 1982.
… Dîner avec Konni, Magnus, Miro, Goslar. – “Parties”: avec Erika, chez le peintre Kaufmann (un Rhénan). Beaucoup de gens très sympathiques (par exemple les Vollmer); les tableaux au mur ne sont pas mauvais. – Retrouvé Magnus et les deux Reinhardt dans un bar russe. (J’y ai également salué Tchélitchev.) Party chez Helen Deutsch, avec Leslie Howard, qui est très sympathique, Kurt Weill, Clifford Odets — que je n’ai pas reconnu tout d’abord, et qui reste toujours très sérieux- Emil Ludwig – qui imite très drôlement Gerhart Hauptmann, etc.
Klaus Mann, Journal: Les années brunes, 1931-1936. Paris, Grasset, 1986
Leslie would come in every so often with a word or two. From then on, Leslie got a taste for directing. He could move easily from being a star to being a co-director. He was the most charming man I’ve ever met but he was always late. One was boiling with anger, and yet he did it continually.
You’d say to yourself, ‘I’ll thell him what I think of him this time because he’s really buggered up the whole afternoon.’ And he’d come in and put his arm out and say, ‘I am just dreadfully sorry’ and come out with some long story of whom he met and how he was detained and within five minutes one had forgiven him everything.
He preferred doing movies to the stage, which in those days was an extraordinary thing to hear. I remember him saying, ‘Look, it will probably take me three runs to get this,’ and he’d go at one of Shaw’s long speeches with a real attack and speed and he was talking so fast that he was tripping over the words. About the third or fourth time he’d get it perfectly. Wonderful nerve and verve. In those days people just didn’t talk as fast as that.
He was so good at reactions that he made it very difficult for me as the cutter. You could have played practically the whole shot on his close-up, running the dialogue of the other people on him, he was so good at it. He knew all about stillness. He just looked at the other person.
Sometimes I’d watch him on the set and I’d think, ‘Well, you’ve gone too far. You’re doing absolutely nothing.’ See him on the screen, see that same shot in close-up – it’s riveting, because he’s concentrating and thinking. He was always more interesting than the person who was talking.
David Lean, in Kevin Brownlow: David Lean: A Biography. London, Faber & Faber, 1997, p. 124-125
After your 1934 début, you returned to the screen in 1942 and made three films in a row, all for Leslie Howard. How influential a figure was he in your career? – Oh, he taught me everything I knew about filmmaking. I got on very well with him and luckily he didn’t want to get into bed with me, as he did with quite a few people he worked with. I was playing Mrs. Mitchell in First of the Few. Leslie made me realise that the only thing which matters when you are filming is what you are thinking and feeling, because it will all show in your eyes. Leslie was an actor before he became a director and he saw things from an actor’s point fo view, but a lot of directors merely looked upon actors as being inconvenient bits of furniture.[…]
The Gentle Sex is officially co-directed by Leslie Howard and Maurice Elvey. What did that mean in practice? – It was directed by Leslie. He was an extraordinary character; I suppose one would call him amoral. He just did what he enjoyed doing.[…] Leslie’s mistress, Violette, died while we were making the film and Leslie was devastated. He asked Maurice Elvey to finish the film. I had never heard of Elvey but everyone in the studio said, ‘Oh no, that terrible man!’ He was a very pompous little man who had made a lot of indifferent films before the war.
Leslie went off to Lisbon while we were making The Lamp Still Burns, and he was shot down on the way back.
Rosamund John in Brian McFarlane: An Autobiography of British Cinema. London, Methuen, 1997, p.329
Peggy Conklin, the young actress playing the ingénue role, was very curious about this star playing opposite her. “Esther, do you know Leslie Howard?” she asked.
“I’ve seen him in plays and movies, of course,” I said. “And my sister introduced us at a party once. He’s absolutely divine.” The next day, Leslie finally showed up, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a snap brim hat and long hair–something only English actors had in those days. He was 41, but seemed much younger to me.
Peggy was not impressed. “I don’t think he’s so attractive,” she said.
“You just wait,” I told her.
By then, Peggy had memorized most of her lines. Leslie was still reading his, so he was looking down at the script most of the time. When Peggy (as Gabrielle) asked, “Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me, Alan?” Leslie suddenly looked up at her and replied, “Yes, Gabrielle, I would like to be loved by you.” Something about the way he said it caused Peggy to just gasp and run off the stage.
“Oh Esther, now I know what you’re talking about!” She’d been completely bowled over by a bolt of sex appeal he’d thrown at her.
[…]Once Peggy got to know Leslie, she didn’t really like him, but other women continued to find him attractive. During the second act of the play I had to scream off-stage because the gangster were supposed to be bothering me in the kitchen. While I was listening intently for my cue, Leslie would sometimes sneak up and playfully put his arms around me. What electricity! It was great fun to be working with such a marvelous actor.
Leslie hated all those screaming fans at the stage door, so he figured out a way to get from the back of our theater, on 44th Street, into the back of the Plymouth Theatre on 45th Street. Sometimes he’d ask me, “Are you walking home tonight?” If I answered, “Yes,” he’d say, “Well, let’s escape out the back way and walk together.” We’d sneak through the stage door of the Plymouth, then walk up to my apartment on 51th Street. Leslie always kept the brim of his hat down as he continued on to his hotel on 55th Street.
Esther Leeming Tuttle: No Rocking Chair For Me: Memoirs of a Vibrant Woman Still Seeking Adventure. iUniverse, 2004, p. 38-39
[Moss] Hart, still a wide-eyed observer of the Broadway scene in the late 1920s, records the guest list for a typical “tea party” (a comic euphemism for a drinkathon) at the Kaufmans’: Ethel Barrymore, Harpo Marx, Heywood Broun, Edna Ferber, Helen Hayes, George Gershwin, Alfred Lunt, Alexander Woollcott, Leslie Howard, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Herbert Bayard Swope. More or less the same group might have assembled another day at Woollcott’s country place in Vermont, or the uptown studio of the artist Neysa McMein, or even at a rented place in the south of France.
James Traub: The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square, Random, 2007, p. 63-64
Callow: […] We were averaging eighteen to twenty hours a day. I’m talking about the assistant directors specifically. You see, at night when you say, “Wrap it up,” as soon as the grips and the electricians have cables wrapped up on the set they are through, but when the A.D. gets back to camp, he’s got about two hours office work to do. On Gone With the Wind we did the same thing. In addition, we’d have all those damn meetings with Selznick. Eric Stacey and I broke our ass for Victor Fleming. And when we finished the picture, he walked right off the set without saying good-by, and so did Gable. The only one–the most effusive–was Olivia de Havilland; and Leslie Howard was one, if you want to know the truth.
Behlmer: There was some talk at the time that Leslie Howard wasn’t always prepared in his lines during Gone With the Wind.
Callow: No, that is not true; I’ve never known him not to have his lines. You know, Leslie Howard had a lot of trouble. His wife weighed about three hundred pounds. She didn’t come with him from England, but he had a very lovely French secretary named Violet Cunnington who was with him all the time. She later was blown to pieces in an air raid in London during the war. Leslie was marvelous–in fact, he used to say, “Reg, what are you doing for lunch today?” “I’m going across to the greasy spoon.” He would say, “Look, Violette,”–he called her Violette, I called her Violet–“has brought a wonderful luncheon basket; why don’t you come up and have lunch with me?” I liked to go because he always had a bottle of wine; so I used to go up to his dressing room quite frequently. He was the only one in the cast who would do that.
Rudy Behlmer: Shoot the Rehearsal!: Behind the Scenes with Assistant Director Reggie Callow. Scarecrow Press, 2010, p. 42, 48
But perhaps the most memorable encounter of all during that whirlwind tour was with the legendary Bette Davis. People had been so generous to me during my trip that I asked Paramount if they would let me host a cocktail party the night before I left to say thank you. My new friends, the wonderful theatrical couple Jessica Tandy (who went on to win an Oscar at the age of eighty-two for Driving Miss Daisy) and Hume Cronyn, askded if they could bring Bette Davis along. I could hardly believe what I was hearing and when the evening came, I couldn’t wait to introduce myself to her. ‘You know,’ she said, in that unmistakeable drawl, ‘you remind me of the young Leslie Howard.’ I’d heard this before but this was from Bette Davis! She went on, ‘Did you know that Leslie screwed every single woman in every movie he made – except me?’ I had heard this, I said. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I was not going to be just one on a list of conquests – but when I look at you I was just wondering what difference it would have ever made if I had.’ She sounded almost wistful.
Michael Caine: The Elephant to Hollywood. Hodder & Stoughton, 2010, p. 99