The Life Story of Leslie Howard (1939)
The Life Story of Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard was the first member of his family to enter the theatrical profession. His father was a stockbroker, and when Leslie left Dulwich College his first work was as a bank clerk.
His heart was not in his work, however, for he found banking very dull, and having enjoyed amateur theatricals whilst at school, he knew that he would far rather be an actor.
Before he had time to endeavour to carry out this ambition the Great War broke out, and Leslie joined the army. He served with the Hussars, and was invalided out in 1917. He is very reluctant to discuss his activities during the war, passing over the terrible four years with, “When war was declared there was but one thing for a British subject to do, join the army.” And with a shrug he dismisses his part in the greatest combat the world has ever known.
It was during the war that Leslie was married. He had known his wife, Ruth Evelyn Martin, only three weeks when they were married on March 3rd, 1916. He was given an hour’s leave for the wedding, and two charwomen in the church were the witnesses.
The same year that he came out of the army he fulfilled his long-cherished ambition and went out on the stage, beginning with a touring company. He eventually reached success on the London stage. Not content with just acting he busied himself with the production end and also with writing. After a time he went to the American stage and scored his first big hit over there with Katherine Cornell in “The Green Hat.” Other stage plays followed, including “Her Cardboard Lover,” “Berkeley Square,” and “Outward Bound.” It was while appearing in the latter play that he attracted the attention of motion-picture executives, and he was asked to repeat his stage rôle in the talkie version of Outward Bound.
Since that time he has divided his attention between films and the New York and London stages. He has also appeared on the British screen.
His films include Never the Twain Shall Meet, A Free Soul, Daughter of Luxury, Devotion, Service for Ladies, Smilin’ Through, The Woman in His House, Secrets, Captured, Berkeley Square, The Lady is Willing, Of Human Bondage, British Agent, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Petrified Forest, Romeo and Juliet, It’s Love I’m After, Stand-in, and he has recently been seen in Pygmalion.
When Leslie is working on a film it is very rarely that anybody can manage to keep him on the set after four o’clock. When that hour comes around he just disappears, vanishing into thin air. If he has been unsuccessful in making this getaway, he will glance at his watch round about four o’clock and mutter to the director, “I say—I think I’ll dash over and have a spot of tea.”
By this it must not be supposed that Leslie Howard is temperamental: far from it. It is only that he is a little bored by film-making. He loves acting, but he prefers to do it on the stage.
“The stage,” he says, “is the actor’s medium. The actor controls there. But films, why they’re the director’s and the cutter’s, and the electrician’s and the writer’s and everybody else’s medium, and the actor is merely incidental.”
Leslie is always a great favourite in the studio, and he likes having a chat with the technicians and carpenters.
People who do not know him personally are apt to think of him as a very serious man. They ought to see him in the studio, for he is clowning almost incessantly, and is always up to some game or the other.
While making Petrified Forest, for instance, there was hardly ever a serious moment between scenes. He soon had the director and Humphrey Bogart joining in, and there was a succession of “gags.” A good deal of the action of the film took place on a desert set, with the wind machines stirring up great clouds of dust.
During the six weeks filming everybody, actors and technicians alike, had to don dust masks which looked like miniature gas masks.
One day Leslie discovered that if he sang through the snout-like tube of the mask he could make weird music. After that he organised a dust-mask orchestra. He got Humphrey Bogart and the director to join in, and between scenes they would wheeze out most amazing tunes. In the end the studio employees could not make up their mind whether the dust or the music was worse!
It was probably his love of fun and jokes that caused his wife to give him the nickname of “The Little Imp.”
Leslie has a son, Ronald, who was born in 1918, and a daughter, Leslie, about six years younger, both of whom he absolutely adores. Ronald is the living image of his father. He not only looks like him, but also walks and talks like him.
When autograph hunters bear down on Leslie he takes an impish delight in hopping off to a nearby hiding-place, and leaving Ronald to take the shock. From his hiding place father will look out and grin as his son signs the autograph books over and over again.
Leslie is very fond of riding, and his son and daughter often accompany him. He is a splendid polo player. His hobby is photography, and he takes a camera with him wherever he goes. He likes to develop and print his snapshots in his own dark-room.
He spend a good deal of his spare time reading, preferring biographies, historical subjects and Shakespeare. He gives no thought to clothes, considering that comfort is of first importance. He is happiest in the country, when he can run about in shorts, a sport shirt, sandals and a beret. If he has any preference for clothes it is for autumn shades. Almost every tie he owns is brown or red.
He dislikes being interviewed because he is rather shy, but when he does get cornered he is very courteous and endeavours to answer all the questions put to him.
One of his favourite dishes is roast beef, and he is also very fond of eggs. It is not unusual for him to have these three times a day.
Two of his principal characteristics are elusiveness and independence. He absolutely refuses to play rôles for which he believes himself unfitted, no matter how important or remunerative they may be.
He does not collect anything but match-boxes, and he has several hundred different types of these, some in paper, others in wood.
In spite of his love of fun Leslie Howard is usually very quiet at parties. He will often retire into a corner with someone and let the other fellow do most of the talking. Despite the fact that he is a very good pianist it is not often that he can be persuaded to sit down and play.
He is very interested in languages. He can speak English, French and German, but he would like to be able to speak practically every language there is.
He is quite a good artist and often makes quick sketches of his friends. When he first went to New York he and Alfred Lunt attended an art school together.
He has a good luck piece. It is a coin given to him by his wife and he always wears it on a chain round his neck. He never takes the chain and coin off.
Leslie is a London-born man, and it was on April 24th, 1893, that he made his entrance into the world. His real name is Leslie Stainer, and he has blond hair, brown eyes, and is six feet in height.
(Picture Show, January 21, 1939)