Thoughts By Leslie Howard On Love And The Cinema (1937)

Thoughts By Leslie Howard On Love And The Cinema

By Julia Macdonald

LESLIE Howard is turning producer. Even more important is the fact that he plans to make his films in England, mostly with players from the stage, whom Howard feels to have talent, but who have not previously been given any real opportunity on the screen.

Perhaps Gertrude Lawrence will be one of his players, for Howard expressed admiration for the actress’s work when I interviewed him recently,and declared it was a shame that Hollywood did not consider her a ‘picture type.’ The idea of being independent and of selecting his own cast appeals to Howard. He had a taste of this when he produced ‘Hamlet’ in New York,and on an American tour a few months ago. He found the American public surprisingly appreciative of Shakespeare, and he derived so much satisfaction from his role that he would like to do more Shakespearean plays. “But I do not think Shakespeare is suitable for the screen,” Howard confided, seriously. ‘The plays are written with wonderful continuity. The lines flow smoothly. one after another, so that the actor can follow the rhythm of the speeches and so build to the proper climaxes. But it is different before a camera. Shakespeare’s lines were never meant to be chopped up —part of a speech being given one minute and the rest an hour later, when the camera has been placed at a different angle.”I’ll admit that I was pleased with ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ but then its pictorial beauty was one of its chief qualities. No, I did not like myself in it. Of course, I’m not the conventional Romeo—I’m too old for the part to begin with.” Mr. Howard smiled ruefully, “but I had never done any Shakespeare before, and the temptation was strong.”

WE were sitting outside a sound stage at the Warner Brothers’ studio while Howard awaited a call to work in”A Gentleman After Midnight.” Inside crop men were busy laying a table which was to be used in an amusing dining-room sequence, and Olivia de Havilland, Howard’s leading lady in the film, was rushing between her dressing room and the make-up department in last-minute preparations. Outside, the spring sunshine poured down upon us. and Howard relaxed in his deck chair.”How soon will you begin your career as a film producer?” I asked him.”As soon as possible.” he replied, with a slightly worried air. “But first I must finish this film and make one for Walter Wagner. It is called ‘Stand-In’ and is a story about Hollywood. A banker from another city thinks he has film-making down to a science. He has everything figured out on paper, but of course his plans do not turn out quite as he had expected. “Surely you are not going to play the business-like and scientifically minded banker?” Howard grinned. “It does not sound much like me, does it? But, yes, I am going to play the part. It is a comedy, and one enjoys doing something different from the parts usually associated with one. I am usually cast as an impractical dreamer— with very good reason, no doubt. But at the moment Hollywood is being very kind in offering me a wide variety of roles. Take this part I am doing now— a swaggering matinée idol who dramatises every situation and goes around spouting Shakespeare at every opportunity. That’s something I have never done before, and believe me, it is fun.”

*A FEW minutes later I was watching Howard rehearse a scene from the film, and I realised what he meant. There was no doubt that he was enjoying himself. As a famous actor invited to breakfast at the small, suburban home of Olivia de Havilland, he was shocking the straight-laced family by his antics. It hardly seemed possible that this smiling, self-assured comedian was the same shy, sensitive Howard of “The Petrified Forest” and “Of Human Bondage.” Howard was delighted when I told him so.”One cannot be wistful and poetic indefinitely,” he laughed. “And besides, I am trying to get away from all this Great Lover nonsense which is pinned to practically every leading man. It is very embarrassing. When I have my own company I shall stick to character parts exclusively — Bonnie Prince Charlie will probably be one of the first, and then Peer Gynt. “That does not mean that I will exclude romance from my pictures, or that I plan to appear in all of them myself,” Howard continued. “I have always believed that romance is the most important part of a production.Very often you will find that a film stands or falls by the quality of its love scenes.”Having made love to such glamorous women as Kay Francis, Merle Oberon, Norma Shearer, Mary Pickford, and Ann Harding, during the course of his mm career, Howard is recognised in Hollywood as an expert on the subject of love scenes. This experience will prove valuable to him when he is directing his own films.”Fashions in romantic technique are constantly changing,” Howard explained, when I questioned him on the subject. “Nowadays, the public is sophisticated and demands sophisticated entertainment. People dislike anything obvious— an intimate and thoroughly realistic note is called for. The numerous prolonged kisses of the old silent melodramas are no longer in favor, for talking pictures have made audiences more self-conscious. Romance can be suggested in many more subtle ways — a glance, the touch of a hand, or a change of inflection in the voice.”The publicity given to an actor is not nearly as lurid as it was a few years ago. It seems to me that the players are regarded as more human and closer to the public than they used to be. This is probably due to the intimate, casual technique of the screen today, which is so much more realistic than the sighing and frowning of the early films.”

I ASKED Mr. Howard whether his daughter, Leslie Ruth, to whom he is devoted, would appear in any of his films. He shook his head with an air of disappointment, as he explained that, although she had won favorable comment for her performance opposite him in a radio version of ”Dear Brutus,”the little blonde girl who bears such a striking resemblance to her famous father is determined to carve out her own career. She prefers some non-theatrical occupation so that no one can say her father helped her. He hopes that if she does not change her mind about acting she will be a writer. His son, Ronald, who is now attending an English university, has already exhibited talent in this direction, with a book of poems and several short stories to his credit. Leslie Howard, too, has had some success as a writer.One of his plays. “Murray Hill,” was produced on Broadway, and he has written several witty articles for leading American periodicals.

(The Advertiser, Adelaide, SA, June 5, 1937)

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