What He Really Wants (1939)

Molly Castle Knows…

What He Really Wants

Leslie Howard: He means to make English pictures that Americans will like, too

On Sunset Boulevard there stands an abrupt, startled looking skyscraper which seems as out of place among the bungalows and ranchhouses and onestorey shops which Surround it as Leslie Howard does in Hollywood.
Maybe that’s why, when he visits Hollywood, he stays there. In a way they match each other.
They are both tall, efficient, elegant-looking; but they both belong elsewhere.
The skyscraper’s spiritual home is Manhattan Island, on which New York crowds. Leslie is a typical Londoner.
Round the corner from the Sunset Towers — that’s the building’s name—lives Leslie’s agent, which is convenient because Mr. Howard has a lot to fix up at this time.
Of course Leslie’s agent is glad to see him back, but the frenzy which the agent feels over Leslie’s persistent idealism does cause him to tug out some of his already loosening hairs.

Agents think of money in ten percentages. To them it is a row of figures in a bank book.
The more noughts the better until it all amounts to, well, nought.
Money, to an agent, is an end in itself. What it will buy is extremely unimportant.
To Leslie Howard, as to all level-headed people, what it will buy is all. And the most important things are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Leslie has gone through them all in his day, the Hollywood standards. First, it was exciting to be a Hollywood star.
Next it was a thrill to draw more money than ho could spend.
But, at the finish, it didn’t amount to anything more than a means to an end.
The end is this. Leslie wants to make International Pictures. And when you finally get down to what he means by that, you find that he wants to make English pictures which Americans will like.
And not only like, but distribute. And not only distribute, but finance.
” This was my idea,” said Leslie, as we sat fourteen floors above the city sipping coca-colas: ” I wanted to form an independent producing unit, but at the same time I wanted to get an international release.
” I was told that it was impossible to get an American company to guarantee to distribute a picture before it had been made; they wanted to see it first.
” That meant that it had to be made on so small a budget that it wouldn’t lose money if America didn’t take it up. What I hoped for was to get some company not only to guarantee world-wide distribution before the picture was made—but to guarantee their interest by putting up money for the production.
” Everyone said it was a pipe dream, but it’s happened.
” I’ve made a tie-up with RKO. and we are going to start with a subject; which should please both sides of the Atlantic.
” The picture is to be made from a book ten years old in which an American is introduced into an English family, and has all the English family’s problems to tackle.
” Later I would like to do ‘ Hamlet.’
” I don’t want to make a lavish, two-million dollar spectacle.
” The production I plan could be very inexpensive, but I think it would be extremely interesting.
” I have many ideas which I would like to work out in the treatment.
” Later, we might tackle Barrie.”
Leslie Howard’s real interest is in production, writing and directing now, more than in acting. In his new company he’ll take a hand in all these fields. It will also be necessary for him to do some of the acting because he intends to use himself as a bait.
He thinks he’s lucky to have got some drawing power and naturally wants his new company to have all the advantages he can give it.
The international idea works out like this.
He thinks that pictures can be made cheaper and better in England.
Cheaper because there would not be the additional 40 per cent, which is added to the cost of Hollywood pictures for the maintenance of enormous studios and their executives.
Better because London is a centre of culture.
You can get firstrate stars even for small parts, first-rate advice on all matters of art. And music.

(Daily Mirror, January 9, 1939)