Why the Yen for British Men? (1934)

Why the Yen for British Men?

What is the subtle appeal that the Britons have–that has made them the white-haired boys of Hollywood and the favorites of movie-goers the world over? Here’s the answer–about each and every one of them!

By Richard English

With suave bedroom deadliness, Herbert Marshall has stolen Maurice Chevalier’s laurels as the screen’s most sophisticated lover; Leslie Howard has become the idol of the idealist and is rated as the most superb actor of all the cinema heroes; Clive Brook goes his imperturbable way as the most consistently capable leading man on the screen; for the eighth year Ronald Colman retains his garland as the king of romantic charm, and Charles Laughton wins the Academy award for the best performance of 1933! What cinematic crown remains for Hollywood’s home-bred hopefuls? It’s far more than just a “yen” for British men–it’s an avalanche of applause and appreciation and genuine liking!
American actors are acquiring English accents and manners–while the bona-fide Britons are acquiring the fat parts. Why? And above all, WHY are these reserved, taciturn screen lovers the heart-accelerators to fans and stars alike? It has become more and more apparent that the ladies of the screen and the ladies of the audience prefer men who are not so rough and ready–Britons, whose casual approach and subtleties lead to conquests that are unadorned by slaps or endearment with well-aimed grapefruit!
In the case of Leslie Howard vs. all American competition, his shy and grave charm has overwhelmed any possible contenders. Like Charles Laughton, he has brought to the screen superior talent, rather than flashy personality; a great artistry, instead of histrionics. Each and every one of these Englishmen has poise and diction that others envy, but cannot emulate. Ronald Colman’s ironic and bitter charm has not once had a first-rate challenger. New Harry Wilcoxon, who is playing the role of Marc Antony in “Cleopatra,” has Johnny Weissmuller peering dubiously into his mirror.
Whether it’s in physique, poise or personality, these foreign favorites can give many American actors cards and spades and beat them hands down! And Hollywood has learned to take it and like it, as the English dominance has become more and more permanent.

Leslie Howard is the idol of the idealists, the screen's most sensitive lover

Leslie Howard is the idol of the idealists, the screen’s most sensitive lover

[…]

Leslie Howard, Artist

From his first day on the camera coast, Leslie Howard has been a crusader for finer and better pictures. He has consistently refused any binding, long-term contracts, preferring to work on a two- or three-pictures plan in which he selects the pictures. And his selections to date have been infallible. Leslie taught producers that the public could not only understand, but wanted different pictures. Two of his greatest successes have been in “Outward Bound” and “Berkeley Square,” in roles that other actors said were over audiences’ heads. For his performance in “Berkeley Square,” he was runner-up for the Academy award.
The distinction between run-of-the-mill actors and Howard lies in his ability to think out a part and drain it of every convincing emotion. His own personality is so modest as to be practically negligible, but in playing a role Howard creates a new personality, becomes entirely that other man. To play opposite him in “The Animal Kingdom,” Ann Harding accepted a part far below her stellar status, showing what the Hollywood ladies think of the shy man from County Surrey.
Producers and stars gasp at his nonchalance in leaving the screen whenever he finds a stage play he likes. Those who have fought for years to retain a foothold in the land of make-believe cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that Leslie Howard leaves the screen when he pleases and returns at his leisure to garner the acting plums of the year. (He’s now being talked of for “Anthony Adverse.”) Stars have no hopes of romance with this happily married man and so content themselves with pleas to the powers-that-be that they may play opposite him.

[…]

And They Don’t Rival Each Other

Since they cover all the branches and byways of the acting profession, it is strange that in no way do these Britishers conflict with each other in types or audience appeal. Leslie Howard’s appeal is one that is spiritual and refined, reaching women of similar nature. Herbert Marshall, the suave and sleek, is practically irresistible to a sophisticated woman. Ronald Colman remains the idol of ardent young intellectuals, the ideal lover with the cynical eyes and the bitter quirk to his lips. Clive Brook’s appeal as a gentle and understanding lover is unsurpassed. Charles Laughton is appreciated by audiences strictly on his merits, rather than on his personality, which is as he would have it. Now, with Hugh Williams personifying all that is sweet and dear to young love, and Harry Wilcoxon as an English caveman and Piccadilly Tarzan, the English have captured the entire field, histrionically and romantically!In case there are any Lothario laurels vacant, Robert Donat, who played Culpepper in “Henry the VIIIth,” and now will play “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is here to seize them.
Even Garbo admits to a preference for British men and has twice sought Leslie Howard’s services, only to be twice refused! Garbo respects the Britons because they do not engage in personalities of become enamored of fellow-players, as some Americans have done when playing with her. Event the thrilless Garbo has a yen for these men from Mayfair! In fact she has picked Herbert Marshall as her new leading man–in “The Painted Veil.”
Women fans and women stars alike have shown their preference for British men, and the actresses’ interest is not always simply professional. Approving the English technique on the screen, some of Hollywood’s fairest are wondering if these men might not be the ideal type of husband for a screen star. Hollywood has a decided yen for British men–so let them beware!

(Movie Classic, July 1934)

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