Nationality: British. Born: Leslie Howard Stainer (some sources say Laszlo Horvath) in London, 3 April 1893. Education: Dulwich College, London. Military Service: Discharged from service in World War I suffering from shell shock. Family: Married Ruth Evelyn Martin, son: Ronald; daughter: Leslie Ruth. Career: After working in a bank, became stage actor; 1914—film debut in short The Heroine of Mons ; 1917—stage debut in Peg o' My Heart on tour; 1919—co-founded Minerva Productions; 1920—American stage debut in Just Suppose ; 1930—American film debut in version of his stage success Outward Bound , then a series of films in the United States for Warner Brothers, MGM, and Selznick; 1938—returned to England to direct, produce, and act in his own films; co-directorial debut with Pygmalion ; 1940—began series of broadcast talks Britain Speaks. Awards: Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Pygmalion , 1938. Died: Plane shot down by Nazis, 1 June 1943.
Films as Actor:
The Heroine of Mons (Noy—short)
The Happy Warrior (Thornton) (as Rollo)
The Lackey and the Lady (Bentley) (as Tony Dunciman)
Five Pound Reward (Brunel—short) (as Tony Marchmont); Bookworms (Brunel—short) (as Richard)
Outward Bound (Milton) (as Tom Prior)
Five and Ten ( Daughter of Luxury ) (Leonard) (as Berry); Never the Twain Shall Meet (Van Dyke) (as Dan Pritchard); Devotion (Milton) (as David Trent); A Free Soul (Brown) (as Dwight Winthrop)
Service for the Ladies ( Reserved for Ladies ) (Korda) (as Max Tracey); Smilin' Through (Franklin) (as John Carteret); The Animal Kingdom ( The Woman in His House ) (Griffith) (as Tom Collier)
Secrets (Borzage) (as John Carlton); Captured! (Del Ruth) (as Captain Fred Allison); Berkeley Square (Lloyd) (as Peter Standish)
The Lady Is Willing (Miller) (as Albert Latour); Of Human Bondage (Cromwell) (as Philip Carey); British Agent (Curtiz) (as Stephen Locke)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young) (as Sir Percy Blakeney); The Petrified Forest (Mayo) (as Alan Squier)
Romeo and Juliet (Cukor) (as Romeo); Master Will Shakespeare (Tourneur—short) (includes footage from Romeo and Juliet )
It's Love I'm After (Mayo) (as Basil Underwood); Stand-In (Garnett) (as Atterbury Dodd)
Intermezzo: A Love Story ( Escape to Happiness ) (Ratoff) (as Holger Brand); Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (as Ashley Wilkes)
Common Heritage (Hanau—short) (as narrator)
From the Four Corners (Havelock-Allen—short); The White Eagle (Cekalski—short) (as narrator); 49th Parallel ( The Invaders ) (Powell) (as Philip Armstrong Scott)
In Which We Serve (Coward and Lean) (as voice)
War in the Mediterranean (Hanau—short) (as narrator)
Films as Producer:
The Bump (Brunel—short); Twice Two (Brunel—short); Too Many Cooks (Brunel—short); The Temporary Lady (Brunel—short)
The Lamp Still Burns (Elvey)
Films as Director:
Pygmalion (co-d with Asquith, + ro as Professor Higgins)
Pimpernel Smith ( Mister V ) (pr, + title role); publicity film for the Royal Institute for the Blind, title unknown
The First of the Few ( Spitfire ) (pr, + ro as R. J. Mitchell)
The Gentle Sex (narrator, + ro as silhouette)
By HOWARD: book—
Trivial Fond Records , edited by Ronald Howard, London, 1982.
By HOWARD: article—
"Where the Actor Ends," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 28 June 1930.
On HOWARD: books—
Howard, Leslie Ruth, A Quite Remarkable Father , New York, 1959.
Memo from David O. Selznick , edited by Rudy Behlmer, New York, 1972.
Howard, Ronald, In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard , New York, 1982.
Richards, Jeffrey, The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society 1930–39 , London, 1984.
On HOWARD: articles—
Dickens, Homer, "Leslie Howard," in Films in Review (New York), April 1959.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years , New York, 1971.
Richards, Jeffrey, "Speaking for England," in Listener (London), 14 January 1982.
Braun, E., "Leslie Howard: Variations on an Enigma," in Films (London), July 1982.
Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1982.
Gill, Brendan, "Leslie Howard: Star of Intermezzo and Gone With the Wind in Beverly Hills," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1992.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 3 April 1993.
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In an article he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post in 1930, Leslie Howard asserted that "what the actor is in private life, he is to a large extent on the stage, because he cannot conceal himself and his true personality from his audience." Indeed in his films, as well as in plays, Leslie Howard was Leslie Howard—an idealistic, dreamy, upright Englishman. His "natural" approach to acting created a new style in the late 1920s when he became established on Broadway. Rather than adopt the modish and overwrought declamatory style of, say, a John Barrymore, he spoke conversationally, underplaying and relaxing into his roles.
His approach was tailor-made for the screen. He became very popular in the 1930s, a time when Hollywood was a haven for "aristocratic" English actors—Herbert Marshall, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Charles Laughton, to name a few. While American actors such as James Cagney and John Garfield slugged their way out of predicaments, the British actors demonstrated the supremacy of brains over brawn. As the Scarlet Pimpernel, for example, Howard fought the French with trickery and daring disguises rather than fisticuffs and swordplay. Whether or not his characters were brave, Howard usually played men of superior intellect—Henry Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion , a writer in The Petrified Forest , a violinist in Intermezzo , a professor in Pimpernel Smith , a well-read humanist in The 49th Parallel , and an aeronautical engineer in Spitfire. Unlike Marshall, Hardwicke, and Laughton, Howard was never a villain and frequently played characters who were unrelentingly noble. The effete Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind notwithstanding, his nobility usually shone through acts of singular courage—sacrificing his life for Bette Davis in The Petrified Forest , risking his life to save others in The Scarlet Pimpernel and Pimpernel Smith , and fighting the Nazis (in a brains over brawn sort of way) in the aforementioned film and The 49th Parallel. Although he was popular with women, the basis of his appeal was asexual. His characters were charming, witty, honorable, and intelligent; they liked and seemed to understand women. They did not pose the threat of a domineeringly masculine Rhett Butler. According to Molly Haskell, "women's preference for the English gentleman—witty, under-refined, unsexual or apparently misogynous, paternal—is rooted in an instinct for self-preservation. . . . A woman wants a hero who will look into her eyes and embrace her soul and demand nothing sexually," thereby allowing her to retain her strength and selfhood. Howard's characters liked and respected women (as Howard did in real life) and, with the exception of Professor Higgins, let them be.
Howard appeared in 25 films in 13 years, giving his most acclaimed performances in Berkeley Square (nominated for the 1933 Academy Award), Of Human Bondage , The Scarlet Pimpernel , and Pygmalion (nominated for the 1938 Academy Award). Yet he viewed acting principally as a financial means for engaging in other pursuits—writing plays, directing plays and films ( Pygmalion , Pimpernel Smith , and Spitfire ), and producing ( Intermezzo , Pimpernel Smith ). He intended, after the war, to give up acting and to produce and direct both plays and films. But on 1 June 1943, returning from a trip to Lisbon (to lecture on the theater and indirectly on the war), he was shot down by the Nazis, who believed Churchill was on board his commercial airliner. Britain had lost a fine actor and a great patriot. According to David Shipman, "it is no exaggeration to say that no figure in British show business was so deeply mourned, or missed, during this century."