Leslie Howard (actor)
Still for the film Pygmalion (1938)
|Born||Leslie Howard Steiner
3 April 1893
Forest Hill, London, England,
|Died||1 June 1943
At sea over Bay of Biscay
|Occupation||Actor, director, producer|
|Spouse(s)||Ruth Evelyn Martin (1916–1943; his death; 2 children)|
|Children||Ronald Howard (1918–1996)
Leslie Ruth Howard
Leslie Howard (3 April 1893 – 1 June 1943) was an English stage and film actor, director, and producer. Among his best-known roles was Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) and roles in Berkeley Square (1933), Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), Pygmalion (1938), Intermezzo (1939), "Pimpernel" Smith (1941) and The First of the Few (1942).
Howard's Second World War activities included acting and filmmaking. He was active in anti-Nazi propaganda and reputedly involved with British or Allied Intelligence, which may have led to his death in 1943 when an airliner on which he was a passenger was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, sparking conspiracy theories regarding his death.
Howard was born Leslie Howard Steiner to a British mother, Lilian (née Blumberg), and a Hungarian father, Ferdinand Steiner, in Forest Hill, London, UK. His father was Jewish and his mother was raised a Christian; her own grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from East Prussia who had married into the English upper classes. He was educated at Alleyn's School, London. Like many others around the time of the First World War, the family changed their name, using "Stainer" as less German-sounding. He worked as a bank clerk before enlisting at the outbreak of the First World War. He served in the British Army as a subaltern in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, but suffered shell shock, which led to his relinquishing his commission in May 1916.
Howard began acting on the London stage in 1917 but had his greatest theatrical success in the United States on Broadway, in plays such as Aren't We All? (1923), Outward Bound (1924), and The Green Hat (1925). He became an undisputed Broadway star in Her Cardboard Lover (1927). After his success as time traveller Peter Standish in Berkeley Square (1929), he launched his Hollywood career by repeating the Standish role in the 1933 film version of the play.
The stage, however, continued to be an important part of his career. Howard frequently juggled acting, producing, and directing duties in the Broadway productions in which he starred. Howard was also a playwright, starring in the Broadway productions of his plays Murray Hill (1927) and Out of a Blue Sky (1930). He played Matt Denant in John Galsworthy's 1927 Broadway production Escape. (He also wrote, but did not act in Elizabeth Sleeps Out (1936).) He was always best known for his acting, enjoying triumphs in The Animal Kingdom (1932) and The Petrified Forest (1935) (repeating both roles on film in 1932 and 1936, respectively). But he had the bad timing to open on Broadway in William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1936) just a few weeks after John Gielgud launched a rival production of the same play that was far more successful with both critics and audiences. Howard’s production, his final stage role, lasted only 39 performances.
In 1920 Howard and his friend Adrian Brunel founded the short-lived company Minerva Films in London; Howard was producer and actor, and Brunel the story editor. Early films include four written by A. A. Milne, including The Bump, starring C. Aubrey Smith; Twice Two; Five Pound Reward; and Bookworms. Some of these films survive in the archives of the British Film Institute.
Following his move to Hollywood, Howard often played stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen. He appeared in the film version of Outward Bound (1930), though in a different role than the one he portrayed on Broadway. He starred in the film version of Berkeley Square (1933), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He played the title character in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and later Professor Henry Higgins in the film version of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1938), which earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Howard co-starred with Bette Davis in The Petrified Forest (1936) and reportedly insisted that Humphrey Bogart appear in the film as gangster Duke Mantee. It proved to be Bogart's break-out role. Howard and Bogart had previously appeared in the play together on Broadway and became lifelong friends; Bogart and Lauren Bacall later named their daughter "Leslie Howard Bogart" after him.
Howard had earlier co-starred with Davis in the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's book Of Human Bondage (1934) and later in the romantic comedy It's Love I'm After (1937) (also co-starring Olivia de Havilland). Howard starred with Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo (1939) and Norma Shearer in a film version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1936).
Howard is perhaps best remembered for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind (1939), but he was uncomfortable with Hollywood and returned to England to help with the Second World War effort. He starred in a number of Second World War films including 49th Parallel (1941), "Pimpernel" Smith (1941), and The First of the Few (1942, known in the U.S. as Spitfire), the latter two of which he also directed and co-produced. His friend and The First of the Few co-star, David Niven said Howard was "...not what he seemed. He had the kind of distraught air that would make people want to mother him. Actually, he was about as naïve as General Motors. Busy little brain, always going."
In 1944, after his death, British exhibitors voted him the second most popular local star at the box office.
Howard married Ruth Evelyn Martin in 1916 and they had two children. His son Ronald Howard (1918–1996) became an actor and is noted for portraying the title character in the 1954 television series Sherlock Holmes.
Arthur, Howard's younger brother, was also an actor, primarily in British comedies. A sister, Irene, was a costume designer. Another sister, Doris Stainer, founded a small school, Hurst Lodge, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, UK, and remained its headmistress for some years.
Widely known as a ladies' man (he himself once said that he "didn't chase women but … couldn't always be bothered to run away"), Howard is reported to have had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when they appeared on stage (in the UK) in Her Cardboard Lover (1927); Merle Oberon, while filming The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and Conchita Montenegro, with whom he had appeared in the film Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931). However, towards the end of his life, with the full knowledge of his wife, he did take a mistress, Violette Cunnington. The actress who appeared under the stage name of Suzanne Clair, in "Pimpernel" Smith and First of the Few in minor roles, acted as his secretary, but died in 1942 of pneumonia in her early 30s, six months before Howard's death. In his will, Howard had left her his Beverly Hills house. His home in England was Stowe Maries, a 16th-century six-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of Westcott village near Dorking, Surrey.
Howard died in 1943 when flying to Bristol, UK, from Lisbon, Portugal, on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777. The aircraft, "G-AGBB" a Douglas DC-3, was shot down by Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88C6 maritime fighter aircraft over the Bay of Biscay. Howard was among the 17 fatalities, including four ex-KLM flight crew.
The BOAC DC-3 Ibis had been operating on a scheduled Lisbon–Whitchurch route throughout 1942–1943 that did not pass over what would commonly be referred to as a war zone. By 1942, however, the Germans considered the region an "extremely sensitive war zone." On two occasions, 15 November 1942, and 19 April 1943, the camouflaged airliner had been attacked by Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters (a single aircraft and six Bf 110s, respectively) while en route; each time, the pilots escaped via evasive tactics. On 1 June 1943, "G-AGBB" again came under attack by a schwarm of eight V/KG40 Ju 88C6 maritime fighters. The DC-3's last radio message indicated it was being fired upon at longitude 09.37 West, latitude 46.54 North.
According to German documents, the DC-3 was shot down at longitude 10.15 West, latitude 46.07 North, some 500 miles (800 km) from Bordeaux, France, and 200 miles (320 km) northwest of A Coruña, Spain. Luftwaffe records indicate that the Ju 88 maritime fighters were operating beyond their normal patrol area to intercept and shoot down the aircraft.Bloody Biscay: The Story of the Luftwaffe's Only Long Range Maritime Fighter Unit, V Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40, and Its Adversaries 1942–1944 (Chris Goss, 2001) quotes First Oberleutnant Herbert Hintze, Staffel Führer of 14 Staffeln and based in Bordeaux, that his Staffel shot down the DC-3 because it was recognised as an enemy aircraft, unaware that it was an unarmed civilian airliner. Hintze further states that his pilots were angry that the Luftwaffe leaders had not informed them of a scheduled flight between Lisbon and the UK, and that had they known, they could easily have escorted the DC-3 to Bordeaux and captured it and all aboard. The German pilots photographed the wreckage floating in the Bay of Biscay and after the war, copies of these captured photographs were sent to Howard's family.
The following day, a search of the Bay of Biscay was undertaken by "N/461", a Short Sunderland flying boat from No. 461 RAAF Squadron. Near the same coordinates where the DC-3 was shot down, the Sunderland was attacked by eight Ju 88s and after a furious battle, managed to shoot down three of the attackers, scoring an additional three "possibles," before crash-landing at Penzance. In the aftermath of these two actions, all BOAC flights from Lisbon were subsequently re-routed and operated only under the cover of darkness.
Theories regarding the air attack
A long-standing hypothesis states that the Germans believed that UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was on board the flight. Churchill, in his autobiography, expressed sorrow that a mistake about his activities might have cost Howard his life. The BBC television series "Churchill‘s Bodyguard" (original broadcast 2006) suggested that (Abwehr) German intelligence agents had learned of Churchill’s proposed departure and route. Churchill’s bodyguard, Detective Inspector Walter H. Thompson later wrote that Churchill, at times, seemed clairvoyant about threats to his safety, and, acting on a premonition, changed his departure to the following day.
Speculation by historians also centred on whether British code breakers had decrypted top secret Enigma messages outlining the assassination plan, and Churchill may have wanted to protect the code breaking operation so the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht would not suspect that their Enigma machines were compromised. German spies (who commonly watched the airfields of neutral countries), may then have mistaken Howard and his manager, as they boarded their aircraft, for Churchill and his bodyguard, as Howard's manager Alfred Chenhalls physically resembled Churchill, while Howard was tall and thin, like Thompson. Although the overwhelming majority of published documentation of the case repudiates this theory, it remains a possibility. The timing of Howard's takeoff and the flight path were similar to Churchill's flight, making it easy for the Germans to have mistaken the two flights.
Two books focusing on the final flight, Flight 777 (Ian Colvin, 1957), and In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard (Ronald Howard, 1984), concluded that the Germans deliberately shot down Howard's DC-3 to assassinate him, and demoralize Britain. Howard had been travelling through Spain and Portugal lecturing on film, but also meeting with local propagandists and shoring up support for the Allies. The British Film Yearbook for 1945 described Leslie Howard's work as "one of the most valuable facets of British propaganda".
The Germans could have suspected even more surreptitious activities, since Portugal, like Switzerland, was a crossroads for internationals, and spies, from both sides. British historian James Oglethorpe, investigated Howard's connection to the secret services. Ronald Howard's book explores the written German orders to the Ju 88 Staffel, in great detail, as well as British communiqués that verify intelligence reports indicating a deliberate attack on Howard. These accounts indicate that the Germans were aware of Churchill's real whereabouts at the time and were not so naive as to believe he would be travelling alone on board an unescorted, unarmed civilian aircraft, which Churchill also acknowledged as improbable. Ronald Howard was convinced the order to shoot down Howard's airliner came directly from Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany, who had been ridiculed in one of Leslie Howard's films, and believed Howard to be the most dangerous British propagandist.
Most of the 13 passengers were either British executives with corporate ties to Portugal, or lower-ranking British government civil servants. There were also two or three children of British military personnel. The bumped passengers were the teenage sons of Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt: George and William Cecil, who had been recalled to London from their Swiss boarding school. Being bumped by Howard saved their lives. William Cecil is best associated with his ownership and preservation of his grandfather George Washington Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate in North Carolina. William Cecil described a story in which he met a woman, several months after his return to London, who said she had secret war information, and used his mother's phone to put in a call to the British Air Ministry. She told them that she had a message from Leslie Howard.
A 2008 book by Spanish writer José Rey Ximena claims that Howard was on a top-secret mission for Churchill to dissuade Francisco Franco, Spain's authoritarian dictator and head of state, from joining the Axis powers. Via an old girlfriend, Conchita Montenegro, Howard had contacts with Ricardo Giménez Arnau, a young diplomat in the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Further circumstantial background evidence is revealed in Jimmy Burns's 2009 biography of his father, spymaster Tom Burns. According to author William Stevenson in A Man called Intrepid, his biography of Sir William Samuel Stephenson (no relation), the senior representative of British Intelligence for the western hemisphere during the Second World War, Stephenson postulated that the Germans knew about Howard's mission and ordered the aircraft shot down. Stephenson further claimed that Churchill knew in advance of the German intention to shoot down the aircraft, but allowed it to proceed to protect the fact that the British had broken the German Enigma code. Former CIA agent Joseph B. Smith recalled that, in 1957, he was briefed by the National Security Agency on the need for secrecy and that Leslie Howard's death had been brought up. The NSA claimed that Howard knew his aircraft was to be attacked by German fighters and sacrificed himself to protect the British code-breakers.
The 2010 biography by Estel Eforgan, Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor, examines currently available evidence and concludes that Howard was not a specific target, corroborating the claims by German sources that the shootdown was "an error in judgement". There is a monument in San Andrés de Teixido, Spain, dedicated to the victims of the crash. Howard's aircraft was shot down over the sea north of this village.
Howard did not publish an autobiography, although a compilation of his writings, Trivial Fond Records, edited and with occasional comments by his son Ronald, was published in 1982. This book includes insights on his family life, first impressions of America and Americans when he first moved to the United States to act on Broadway, and his views on democracy in the years prior to and during the Second World War.
Howard’s son and daughter each published memoirs of their father: In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard (1984) by Ronald Howard, and A Quite Remarkable Father: A Biography of Leslie Howard (1959) by Leslie Ruth Howard.
Estel Eforgan's Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor is a full-length book biography published in 2010.
Leslie Howard: A Quite Remarkable Life, a film documentary biography produced by Thomas Hamilton of Repo Films, was shown privately at the NFB Mediatheque, Toronto, Canada in September 2009 for contributors and supporters of the film. Subsequently re-edited and retitled "Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn", the documentary was officially launched on 2 September 2011 in an event held at Leslie Howard's former home "Stowe Maries" in Dorking, and reported on BBC South News the same day. Lengthy rights negotiations with Warners then delayed further screenings until May 2012, although the situation now appears to have been resolved and Repo Films now intends to enter the film into various International Film Festivals.
|1914||UK||The Heroine of Mons||Yes||cast member|
|1917||UK||The Happy Warrior||Yes||Rollo|
|1919||UK||The Lackey and the Lady||Yes||Tony Dunciman|
|UK||The Temporary Lady||Yes|
|1921||UK||Too Many Crooks||Yes|
|1930||USA||Outward Bound||Yes||Tom Prior|
|1931||USA||Five and Ten||Yes||Bertram "Berry" Rhodes|
|USA||A Free Soul||Yes||Dwight Winthrop|
|USA||Never the Twain Shall Meet||Yes||Dan Pritchard|
|1932||UK||Service for Ladies||Yes||Max Tracey|
|USA||Smilin' Through||Yes||Sir John Carteret|
|USA||The Animal Kingdom||Yes||Tom Collier|
|1933||USA||Berkeley Square||Yes||Peter Standish|
|USA||Captured!||Yes||Captain Fred Allison|
|1934||USA||British Agent||Yes||Stephen "Steve" Locke|
|UK||The Lady Is Willing||Yes||Albert Latour|
|USA||Of Human Bondage||Yes||Philip Carey|
|1935||UK||The Scarlet Pimpernel||Yes||Sir Percy Blakeney|
|1936||USA||The Petrified Forest||Yes||Alan Squier|
|USA||Romeo and Juliet||Yes||Romeo|
|USA||It's Love I'm After||Yes||Basil Underwood|
|1938||UK||Pygmalion||Yes||Yes||Yes||Professor Henry Higgins|
|USA||Gone with the Wind||Yes||Ashley Wilkes|
|1941||UK||"Pimpernel" Smith||Yes||Yes||Yes||Professor Horatio Smith|
|UK||49th Parallel||Yes||Philip Armstrong Scott|
|UK||From the Four Corners||Yes||A passer-by|
|UK||The White Eagle||Yes||narrator|
|1942||UK||In Which We Serve||Yes||voice|
|UK||The First of the Few||Yes||Yes||Yes||R.J.Mitchell|
|UK||National Savings Trailer: Noel Coward and Leslie Howard||Yes||on-screen participant|
|UK||Mr. Leslie Howard "by request"||Yes||presenter|
|1943||UK||War in the Mediterranean||Yes||voice|
|UK||The Gentle Sex||Yes||Yes||Yes||"Observations of a mere man" (voice)|
|UK||The Lamp Still Burns||Yes|
- Obituary Variety, 9 June 1943.
- Eforgan 2010, pp. 1–10.
- Nathan, John. "Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor, The life and death of a non-spy." The Jewish Chronicle, 20 December 2010. Retrieved: 20 December 2010.
- "Leslie Howard." Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved: 25 May 2009.
- " 'The Petrified Forest'." Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved: 21 May 2009.
- Croall, Jonathan. Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904–2000. London: Continuum, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8264-1333-8.
- "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame." The New York Times, 3 March 1981.
- Eforgan 2010, pp. 39–46.
- Sklar 1992, pp. 60–62.
- Costanzi, Karen. "Leslie Howard: Actor & Patriot." things-and-other-stuff.com. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- Finnie, Moira. “A Few Kind Words for Leslie Howard.” Skeins of Thought, 2008. Retrieved: 4 August 2010.
- "Bitter Street fighting." Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: 1885 – 1954), 6 January 1944, p. 2 via National Library of Australia, Retrieved: 11 July 2012.
- "Leslie H. Steiner = Ruth E. Martin." GRO Register of Marriages: Colchester, March 1916, 4a 1430.
- "Ronald H. Stainer, mmn = Martin." GRO Register of Births: Lambeth, June 1918, 1d 598.
- Howard 1984
- Gazeley, Helen. "Memories of Hollywood, in the hills of Surrey." Daily Telegraph (London), 29 April 2007. Retrieved: 4 August 2010.
- "Milestones, 8 May 1944." Time Magazine, 8 May 1944.
- Gates, Anita. "The Good Girl Gets the Last Word (interview with Olivia de Havilland)." The New York Times, 7 November 2004. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
- Parker, John. "1939." Who's Who in the Theatre, 10th ed. London: Pitmans, 1947.
- "Leslie Howard found footage."The Guardian, 12 September 2010. Retrieved: 3 May 2012.
- Goss 2001, pp. 50–56.
- "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas DC-3-194 G-AGBB Bay of Biscay." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- "Casualty details: Leslie Howard." Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). Retrieved: 4 August 2010.
- Rosevink and Hintze 1991, p. 14.
- "Douglas DC-3-194 PH-ALI 'Ibis'." web.archive.org, 2004. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- Matthews, Rowan. "N461: Howard & Churchill." n461.com, 2003. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- The Times, Thursday, 3 June 1943, p. 4.
- Wilkes, Donald E., Jr. "The Assassination of Ashley Wilkes." The Athens Observer, 8 June 1995 p. 7A, via law.uga.edu. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- Churchill 1950, p. 830.
- " 'Churchill‘s Bodyguard' – Complete Series." Nugus Martin Productions via 7digital.com, 2006. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- Colvin 2007, p. 187.
- Noble 1945, p. 74.
- "Leslie Howard." lesliehowardsociety.multiply.com. Retrieved: 22 July 2010.
- Covington 2006, pp. 102–103.
- Rey Ximena 2008
- "Book: Howard kept Spain from joining WWII." United Press International, 6 October 2008. Retrieved: 25 May 2009.
- Ridley, Jane. "From Madrid with Love." The Spectator via spectator.co.uk, 24 October 2009. Retrieved: 4 August 2010.
- Stevenson 2000, p. 179.
- "Intrepid Book Brings Spy's Life From Shadows." trueintrepid.com. Retrieved: 23 July 2010.
- Smith 1976, p. 389.
- Eforgan 2010, pp. 217–245.
- Castro, Jesus (translated by Rachael Harrison). "The actor, the Jew and Churchill’s double." eyeonspain.com. Retrieved: 18 August 2011.
- "Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave A Damn-Premier". Youtube, 7 September 2011.
- Burns, Jimmy. Papa Spy: Love, Faith and Betrayal in Wartime Spain. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7475-9520-5.
- Churchill, Winston S. The Hinge of Fate. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1950.
- Colvin Ian. Admiral Canaris: Chief of Intelligence. London: Colvin Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4067-5821-4.
- Colvin Ian. Flight 777: The Mystery Of Leslie Howard. London: Evans Brothers, 1957.
- Covington, Howard E., Jr. Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. ISBN 978-0-471-75818-1.
- Eforgan, Estel. Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Vallentine Mitchell Publishers, 2010. ISBN 978-0-85303-941-9.
- Goss, Chris. Bloody Biscay: The Story of the Luftwaffe's Only Long Range Maritime Fighter Unit, V Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40, and Its Adversaries 1942–1944. London: Crécy Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-947554-87-4.
- Howard, Leslie, ed. with Ronald Howard. Trivial Fond Records. London: William Kimber & Co Ltd, 1982. ISBN 978-0-7183-0418-8.
- Howard, Leslie Ruth. A Quite Remarkable Father: A Biography of Leslie Howard. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1959.
- Howard, Ronald. In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard. London: St. Martin's Press, 1984. ISBN 0-312-41161-8.
- Macdonald, Bill. The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents. Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books 2002, ISBN 1-55192-418-8.
- Noble, Peter, ed. British Film Yearbook for 1945. London: The British Broadcasting Corporation, 1945.
- Rey Ximena, José. El Vuolo de Ibis [The Flight of the Ibis] (in Spanish). Madrid: Facta Ediciones SL, 2008. ISBN 978-84-934875-1-5.
- Rosevink, Ben and Lt Col Herbert Hintze. "Flight 777." FlyPast, Issue #120, July 1991.
- Sklar, Robert. City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-691-04795-2].
- Smith, Joseph B. Portrait of a Cold Warrior. New York: Random House, 1976. ISBN 978-0-399-11788-6.
- Southall, Ivan. They Shall Not Pass Unseen. London: Angus and Robertson, 1956.
- Stevenson, William. A Man Called Intrepid: The Incredible WWII Narrative of the Hero Whose Spy Network and Secret Diplomacy Changed the Course of History. Guilford, Delaware: Lyons Press, 1976, reissued in 2000. ISBN 1-58574-154-X.
- Verrier, Anthony. Assassination in Algiers: Churchill, Roosevelt, De Gaulle, and the Murder of Admiral Darlan. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1st edition, 1991. ISBN 978-0-393-02828-7.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leslie Howard (actor).|
- Leslie Howard and 279 Squadron
- RAF Davidstow Moor
- Leslie Howard at the Internet Movie Database
- Leslie Howard at the Internet Broadway Database
- Leslie Howard biography and credits at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Leslie Howard at the TCM Movie Database
- Van Neste, Dan."Leslie Howard: Unmasking the Pimpernel"
- Leslie Howard at Virtual History