Actor & Patriot
By Karen Costanzi
remembered for his sensitive portrayal of Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, Leslie Howard was a man who lived his beliefs. He was born Leslie Howard
Stainer in London on April 3, 1893 in London and died in early June 1943 in the
Bay of Biscayne, Spain.
His role in
Gone with the Wind followed a distinguished career as a stage and movie
actor. He was well known for his roles in plays and movies on both sides of the
Atlantic. In 1938, Mr. Howard received an Oscar® for his role in Pygmalion,
which he also directed. Other movies included Outward Bound - 1930,
Berkeley Square - 1933, Of Human Bondage - 1934, and The Scarlet
Pimpernel and The Petrified Forest in 1935. His many
roles were often that of a disillusioned intellectual, such as Henry Higgins in
Pygmalion and Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. He was in 36 films in his
his career, Mr. Howard was perceived as being very competitive. One story that
persists is that he was known to count his lines and that if any costars had
more lines than he did, he would demand that some of their lines be cut. But he
was also perceived as being very loyal. This loyalty led to a co-starring role
for a little-known actor, Humphrey Bogart, in the film version of The
Petrified Forest. Bogart had originated the role on stage, but the
producers of the film wanted to use their star “gangster,” Edward G. Robinson.
Bogart and Howard remained friends until his death.
one attribute was very sure--Mr. Howard was extremely patriotic. He joined the
British Army during World War I, but was mustered out due to shell shock. At
this time he was advised to take up acting as therapy. He didn’t pursue an
acting career at that time, but worked as a clerk to
support his young family.
It has been said that his depressed and somber attitude as Ashley Wilkes
reflected his own feelings about the war with Germany. Soon after Gone
With the Wind
was completed, he devoted most of his time working as a civilian on behalf of
the war effort. He directed and starred in “industrial” films—propaganda
pictures made to promote enlistment as well as those to keep up morale on the
home front. These included Common Heritage in 1940, The Forty-Ninth
Parallel in 1941, and In Which We Serve in 1942. He also wrote
articles and made radio broadcasts.
Howard’s death was a source of intrigue. He died when the British Overseas
Airways plane he was on was shot down by German fighters over the Bay of
Biscayne. The legend persisted for some time that Mr. Howard probably knew that
the plane would never make it to Lisbon; it had been sent as a decoy and
Churchill was said to be on it. However, a double was on Howard’s plane, while
Churchill was on another one. While this story is the stuff that heroes are made
of, his son Ronald stated in a biography, “In Search of My Father,” that he
doubted the story of the decoy.
portraying a disillusioned Southern gentleman in Gone With the Wind or a comically prim
hero in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Leslie Howard was an actor with high
standards and a patriot who devoted his many talents to supporting his country’s
efforts in WWII.
Karen Costanzi is an actor and writer living in Colorado. Watch for
profiles such as this in each issue of
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.
Benson, Kit and
Morgan. “Find a Grave.” Ancestry.com. September 21, 1998. www.findagrave.com/cgi-bil/fg.cgi?page+gr&GRid=3594.
Internet Obituary Network. Accessed 1/20/03.
http://www.britmovie.co.uk/directors/m_powell/filmography/004.html Accessed 3/20/03.