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Howard, Leslie [real name Leslie Howard Steiner]locked

(1893–1943)
  • J. Parker
  • , revised by K. D. Reynolds

Leslie Howard (1893–1943)

by Fred Daniels, 1942

© Estate of Frederick William Daniels; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

Howard, Leslie [real name Leslie Howard Steiner] (1893–1943), actor and film director, was born at 31 Westbourne Road, Forest Hill, London, on 3 April 1893. He was the eldest son of Ferdinand Steiner, a stockbroker's clerk, and his wife, Lilian Blumberg. He was educated locally in Dulwich and he then became a bank clerk. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he enlisted and was a second lieutenant in the Northamptonshire yeomanry from March 1915 until May 1916, when he resigned his commission. On 3 March 1916 he married Ruth Evelyn, daughter of Henry William Martin, laundry manager, of Colchester. They had a son and a daughter. During his army service an early interest in theatricals increased, and on returning to civilian life he sought a professional engagement, adopted the name by which he was known henceforth, and made his first appearance as a professional actor in 1917, touring the provinces in the part of Jerry in Peg o' my Heart by J. Hartley Manners. He made his first appearance in London at the New Theatre, on 14 February 1918, in the small part of Ronald Herrick in the 'idyll of suburbia' The Freaks by Sir Arthur Pinero. Howard continued to act in London until the summer of 1920, appearing notably in Gladys Unger's Our Mr Hepplewhite, A. A. Milne's Mr Pim Passes by, and Gertrude E. Jennings's The Young Person in Pink. He then went to the United States, first appearing in New York at the Henry Miller Theatre in November 1920 in Just Suppose. He continued to act in America until 1926, appearing successfully in a variety of plays, notably as Henry in Outward Bound, and as Napier Harpenden in The Green Hat. He returned to London for a short engagement in 1926, but went back to New York to play in Her Cardboard Lover, and in Escape by John Galsworthy. Subsequently he divided his time between New York and London. He played Peter Standish in Berkeley Square in both cities. His only other performance of note in London was at the Lyric Theatre in October 1933 when he appeared as Shakespeare in This Side Idolatry. He played the leading part, Alan Squier, in The Petrified Forest, which he presented with Gilbert Miller in 1935 at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York, and in November 1936 he appeared as Hamlet at the Imperial Theatre, New York, in his own production which, however, proved somewhat of a disappointment.

Thereafter Howard devoted his talents to films, both as actor and director, and it was in this medium—in which he first appeared, in Outward Bound, in 1930—that he gained full recognition. As a film actor he made notable successes in Smilin' through (1932); Berkeley Square (1933); The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934); The Petrified Forest (1936); Pygmalion (1938), of which he was co-director; Gone with the Wind (1939), in which he starred opposite Vivien Leigh as the ineffectual, gentlemanly Ashley Wilkes; 49th Parallel (1941), a war film; and many others. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he took to production and was part-producer of some of the best British war films: in Pimpernel Smith (1941) and The First of the Few (1942) he also played the leading part, and he was a raconteur in The Gentle Sex (1943), a story of the ATS. A film about the nursing profession, The Lamp Still Burns (1943), was released after his death. The unescorted passenger aeroplane in which he was returning from a visit to Spain and Portugal under the auspices of the British Council was shot down by the enemy on 1 June 1943.

Leslie Howard was a polished actor, quiet in his method, with a certain wistfulness that added to his natural charm of manner and intelligence. His voice was charming, gracious, and beautifully modulated. In private life he was of a rather shy and retiring nature, but he was extremely popular.

Sources

  • J. Parker, ed., Who’s who in the theatre, 6th edn (1930)
  • L. Halliwell, The filmgoer's companion, 5th edn (1976)
  • L. R. Howard, A quite remarkable father (1960)
  • personal knowledge (1959)
  • private information (1959)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.

Likenesses

  • photographs, 1927–41, Hult. Arch.
  • R. G. Eves, oils, 1937, NPG
  • F. W. Daniels, photograph, 1942, NPG [see illus.]
  • R. G. Eves, oils, Huddersfield Art Gallery
  • R. G. Eves, oils, Garr. Club
  • photograph (after R. G. Eves), NPG
  • photographs, V&A, theatre collections
  • postcards, V&A, theatre collections