Legendary actor, Leslie Howard, was born Leslie Howard Steiner on Apr 3, 1893 in Forest Hill, London. Howard died at the age of 50 on Jun 1, 1943 in Bay of Biscay .
Leslie Howard Steiner was born on April 3rd, 1893 in a suburb of London, England. His father, Ferdinand or "Frank," was a Jewish-Hungarian immigrant who found work as stockbroker and his mother, Lilian, was of British and Jewish decent. Although he would grow to portray the most English of English gentlemen, he spent much of his early childhood in Germany, making German his first language. When he returned to London he attended Alleyn's School. Although a bright child, Howard was very shy and sensitive and became very attached to his mother. She would encourage her son to write as a way to escape his unhappiness and soon Howard wrote his first play. When Howard was 14 his mother had organized the Upper Norwood Dramatic Club so that Howard would have the means of showcasing his work and learn the inner mechanisms of the theater. Although Lilian was supportive of her son's creative talents, Leslie's father was not as enthusiastic about the arts and pressured Leslie into employment at a bank.
For the next few years Howard would toil away as a bank clerk, loathing every minute of it, never forgetting his dream of acting. He made his film debut in the 1914 short The Heroine of Mons, directed by his uncle, Wilfred Noy. When the Great War broke out the 21 year old saw it as chance for escape from the drudgery of his monotonous life and enlisted with the British Calvary despite never having rode a horse in his life. After completing basic training the young man was assigned to the Northamptonshire Yeomarry and was sent overseas as second lieutenant. He was sent to the front lines during the Battle of the Somme, one of the largest and most gruesome battles of the First World War with over 60,000 casualties in one day of combat. Howard would later be diagnosed with Shell Shock, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of the battle leading to his discharge from the military in 1916.
Upon returned to London from war, Howard took the advice of his mother and left the banking world to pursue a career in acting. Soon he found himself an agent and was cast in a small role for a touring production of Peg O My Heart. He then worked on another touring production, this time the role of Charlie in Charley's Aunt. When he went on tour again, this time as the second lead in Matheson Lang's Under Cover, he feared he might be trapped in the life of second-rate touring productions all his life and was determined to make it on the London Stage. He eventual found work as a secretary to a West End producer and began networking himself around the London Theater community. He quickly rose through ranks and made his West End debut with a small role in 1918's The Freaks. Soon Howard became the toast of London town, starring in productions of Mr. Pim Passes by and The Young Person in Pink. While he worked steadily on the stage, he and his friend Adrian Brunel created their own film production company, Minerva Films, in 1920. He starred in two of the company's production, Five Pounds Reward and Bookworms, before the studio went bankrupt just a year later. Despite his business failure with Minerva, his acting career was only on the rise as his reputation was spreading across the pond. When offered a role on Broadway in 1920, he packed his bags and set sail for The Big Apple.
On November 1st, 1929 Howard made his Broadway debut in the comedy Just Suppose. Although the play was hit, Howard received little attention from the role. Undaunted by the lack of recognition, Howard continued his career and built his Broadway career slowly. Over the next few years he appeared in variety of plays, from comedies such as The Lady Cristilinda and Anything Might Happen to dramas like Outward Bound and mysteries like Shall We Join the Ladies?. He didn't star in his first full-blown hit until 1925's The Green Hat. By 1927 he became Broadways most popular actor after starring farcical hit Her Cardboard Lover. Later that year he received his first writers credit when he penned and starred in the comic farce Murray Hill. In 1930 Howard began production on Berkeley Square in which he would act as the plays producer, director, and star. The play was hit, demonstrating Howard's great strength at all stages of the theatre work.
Although Hollywood had been calling him for years, Howard was disinterested in the world of film and remained in the theater. It was not until 1930, after years of wooing the British actor to Hollywood, that Howard made his first Hollywood film. He starred in adaptation of one of his earlier stage success Outward Bound. Soon Howard was traveling between New York and Los Angeles, working on stage and screen both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Although he found great success in Hollywood, Howard refused to hide his contempt what he considered to be lackluster droll that Hollywood was churning out. After starring in films such as Never the Twain Shall Meet and Free Soul, Howard returned to the stage to produce and act in the comedy The Animal Kingdom. The play was a hit and the next year he recreated the role for the Hollywood remake opposite Myrna Loy. After the end of the plays run, Howard took a break from the stage and concentrated on Hollywood.
After starring in the film version of The Animal Kingdom in 1933, Howard was officially a Hollywood star. The next year he starred in the big screen adaptation of Somerset Maugham's controversial novel Of Human Bondage. The film centers on the masochistic obsession a crippled medical student, played by Howard, harbors for a slovenly cockney waitress. The film was a sleeper hit with Howard earning great praise from the critics, He returned to his homeland of England for the films The Lady is Willing and The Scarlet Pimpernel before returning to New York to star in the Broadway hit The Petrified Forrest opposite a still relatively unknown Humphrey Bogart. When the play was to be adapted into a film the next year, Howard insisted they keep Bogart in the cast despite the fact that he wasn't a "name."The film went on to be a hit and effectively helped launch Bogart's career as well as established a lifelong friendship between the two actors. Bogart would later name his first daughter Leslie in honor of his dear friend.
In 1936 Howard starred in the lavish production of MGM's Romeo and Juliet opposite Norma Shearer. Two years later he starred, produced, and directed one of his signature roles playing Dr. Henry Higgins in the big screen rendering of the George Bernard Shaw comedy Pygmalion. The film follows an aristocratic phonetics professor as he attempts to teach a lowly flower girl how to speak proper English and thus be mistaken for a Lady. The film was hit and for his efforts Howard received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. His next film would prove to be his most popular and one of his least favorites: 1939's Gone With the Wind.
Although producer David O. Selznick wanted the actor for the part of Ashley Wilkes, the actors repeatedly said no, not wanting to play another passive man honor and refinement. At the age of 46, Howard also thought himself far too old to play the part of the young southern man. Selznick was only able to cast the man after he promised Howard the chance to co-produce the film Intermezzo, a project he wanted very much. So, despite his dislike of the character, the story and the film, Howard co-starred in one of the biggest hits of the year, making his mark not only in film history but in pop-culture history as well. Also that year, he completed Intermezzo and introduced American audiences to Sweden's newest export, Ingrid Bergman.
World War WII and Death
After completing Gone with the Wind and Intermezzo, Howard returned to England to help support his country's war effort. After the outbreak of Word War Two, Howard starred, directed and produced a plethora of civic propaganda films including Common Heritage, Pimpernel Smith, and The 49th Parallel co-starring Laurence Olivier. He also became served as a goodwill entertainer for the Allied Forced and worked a Broadcaster for the BBC. His final film appearance came as the narrator in the film The Gentle Sex. Leslie Howard died, along with 16 other passengers, on June 1st, 1943 when his plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. He was 50 years old. Many believe the plane was shot down due to Howard himself, as it was rumored his good will missions were merely a cover for his work with the British Intelligence.
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Although Howard was nominated for two Oscars, he never won a competitive Academy Award.
|1932/33||Best Actor||Berkeley Square (1933)||Peter Standish||Nominated|
|1938||Best Actor||Pygmalion (1938)||Professor Henry Higgins||Nominated|
He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.
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Professor Horatio Smith: [having just dodged the Nazis again] Well I'm almost ashamed to use that old trick. But it nearly always works.
Alan Squier: The trouble with me, Gabrielle, is I, I belong to a vanishing race. I'm one of the intellectuals.
Gabrielle Maple: That, that means you've got brains!
Alan Squier: Hmmm. Yes. Brains without purpose. Noise without sound, shape without substance.
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