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BBC Report About Leslie Howard's Death

[BBC Report of Leslie Howard's Death] On Saturday, July 30, I posted on Facebook the 2014 BBC report on Leslie Howard's Death ...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Programming Note


[Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931)]

A Free Soul to air on TCM Sunday, January 15, 2017, at 9:00 AM PST [Please check your local listings]

Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul, Produced and Distributed by MGM, Precode 1931. Best Actor Win: Lionel Barrymore. Best Actress Nomination: Norma Shearer. Best Directing Nomination: Clarence Brown.

A Free Soul went into the Guinness Book for the longest take in a movie at 14 minutes. Many believe it was this scene that was responsible for Lionel Barrymore's Best Actor win that year. The film also made Clark Gable a star. It seems the audience liked to see him push Norma Shearer around. The studio reportedly received thousands of letters asking to see more of "the guy who slapped Norma Shearer."

[Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931)]

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, "the Canadian Pharmacists Association protested what they claimed was an unfair portrayal of druggists in the film." I actually had to watch the movie again (not that I minded) to figure out what this was about. As near as I could tell, it was the scene where what appeared to me to be a store clerk sells Lionel Barrymore's character a bottle of booze from behind the sales counter. I'm not sure why the pharmacists of Canada got upset. Canada wasn't under prohibition and I never had the sense that the scene even took place in Canada. The movie also must have upset Catholics as well as it was banned in Ireland altogether.

The screenplay was based on the novel written by Adela Rogers St. Johns. Apparently, after Norma Shearer read the book she told her husband, Irving Thalberg, she wanted to play the part. Thalberg tried to buy the rights and St. Johns did agree to sell but the asking price was initially too high for Thalberg. After all his attempts to get the story at a bargain rate and St. Johns' insistence on the initial sale price of $40,000 and I imagine some convincing from Shearer, Thalberg agreed to pay the full price.

[Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931)]

Thalberg's biography also notes that St. Johns wrote A Free Soul with Joan Crawford in mind as Jan. St. Johns asked Thalberg to rethink but why should he when he bought the part for his wife. I mean, can you imagine how that would have gone down at home? Even Crawford could understand that as evidenced by her comment after she learned that the part was written for her. She reportedly quipped, "How can I compare with Norma when she sleeps with the boss?"

[Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931)]

Leslie Howard's part is not huge, but it is critical, and I loved him in it. His heroism is legendary. I have never understood the criticism, even though it is rare, that he plays such wimpy parts. His characters may be sensitive, but he always adores his woman and would give up his life for her and his happiness for honor. There is nothing more romantic to me than that.

To read The New York Times Review of A Free Soul by Mordaunt Hall, June 3, 1931, click here.


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