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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 ...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Programming Note


[Leslie Howard and Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind (1939)]

Gone With The Wind to air on TCM Thursday, February 9, at 9:00 PM PST [Please check your local listings]

[Leslie Howard with author Victor Fleming and Vivien Leigh
on the set of Gone With The Wind (1939)]

Although Gone With The Wind was Leslie Howard's least favorite film—he actually detested it—it is undoubtedly the character for which he is most remembered.


[Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes]


Leslie Howard resented the rôle from the start, referring to the character as "the abominable Ashley." Howard called Ashley "a dreadful milk-sop, totally spineless and negative" and told David O. Selznick "I don't really think I can do much with him." Selznick's advice, "Don't do anything, Leslie. Just be yourself." This comment most likely irritated an already annoyed Leslie. Howard also didn't think much of the size of the part either, complaining that "if you sneeze, you miss me."


[Leslie Howard and Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind (1939)]

And Howard felt he was too old to play Ashley Wilkes. He was also annoyed that he had to wear makeup for the first time in a movie part. Howard said of the film later: 
"From my own point of view, it was the most—what can I say?—violent film I've ever played in. Just one climax after another. That's what happens when you try to compress a story of that size and that virulence into a film. All the bits between the high-spots have got to go. It's full of deaths and murders and passions and jealousies and fighting—oh, and fires, lots of Technicolor fires.
"The Technicolor cameras made me break one tradition of a lifetime. I had to wear make-up for the first time on the screen. My own hair photographed reddish-brown in Technicolor and Ashley you know, was definitely 'tow-colored.' So I had my hair bleached and had to use a greyish-white make-up on my face to get a natural pale skin tone."

[Leslie Howard on the set of Gone With The Wind (1939)]

Ronald Howard recalled in his book, In Search of My Father (p. 19), his father's answer to Ronald's question of why he had been offered the part: "Well, Wink, I suppose it must have been because I could sit on a horse. The other actors they tested fell off!" Of course, this wasn't true. The film's producer, David O. Selznick, wanted Howard for the part of Ashley. [For anyone who disputes this or wishes to assert that Howard was not Selznick's first choice, please consider that a part in Gone With The Wind was highly sought after and any actor who had been offered a part would have gladly accepted.] Leslie didn't want the part however. He even set his price at a figure designed for rejection by Selznick. But Selznick did accept it. Leslie Howard had been one of Hollywood's most sought after leading men for nearly a decade, not only by producers and directors, but by Hollywood's leading ladies as well. He was able to to command $75,000 for the part, plus a 2% share of the profits.

The hours were long and boring for Howard and the shooting seemed to go on forever. It has always been reported that Howard secured his producer credit for Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) as enticement from Selznick to appear in Gone With The Wind. However, according to Leslie Ruth Howard, her father actually received that producer credit in payment for having to remain in the United States for the never-ending retakes ordered by Selznick after initial filming had been completed and at a time when Howard was anxious to return to England. Although filming for Intermezzo had already been completed by the time retakes were being shot for GWTW, Intermezzo was not released until 22 September 1939 so Leslie Ruth's assertion may be true.

[Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland in Gone With The Wind (1939)]

Leslie Ruth, along with Howard's sister, Irene, stated that they had never seen the film in its entirety—had never sat down and watched the movie straight through—simply because of Howard's animosity regarding ticket prices for the film. When the film was released in England in 1940 the war had already started. Howard felt England was alone and vulnerable. Howard himself had given up all his future film revenues—estimated at $2 million in today's currency—by returning to England when he did and then to see his fellow countrymen gouged at the box office was just too much for him. So, per Howard's orders and to appease him, the family boycotted the movie. Nevertheless, although the movie may not be Howard's best work, it will stand as Leslie Howard's best known work.

To read the original The New York Times Review, click here.

Bibliography:

Leslie Howard: On & Off Screen. Dir. Thomas Hamilton. Film.
Howard, Leslie Ruth. A Quite Remarkable Father: The Biography of Leslie Howard. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959.
Howard, Ronald. In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard. London: St. Martin's Press, 1984. ISBN 0-312-41161-8.
LeslieHowardForever. Leslie Howard - British Greats 1980. Film. YouTube. LeslieHowardForever.tumbler.com. Ginevra di Verduno, 18 March 2015. Web. Ongoing.


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