“I hate the damn part. I’m not nearly beautiful or young enough for Ashley, and it makes me sick being fixed up to look attractive.”–Leslie HowardLeslie Howard Steiner was born on this day in Forest Hill, London, England in 1893. Today is the 120th anniversary of his birth.
Both his parents, Lilian and Ferdinand “Frank” Steiner, were of Jewish descent. Leslie’s father was from Hungary. His mother’s grandfather immigrated from East Prussia and married into well to do English society. She wanted the family to assimilate into English society as seamlessly as possible. She raised Leslie as a Christian, and when World War One broke out the family Anglicized their name from Steiner to Stainer. Leslie changed his name legally to Leslie Howard on February 24, 1920.
Although clearly bright, Howard’s sheltered upbringing and severe near-sightedness made him extremely self-conscious. Never a good student, the young Howard loathed his time at Alleyn’s School in Dulwich, London, preferring to lose himself in the comfort of books. Fiercely protective of her son, Lilian encouraged her boy’s participation in the arts, particularly theatre, as a means of improving his social and academic skills. [TMC.com]
The stage was good fit. By 14 he had written his first play and it wasn’t long before Lilian established the Upper Norwood Dramatic Club to showcase Leslie and his friends. His father, however, thought a more down to earth career was in Leslie’s future. At Frank’s insistence he took a job as a clerk at a London bank — which he hated. “When war finally did break out, Howard saw his chance to escape the monotony of his life and promptly enlisted with the British Cavalry.” [Ibid] He served on the front lines for a while before returning home in 1916 with a severe case of shell shock.
He returned to the theatre again as a kind of a therapy.
In a few years, his name was famous on the stages of London and New York. He made his first movie in 1914 (The Heroine of Mons (1914)). He became known as the perfect Englishman (slim, tall, intellectual and sensitive), a part that he played in many movies, and a part women would dream about. [IMDb]
He had a long career on stage and screen, with his top movies being:
- Gone with the Wind, as Ashley Wilkes (a role he thought he was too old for — he was 46 at the time. He didn’t want to play another soft-spoken, dreamer. But the producer promised Leslie if he did the role he could co-produce Intermezzo — a movie he’d been longing to make.)
- Intermezzo, a Love Story , as Holger Brandt
- Pygmalion, as Professor Henry Higgins
- The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Sir Percy Blakeney
He returned to England at the onset of WWII to help with the war effort. Leslie Howard died in 1943 when the plane he was flying in from Lisbon to England was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.