LESLIE HOWARD Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Leslie Howard Steiner                                                                   
Born: 3 April 1893 Forest Hill, London, England, United Kingdom                               
Died: 1 June 1943 Bay of Biscay                                                               
Leslie Howard (April 3, 1893 - June 1, 1943) was an English stage and Academy                 
Award nominated film actor. He is best known by international audiences as                     
Ashley Wilkes in the movie Gone with the Wind. He was an accomplished actor                   
whose film roles included Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1938),         
The Petrified Forest (1936) and Intermezzo (1939).                                             
He was born Leslie Howard Steiner to a Hungarian Jewish father, Ferdinand                     
Steiner, and an English Jewish mother, Lillian Blumberg, in Forest Hill, London               
and educated at Dulwich College, London. (In later years, Howard usually listed               
his birth name as Stainer despite clear records of the correct spelling.) He                   
worked as a bank clerk before enlisting at the outbreak of World War I. He                     
served with the Northumberland Fusiliers, but suffered severe shell shock, which               
led to his return to England.                                                                 
Howard began acting on stage in London in 1917 but had his greatest success on                 
Broadway, gaining fame in plays like Aren't We All? (1923), Outward Bound (1924),             
and The Green Hat (1925) before becoming an undisputed Broadway star in Her                   
Cardboard Lover (1927). His enormous success as time traveler Peter Standish in               
Berkeley Square in 1929 was his greatest triumph in the theatre and resulted in               
a call to Hollywood the following year, but the stage continued to be an                       
important part of his career. He usually served as either producer or director                 
of the Broadway productions he starred in (frequently performing both duties)                 
and was also a playwright, starring in the New York productions of his plays                   
Murray Hill (1927) and Out of a Blue Sky (1930). Howard also wrote, but did not               
act in the 1936 play Elizabeth Sleeps Out.                                                     
Howard was always better known for his acting, enjoying triumphs in The Animal                 
Kingdom (1932) and The Petrified Forest (1935), immortalizing both roles on film.             
But he had the bad timing to open in Hamlet on Broadway in 1936 just a few weeks               
after John Gielgud had had a resounding success in a rival production of                       
Shakespeare’s play that was far more successful with both critics and audiences.             
Howard’s production lasted 39 performances in New York before it was withdrawn.             
It proved to be Howard’s final stage role.                                                   
Howard often played stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen in films such as the movie                   
version of his great stage success Berkeley Square (1933), for which he was                   
nominated for a Academy Award for Best Actor. He played The Scarlet Pimpernel in               
1934 and in 1938 played Professor Higgins in Pygmalion, which earned him another               
Oscar nomination. He appeared in the film version of Outward Bound but in a                   
different role from the one he'd portrayed in the Broadway cast.                               
In 1936 he appeared in The Petrified Forest. It was Howard who reportedly                     
insisted that Humphrey Bogart appear in the film as gangster Duke Mantee. They                 
had previously appeared in the play together on Broadway and became lifelong                   
friends; the Bogarts named their daughter Leslie after him.                                   
The Petrified Forest was one of several films in which Howard costarred with                   
Bette Davis. They also appeared together in the film adaptation of Somerset                   
Maugham's Of Human Bondage and the 1937 romantic comedy It's Love I'm After (also             
starring Olivia de Havilland). Howard starred with Ingrid Bergman in the 1939                 
film Intermezzo and Norma Shearer in the 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet.               
Howard is perhaps best remembered for his role as Ashley Wilkes in the epic Gone               
with the Wind (1939), but he was uncomfortable with Hollywood and returned to                 
Britain to help with the World War II war effort. He directed and starred in a                 
number of World War II films, including The First of the Few (which he also                   
produced and directed) and Forty-Ninth Parallel with Laurence Olivier. In Forty-Ninth         
Parallel Howard played an English eccentric who is wounded while capturing a                   
Howard died in 1943 when he was returning to England from Lisbon on KLM Royal                 
Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777. The aircraft was shot down by a German Junkers                 
Ju 88 over the Bay of Biscay. It has been rumoured that Howard was engaged in                 
secret war work at the time, and that the Germans believed the Prime Minister,                 
Winston Churchill, who had been in Algiers, to be on board. Howard's manager,                 
Alfred Chenhalls, physically resembled Churchill, while Howard was tall and thin,             
like Churchill's bodyguard, Walter H. Thompson. However, this story has been                   
completely discredited. Churchill himself seems to have been to blame for the                 
spread of it; in his autobiography, he expresses sorrow that a mistake about his               
activities might have cost Howard his life.                                                   
The truth, revealed in several exhaustively detailed books such as Bloody Biscay               
(which comes to a slightly different conclusion), Flight 777 by Ian Colvin, and               
In Search of My Father by Howard's actor son Ronald, is that the Germans were                 
almost certainly out to shoot down the plane in order to kill Howard himself.                 
His intelligence-gathering activities (while ostensibly on "entertainer goodwill"             
tours), as well as the chance to demoralize Britain with the loss of one of its               
most outspokenly patriotic figures, were behind the Luftwaffe attack. Ronald                   
Howard's book, in particular, explores in great detail written German orders to               
the Staffel assigned to intercept the airliner, as well as communiques on the                 
British side which verify intelligence reports of the time indicating a                       
deliberate attack on Howard. It also makes clear that the Germans were well                   
aware of Churchill's whereabouts at the time and were not so naïve as to believe             
the British Prime Minister would be travelling alone aboard an unescorted and                 
unarmed civilian airliner when both the secrecy and air power of the British                   
government were at his command.                                                               
Howard was travelling through Spain and Portugal, ostensibly lecturing on film,               
but also meeting with local propagandists and shoring up support for the Allied               
cause. The Germans in all probability suspected even more surreptitious                       
activities. (German agents were active throughout Spain and Portugal, which,                   
like Switzerland but even more accessible to Allied citizens, was a crossroads                 
for persons from both sides of the conflict.) Ronald Howard, Leslie's son, was                 
of the conviction that the orders to liquidate Leslie came from Goebbels, who                 
had been ridiculed in one of Howard's films and who believed Howard to be the                 
most dangerous propagandist in the British service.                                           
Howard was flying from Portela (Lisbon), Portugal back home to England on a                   
regularly scheduled flight that did not pass over what would commonly be                       
referred to as a war zone. The Luftwaffe records indicate that the Staffel was                 
sent beyond its normal patrol area to intercept and shoot down the airliner,                   
even though this flight had never before been disrupted. There were about                     
fourteen other passengers, most of them either British executives with corporate               
ties in Portugal, or various British comparatively lower echelon government                   
functionaries. There were also two or three children, the offspring of British                 
military personnel. The DC-3 was attacked by eight German JU-88s, despite the                 
fact that Luftwaffe patrols in the nearest normal vicinity usually consisted of               
single planes. According to German documents, the plane was shot down at                       
longitude 10.15 West, latitude 46.07 North, some 500 miles from Bordeaux, France.             
(The DC-3's last radio message indicated it was being fired upon at longitude 09.37           
West, latitude 46.54 North.) The German pilots photographed the wreckage                       
floating in the Bay of Biscay. After the war, copies of these captured photos                 
were sent to Howard's family.                                                                 
Christopher Goss's book Bloody Biscay, however, quotes Oberleutnant Herbert                   
Hintze, Staffel Führer of 14 Staffel, based in Bordeaux, France, as remarking                 
that his Staffel shot down the DC-3 merely because the plane was recognized as                 
an enemy aircraft, unaware that it was an unarmed civilian plane. Hintze states               
that his fellow Staffel pilots were angry that the Luftwaffe had not informed                 
them of a scheduled flight between Lisbon and the UK, and that had they known,                 
they could easily have escorted the plane to Bordeaux and captured it and all