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Remembered Today:

Leslie Howard - Filmstar of the 30's & 40's


Paul Johnson

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I saw a documentary on Leslie Howard recently and wondered about his service in WW1. The programme said that he served as an officer in WW1, and his war service is described on a biographical website as "brief".

I have searched the MIC's and found an Artillery Officer by the name of Leslie Mark Howard (I believe he used his own name as an actor) and wondered if it was the same person. Does anyone know?

Thanks

PAUL J

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Leslie was born to Hungarian parents in London and went to Dulwich College. After school, he worked as a bank clerk until the outbreak of World War I. In 1917, diagnosed as shell shocked, he was invalided out and advised to take up acting as therapy. In a few years, his name was known on the stages of London and New York. 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. He made his first movie in 1930, 'Outward Bound', a film adaption of his stage performance of the same name. In 'Never the Twain Shall Mee (1931) and 'Smilin' Through' (1932), he was playing the Englishman role to the hilt. His screen persona could perhaps be best summed up by his role as Sir Percy Blakeney in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' (1934), a foppish member of society. It was Leslie who insisted that Humphrey Bogart get the role of Duke Mantee, in 'The Petrified Forest' (1936), the character that Bogart played in the stage production. With success, he became quite picky about which roles he would do and usually did but two films per year. In 1939, he played the character that was always be associated with him - that of Ashley Wilkes, the honour bound disillusioned intellectual southern gentleman in 'Gone with the Wind'. But war clouds were gathering over England and Leslie devoted all his energy on behalf of the war effort. He directed films, wrote articles and made radio broadcasts. He died in 1943 when the KLM plane he was on was shot down by German fighters over the Bay of Biscay.

Cheers

Kim

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Hi Kim,

Fascinating biography. Many thanks for the post, it was very interesting. Out of interest, what was he doing on that aircraft and where was he going ?

Cheers

Tim.

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Kim,

Thanks for the info. Yes he was in Gone with the Wind.

A lot of this was in the programme and I would like to know more about his war service. I didn't record the programme but I do know it showed a photo of him in uniform. This would be really useful in tracking down his record.

Tim,

There are many theories about his death, most of which centre around the fact that the Germans wanted to kill Howard as he was an ardent anti-nazi. Some say he was a spy but this has never been proved. Others say that it was other important political passangers on the plane that the Germans were after. It would appear that the attack was a deliberate one rather than a mistake or a random opportunity. I'm really fascinated by the whole thing.

Regards

PAUL J

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Another conspiracy theory is that Howard was a victim of counter intelligence and was flying a DC3 purported to carrying Churchill back from a conference with Joe Stalin and Franklin D. Rumour has/had ti that the huns were tipped off and believed they were attacking an important target....

No idea of the provenance - this is the first time I have heard it was a KLM aircraft, always thought it was a military marked DC3 so who knows.

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It seems, according to the documentary, that there was a business/political figure on board who looked distinctly similar to Chruchill.

The aircraft was a civilian one ( not sure if it was KLM) and was on a flight from neutral territory.

PAUL J

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Paul

From dictionary of national biography:

Howard, Leslie [real name Leslie Howard Steiner] (1893–1943), actor and film director, was born at 31 Westbourne Road, Forest Hill, London, on 3 April 1893. He was the eldest son of Ferdinand Steiner, a stockbroker's clerk, and his wife, Lilian Blumberg. He was educated locally in Dulwich and he then became a bank clerk. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he enlisted and was a second lieutenant in the Northamptonshire yeomanry from March 1915 until May 1916, when he resigned his commission. On 3 March 1916 he married Ruth Evelyn, daughter of Henry William Martin, laundry manager, of Colchester. They had a son and a daughter. During his army service an early interest in theatricals increased, and on returning to civilian life he sought a professional engagement, adopted the name by which he was known henceforth, and made his first appearance as a professional actor in 1917, touring the provinces in the part of Jerry in Peg o' my Heart by J. Hartley Manners. He made his first appearance in London at the New Theatre, on 14 February 1918, in the small part of Ronald Herrick in the ‘idyll of suburbia’ The Freaks by Sir Arthur Pinero. Howard continued to act in London until the summer of 1920, appearing notably in Gladys Unger's Our Mr Hepplewhite, A. A. Milne's Mr Pim Passes by, and Gertrude E. Jennings's The Young Person in Pink. He then went to the United States, first appearing in New York at the Henry Miller Theatre in November 1920 in Just Suppose. He continued to act in America until 1926, appearing successfully in a variety of plays, notably as Henry in Outward Bound, and as Napier Harpenden in The Green Hat. He returned to London for a short engagement in 1926, but went back to New York to play in Her Cardboard Lover, and in Escape by John Galsworthy. Subsequently he divided his time between New York and London. He played Peter Standish in Berkeley Square in both cities. His only other performance of note in London was at the Lyric Theatre in October 1933 when he appeared as Shakespeare in This Side Idolatry. He played the leading part, Alan Squier, in The Petrified Forest, which he presented with Gilbert Miller in 1935 at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York, and in November 1936 he appeared as Hamlet at the Imperial Theatre, New York, in his own production which, however, proved somewhat of a disappointment.

Thereafter Howard devoted his talents to films, both as actor and director, and it was in this medium—in which he first appeared, in Outward Bound, in 1930—that he gained full recognition. As a film actor he made notable successes in Smilin' through (1932); Berkeley Square (1933); The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934); The Petrified Forest (1936); Pygmalion (1938), of which he was co-director; Gone with the Wind (1939), in which he starred opposite Vivien Leigh as the ineffectual, gentlemanly Ashley Wilkes; 49th Parallel (1941), a war film; and many others. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he took to production and was part-producer of some of the best British war films: in Pimpernel Smith (1941) and The First of the Few (1942) he also played the leading part, and he was a raconteur in The Gentle Sex (1943), a story of the ATS. A film about the nursing profession, The Lamp Still Burns (1943), was released after his death. The unescorted passenger aeroplane in which he was returning from a visit to Spain and Portugal under the auspices of the British Council was shot down by the enemy on 1 June 1943.

Cheers

Dominic

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L.H.Steiner, 2/Lt 9/3/15 3/Northamptonshire Yeomanry TF. As only the 1st Northn Yeo saw action before the end of 1916, maybe he transferred to them. However, I can`t find an entry for him on the NA website, so maybe he didn`t go abroad? Phil B

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Dominic/Phil,

Thank you very much for this help.

I can now have a dable at looking up his service details at the NA.

Kind Regards

PAUL J :)

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From the London Gazette 18-5-1916

War Office,

18th May 1916.

TERRITORIAL FORCE.

YEOMANRY.

Northampton:

2nd Lt. L. H. Steiner relinquishes his comm. 19th May 1916.

Steve.

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Geoffrey Wigoder’s ‘Dictionary of Jewish Biography’ draws on a couple of books which appear to have been written by Howard’s son;

R. Howard ‘In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard’ 1981

and L. R. Howard ‘A Quite Remarkable Father’ 1959

The info given seems to be somewhat at variance to that of the Dic of Nat Bio quoted above and at the moment I have no way of confirming which is correct

The Dictionary’s article says that Howard was an indifferent student and worked as a bank clerk (a position obtained by his stockbroker father) until the outbreak of WWI. He is then said to have obtained a commission on the Twentieth Hussars and married the daughter of an Army officer before being sent to France. He was invalided out of the army in 1917 “having suffered severe shell shock on the western front.”

Regards

Michael D.R.

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My Thanks to Steve & Michael for their input.

We now have intrigue about his war service as well as his death. This is becoming very interesting and is a mystery that needs to be investigated.

Regards

PAUL J

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It seems, according to the documentary, that there was a business/political figure on board who looked distinctly similar to Chruchill.

PAUL J

Perhaps the Germans were upset because he`d designed the Spitfire! What was the name of that film? Phil B

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First of the Few?

Steve.

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Geoffrey Wigoder’s ‘Dictionary of Jewish Biography’ draws on a couple of books which appear to have been written by Howard’s son;

R. Howard ‘In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard’ 1981

and L. R. Howard ‘A Quite Remarkable Father’ 1959

The info given seems to be somewhat at variance to that of the Dic of Nat Bio quoted above and at the moment I have no way of confirming which is correct

The Dictionary’s article says that Howard was an indifferent student and worked as a bank clerk (a position obtained by his stockbroker father) until the outbreak of WWI. He is then said to have obtained a commission on the Twentieth Hussars and married the daughter of an Army officer before being sent to France. He was invalided out of the army in 1917 “having suffered severe shell shock on the western front.” 

Regards

Michael D.R.

This sounds like a classic example of the 'family tradition' of war service, especially the inclusion of a fashionable regiment like the 20th Hussars. I think Steve's London Gazette entry is telling, but if you do look at his service record Paul please let us know the results.

Cheers

Dominic

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Dominic,

Just to cloud matters further, Wigoder’s book gives the spelling of the family name as

‘Stainer’

Curiouser & Curiouser

but I repeat, I have no way of confirming which is correct

Regards

Michael D.R.

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If this is the same person, there is an officer's service file to:

2nd Lt. L.H.Steiner at WO374/65089. (1914-16)

No file seems to exist for an L.H.Stainer or L.Howard.

Couldn't find him on the MICs at all which may back up the theory that he didn't go overseas at all.

Regards,

Matthew

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Thank you everyone for the responses.

I will check out this file on my next NA visit to see if it reveals anything and report back.

Regards

PAUL J :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Leslie Howard Steiner. Born 3rd April 1893. Joined Inns Of Court OTC in September 1914. Commissioned into the 3/1 Northamptonshire Yeomanry in February 1915.

In January 1916 2/Lt Steiner came before a Medical Board claiming that he suffered from Headaches and that these grew worse when he exerted himself. The board deemed him Fit for active service. In May 1916 he relinquished his commission. He never saw overseas service.

A letter to the War Office dated 1957 indicates that this was Leslie Howard the filmstar.

A few photos of the file are attached. If anyone wants them all please email me and I will send them to you.

Regards

PAUL JOHNSON

post-1368-1131121513.jpg

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Medical Report

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I hesitate to say the following as I often wonder how I would have reacted to the stresses of being a soldier during WWI, but Howard seems to have found it very easy to have got out of the war. Ninety years ago, Society, and especially Medical Boards, were very unsympathetic to those who lacked moral fibre or had vague illnesses. So it's surprising that Howard would have been allowed to resign his commission just like that. Wouldn't he have been liable to conscription as a private? Conscientious Objectors had far more trouble and grief (and I believe that many of them were genuine in their objections to war service).

Moonraker

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