Leslie Howard

  1. Colin Clive, Frankenstein, 1930.  Before losing the director’s chair, Robert Florey had wanted Howard for Henry Frankenstein. His UK successor, James Whale, selected Clive – “It’s alive! It’s alive!”   – and, Boris Karloff, another Brit, as The Monster.
  2. Ralph Bellamy, Forbidden, 1932.    Barbara Stanwyck phoned Columbia’s loathed chief, Harry Cohn, on  July l7, 193l, to say she wouldn’t be reporting to work but going to New York with husband Frank Fay.  If Cohn really wanted  her,  he could up  her $30,00 salary by $20,000. King Cohn rasped: “You’re off your  nut!  I’ll sue you.”  He obtained an injunction preventing her making a Warners film and The Queen backed down, starting work again on September 30.  Cohn did not gloat (this once). He paid the extra money –  even tried to get  Leslie Howard to co-star. But he proved unavailable.
  3. John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933.    Having refused Howard and Ronald Colman, Greta Garbo had Laurence Olivier fired after two weeks. “Inadequate.”All part of her plan to give old lover John Gilbert a career boost, since dropping him in 1931 (from her bed- and Susan Lennox). “That was nice of her,” said a Gilbert biographer Eve Golden in 2013. “But it was not doing him any favors. First of all, it was a bad role. The production was a horror, and sending him back to MGM was the worst thing that could have happened.” As for Howard… “Opposite Garbo, I won’t be noticed.”He preferred Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage– and made two more with her.
  4. Gary Cooper, Design for Living, 1933.    Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Noel Coward – what a creative line-up.  (Well, actually the first two kept just one line from the third one’s play, “For the good of our immortal souls!”). Lubitsch wanted  Colman and Leslie Howard (or Douglas Fairbanks Jr), but  settled for March and Gary Cooper – using his fluent French in some scenes. 
  5. Errol Flynn,  Captain Blood, 1935.    After Robert  Donat quit (health,  contract and personal problems),  Leslie was #1 for producer Harry Joe Brown. “He  could play a scene in  this picture as well as any star and better than most…” If he was interested!
  6. Fredric March, The Dark Angel, 1935. Merle Oberon decided the re-make of her favourite silent movie would be hers – and convinced her lover, Howard, to join her. Instead, he returned to his wife. Director Sidney Franklin was furious, assuming producer Samuel Goldwyn had negotiated with her simply to win Leslie. “I can understand Oberon with Howard but I can’t very well understand Oberon alone without Howard and with March.” Yeah, April would have been better. Or May, June…
  7. Dick Powell, Hearts Divided, 1935.     Plan A was  Leslie Howard and Jean Muir.  Marion Davies was Plan B and she insisted that Powell become Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Jerome, who married her Elizabeth Patterson in 1803 – annulled by Napoleon two years later so Jerome could marry Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg and become  King of Westphalia. EastEnders is not even close! 
  8. Ronald Colman, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935.     For the fourth version of the Charles Dickens classic (the others were dated 1910, 1917, 1921 producer David O Selznick searched for his heroic Sydney Carton among  Howard, Warner Baxter, Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. Whether they were also due as Carton’s lookalike, Charles Darney, was never confirmed. Colman refused, due said DOS, to“a dread of dual roles”   – yet he doubled up the following year in MGM’s Prisoner of Zenda the following year!
  9. Joel  McCrea, These Three, 1936.      Director William Wyler admitted to McCrea, that he’d wanted Leslie. “Yes, I know. [Producer Sam] Goldwyn told me. I was at  his house for dinner.”  Wyler was astonished:  “I haven’t been invited to his house for dinner.”
  10. Errol Flynn, Green Light, 1936.  Montgomery and Leslie Howard were also up for the young doctor ruining his life by taking the blame for his boss’ fatal error during sugery and then falling for the dead patient’s daughter.  As this emanated from a Lloyd C Douglas book. redemption was at hand.  This was Flynn’s first Warner film in civvies. He soon had a rapier back in his grasp   when prince and paupering that year.

  11. Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1937.  The first star to agree to the paleontologist – after Ronald Colman and The Three Ms –  Fredric March, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery  –  refused – was refused in turn by The Star: Katharine Hepburn. Well, Howard had sacked her for stealing their Broadway  play, The Animal Kingdom, in 1931.  Now Howard preferred Alexander Korda’s production of Lawrence of Arabia, which never happened… Cary Grant wasn’t sure he could  play an intellectual. “Hah,” said director Howard Hawks., “Cary was right on on from  the first day.  This was his kind of role and he  just took to it naturally..”  The trouble, he added, was Katharine Hepburn. Unlike Grant, she was not naturally funny. Christopher Reeve said he based Clark Kent in his four Superman films on this role. Grant and Hawks made four more movies, the most Hawks  ever made  with the same actor.
  12. Laurence Olivier,  Rebecca, 1939.
  13. Alan Curtis, New Wine, 1940.    A week before shooting started, the suits were still hoping to sign Howard to compose Franz Schubert (1797-1828)  in the biopic.
  14. Rex Harrison,  Major Barbara, 1941.     George Bernard Shaw had script and cast approval.  He’d never liked Leslie as Professor Higgins  in Pygmalion, 1938, and was delighted to see him withdraw from Adolphus Cusins.  GBS was no happier with his replacement, Andrew Osborne – much happier with Harrison’s late arrival.  (Rex, of lourse, became the perfect Higgins, on stage and screen, in the 1960s’  Pygmalion musical: My Fair Lady).
  15. Brian Aherne, The Man Who Lost Himself, 1940.     Planned for Howard but played by Aherne, our hero John Evans decides to switch IDs when his veritable clone, Malcolm Scott, dies in an accident. Hmm, not bad but the Antoninio-Nicholson take was far better: Professione reporter (The Passenger), 1974.
  16. David Niven, Bonnie Prince Charlie,  1946.    Eager to repeat the dash of The Scarlet Pimpernel- and to direct – Leslie announced Charlieamong the first of  his company’s  projects for Warners release in 1936.  He made a couple of simplistic Hollywood comedies, instead.  Following Howard’s  WWII air crash death, his pal, Niven  shaved his signature tash off to become the titular 1740s Scots hero, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, claimant to trhe British throne. Niven remade Korda and Howard’s film as The Elusive Pimpernel, 1950.
  17. Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case, 1947.     Reserved for Howard-Hedy Lamarr by Selznick in 1940.  Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted Olivier-Garbo. His producer, David O  Selznick, was still giving orders though –  for the last time. The film completed Hitch’s Selznick contract.  From here on, Hitch was free…
  18. Walter Pidgeon, If Winter Comes, 1947.     Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick bought the morality tale in 1939 for Howard and Joan Fontaine – or Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh. They all passed. So did DOS, selling his rights in 1940 to UK producer Alexander Korda… who did the same to MGM, which wanted Donat and Greer Garson as the feuding Sabre couple. And settled for Pidgeon and Angela Lansbury… on, for the historic first time, non-flammable film.

  19. Tyrone Power, The Sun Also Rises, 1956.      
    There are two main characters in Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, published in 1925.  They took forever to reach the screen. They are part of the post-WWI “lost generation.”  Jake Barnes is impotent. Lady Ashley is  a nymphomaniac. Words, said Hollywood censors, “not proper for screen presentation.”  Ann Harding first won the rights in 1934  to co-star Leslie Howard. She sold out in 1944 to Constance Bennett, who quit before finding her Jake.  By 1949, the couple were Montgomery Clift- Margaret Sheridan. Dewey Martin was a ‘52 Jake. There followed Gregory Peck-Jennifer Jones, Robert Stack-Dana Wynter – ultimately Tyrone Power-Jennifer Jones – she split for another Papa Hemingway heroine, Catherine Barkley, A Farewell to Arms. Ava Gardner took over only to be   replaced by  Susan Hayward (rivals in Papa’s Snows of Kilimanjaro, 1952) Hemingway insisted Ava was Brett  and no one  else.  And the offensive words? Producer Darry F Zanuck promised they would be un-uttered. He (half) lied.  Impotent was spoken, as a doctor explained his war wounds to Jake.  And Brett, well, she was no longer a nympho, just a lush.  Papa’s review? “It’s pretty disappointing and that’s being gracious.”

  20. Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.




 Birth year: 1893Death year: 1943Other name: Casting Calls:  20