Monday, June 18, 2018

Leslie Howard: The Man who Gave a Damn

Leslie Howard is this month's Star of the Month on TCM, with his movies running every Monday in prime time. Two weeks ago, they ran the 2016 documentary Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn. That documentary is going to be on again, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. It's well worth watching.

Apparently the documentary took quite a few years to bring about, because the main interviewee is Leslie's daughter Leslie Ruth, who died in 2013. But it's pretty well researched. Narration is handled by Derek Partridge, a British TV presenter who had an interesting connection to Howard: he was supposed to be on a BOAC flight from Lisbon to London, but was pulled off of it because VIP passenger Leslie Howard needed a seat. That was the ill-fated flight that was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. The documentary then mentions Gone With the Wind, since that's probably the role for which Howard is best known -- even if it's one Howard really didn't like doing as he felt he was all wrong for the part of Ashley Wilkes.

From that point, the documentary goes into a standard birth-to-death narrative, interviewing film historians and, in archival footage, people who knew him. (Olivia de Havilland is the one notable person I could think of who was missing.) One interesting interviewee is an assistand director who worked with Howard, Norman Spencer, who is apparently still alive a couple of months shy of his 104th birthday.

Anyhow, I didn't know that Howard's parents wanted him to go into banking, or the difficulties in his marriage: he apparently had an affair with Merle Oberon, and then another with his personal secretary, who died of meningitis about six months before Leslie, although he never got around to updating his will according to a bit on IMDb's "Trivia" section for Howard.

There was a lot of stuff I didn't know about Howard or his career in the documentary, and I think it's something that anybody who's a fan of old movies will enjoy. I don't know that it's available on DVD, because of all the rights issues surrounding the clips used. One of the IMDb reviews implies that's why it took so long for the documentary to see the light of day.

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