Son of a London stockbroker, British actor Leslie Howard worked as a bank clerk after graduating from London's Dulwich School. Serving briefly in World War I, Howard was mustered out for medical reasons in 1918, deciding at that time to act for a living. Working in both England and the U.S. throughout the 1920s, Howard specialized in playing disillusioned intellectuals in such plays as Outward Bound, the film version of which served as his 1930 film debut. Other films followed on both sides of the Atlantic, the best of these being Howard's masterful star turn in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). In 1935, Howard portrayed yet another disenchanted soul in The Petrified Forest, which co-starred Humphrey Bogart as a gangster patterned after John Dillinger. Howard was tapped for the film version, but refused to make the movie unless Bogart was also hired (Warner Bros. had planned to use their resident gangster type, Edward G. Robinson). Hardly a candidate for "Mr. Nice Guy" -- he was known to count the lines of his fellow actors and demand cuts if they exceeded his dialogue -- Howard was nonetheless loyal to those he cared about. Bogart became a star after The Petrified Forest, and in gratitude named his first daughter Leslie Bogart. Somehow able to hide encroaching middle-age when on screen, Howard played romantic leads well into his late 40s, none more so than the role of -- yes -- disillusioned intellectual Southern aristocrat Ashley Wilkes in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. In the late 1930s, Howard began dabbling in directing, notably in his starring films Pygmalion (1938) and Pimpernel Smith (1941). Fiercely patriotic, Howard traveled extensively on behalf of war relief; on one of these trips, he boarded a British Overseas Airways plane in 1943 with several other British notables, flying en route from England to Lisbon. The plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay and all on board were killed. Only after the war ended was it revealed that Howard had selflessly taken that plane ride knowing it would probably never arrive in Lisbon; it was ostensibly carrying Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and was sent out as a decoy so that Churchill's actual plane would be undisturbed by enemy fire.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was a World War I veteran who received a medical discharge for shell shock; took up acting as a kind of therapy.
- Made his Broadway debut in 1920 in Just Suppose.
- Helped launch the career of Humphrey Bogart by recommending him for a role in 1936's The Petrified Forest; Bogart later named his daughter Leslie Howard Bogart.
- Took the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) only after David O. Selznick promised he could associate-produce Intermezzo.
- Killed in a plane crash over the Bay of Biscay during his service to the British Army in World War II.