Leslie Howard may well be one of the most British film figures of the 20th century that Hungarians can be proud of.
Born on April 3, 1893 in London as Leslie Howard Steiner (aka László Steiner for Hungarians) to a Hungarian Jewish father and a British-German mother, Howard began his career in the banking world which ended before it could even take off when he enlisted to serve in WWI. He was discharged from the army after he was shell-shocked and turned to acting as a form of therapy. That’s where he began to bloom.
His endeavors as actor, director and producer found him fame, and London, New York and later Hollywood echoed from his name in no time. Whether it was nature or nurture is unclear, but thanks to his education in Dulwich College he perfected the art of being the quintessential English gentleman on and off the big screen. One by one, he got bigger and bigger roles and more and more critical acclaim. Just like he migrated from London to New York, he moved from theater to film.
He made his first movie, “The Heroine of Mons”, in 1914 and his first sound movie in 1930 (“Outward Bound”). Playing Sir Percy Blakeney in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” in 1934 really cemented his British film persona, which eventually lead him to play his most famous role – Southern intellectual Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”. Having previously been the personification of English charm, Howard then conquered both sides of the Atlantic. “Pygmalion”, “Of Human Bondage”, “Never the Twain Shall Meet and Smilin’ Through” are all tied to his performances.
After starring in “Gone with the Wind”, however, he returned to the homeland to direct propaganda documentaries, write articles and further help British war efforts against the Nazis. He tragically died in 1943 upon his plane being shot down by the German air force over the Bay of Biscay.
The Hungarian Hollywood Council held a commemoration on April 3rd, the 130th anniversary of his birthday, in the city of Szigetvár, where his father hailed and later emigrated to London from. As part of the Council’s celebration, the Mayor of Szigetvár and students from local elementary and high schools paid homage to the memory of the star who was in five Oscar Best Picture nominees throughout his career. As he once said, ”I can’t think of anything more exciting than trying to be an actor.” Many, many others must have thought the same of him.