Reginald Grenville Eves, RA, RP, 1876-1941
Portrait of Leslie Howard, 1893-1943
Portrait of Leslie Howard
6th October 1937

"R.G.Eves / 1937"

pencil black chalk on paper
54 x 44 cm. (21 x 17.1/4in.)


Leslie Howard,   [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.  Lilian had been brought up as a Christian, but she was of partial Jewish ancestry—her paternal grandfather Ludwig Blumberg, a Jewish merchant originally from East Prussia, had married into the English upper middle classes.Howard was educated at Alleyn's SchoolLondon. Like many others around the time of the First World War, the family Anglicised its name, in this case to "Stainer," though Howard's legal name remained Steiner as evidenced by his military records and the public notice of his name change in 1920. He worked as a bank clerk before enlisting at the outbreak of the Great War. He served in the British Army as a subaltern in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry but suffered shell shock, which led to his relinquishing his commission in 1916.

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.

In 1920 Howard suggested forming a film production company, British Comedy Films Ltd., to his friend Adrian Brunel. The two eventually settled on the name Minerva Flims Ltd. The Company's Board of Directors consisted of Howard, BrunelC. Aubrey SmithNigel Playfair and A. A. Milne. One of the Company's investors was H. G. Wells. Although the films produced by Minerva—which were written by A. A. Milne—were well received by critics, the Company was only offered £200 apiece for films it cost them £1,000 to produce and Minerva Films Ltd. was short-lived. Early films include four written by A. A. Milne, including The Bump, starring C. Aubrey SmithTwice TwoFive Pounds Reward; and Bookworms, the latter two starring Howard. Some of these films survive in the archives of the British Film Institute.

Following his move to Hollywood, Howard often played stiff upper lipped Englishmen. He appeared in the film version of Outward Bound (1930), though in a different role than the one he portrayed on Broadway. He had second billing under Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1933), which also featured Lionel Barrymore and future Gone With the Wind rival Clark Gable six years prior to their Civil War masterpiece. He starred in the film version of Berkeley Square (1933), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He played the title character in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934).

Howard co-starred with Bette Davis in The Petrified Forest (1936) and reportedly insisted that Humphrey Bogart play gangsterDuke Mantee, repeating his role from the stage production. It re-launched Bogart's screen career, and the two men became lifelong friends; Bogart and Lauren Bacall later named their daughter "Leslie Howard Bogart" after him.

Howard had earlier co-starred with Davis in the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's book Of Human Bondage (1934) and later in the romantic comedy It's Love I'm After(1937) (also co-starring Olivia de Havilland). He played Professor Henry Higgins in the film version of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1938), with Wendy Hiller as Eliza, which earned Howard another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Howard starred with Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo (1939) and Norma Shearer in a film version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1936).

Howard is perhaps best remembered for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939), his last American film, but he was uncomfortable with Hollywood and returned to Britain to help with the Second World War effort. He starred in a number of Second World War films including 49th Parallel (1941), "Pimpernel" Smith (1941), and The First of the Few(1942, known in the U.S. as Spitfire), the latter two of which he also directed and co-produced. His friend and The First of the Few co-star, David Niven said Howard was "...not what he seemed. He had the kind of distraught air that would make people want to mother him. Actually, he was about as naïve as General Motors. Busy little brain, always going."

In 1944, after his death, British exhibitors voted him the second most popular local star at the box office.


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.

Howard died in 1943 when flying to Bristol, UK, from Lisbon, Portugal, on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777. The aircraft, "G-AGBB" a Douglas DC-3, was shot down by Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88C6 maritime fighter aircraft over the Bay of Biscay. Howard was among the 17 fatalities, including four ex-KLM flight crew.

The BOAC DC-3 Ibis had been operating on a scheduled Lisbon–Whitchurch route throughout 1942–43 that did not pass over what would commonly be referred to as a war zone. By 1942, however, the Germans considered the region an "extremely sensitive war zone." On two occasions, 15 November 1942, and 19 April 1943, the camouflaged airliner had been attacked by Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters (a single aircraft and six Bf 110s, respectively) while en route; each time, the pilots escaped via evasive tactics. On 1 June 1943, "G-AGBB" again came under attack by a schwarm of eight V/KG40 Ju 88C6 maritime fighters. The DC-3's last radio message indicated it was being fired upon at longitude 09.37 West, latitude 46.54 North.

According to German documents, the DC-3 was shot down at 46°07′N 10°15′W, some 500 miles (800 km) from Bordeaux, France, and 200 miles (320 km) northwest of A Coruña, SpainLuftwaffe records indicate that the Ju 88 maritime fighters were operating beyond their normal patrol area to intercept and shoot down the aircraft. Bloody Biscay: The Story of the Luftwaffe's Only Long Range Maritime Fighter Unit, V Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40, and Its Adversaries 1942–1944 (Chris Goss, 2001) quotes First Oberleutnant Herbert Hintze, Staffel Führer of 14 Staffeln and based in Bordeaux, that his Staffel shot down the DC-3 because it was recognised as an enemy aircraft. Hintze further states that his pilots were angry that the Luftwaffe leaders had not informed them of a scheduled flight between Lisbon and the UK, and that had they known, they could easily have escorted the DC-3 to Bordeaux and captured it and all aboard. The German pilots photographed the wreckage floating in the Bay of Biscay, and after the war copies of these captured photographs were sent to Howard's family.

The following day, a search of the Bay of Biscay was undertaken by "N/461", a Short Sunderland flying boat from No. 461 Squadron RAAF. Near the same coordinates where the DC-3 was shot down, the Sunderland was attacked by eight Ju 88s and after a furious battle, managed to shoot down three of the attackers, scoring an additional three "possibles", before crash-landing at Praa Sands, near Penzance. In the aftermath of these two actions, all BOAC flights from Lisbon were subsequently re-routed and operated only under the cover of darkness.

The news of Howard's death was published in the same issue of The Times that reported the "death" of Major William Martin, the red herring used for the ruse involved in Operation Mincemeat.

The tragedy rendered Howard the first leading cast member from Gone with the Wind to die.

Theories regarding the air attack 

A long-standing hypothesis states that the Germans believed that the British Prime MinisterWinston Churchill, was on board the flight. Churchill, in his autobiography, expressed sorrow that a mistake about his activities might have cost Howard his life. The BBC television series "Churchill‘s Bodyguard" (original broadcast 2006) suggested that agents of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, had learned of Churchill's proposed departure and route. Churchill's bodyguard, Detective Inspector Walter H. Thompson, later wrote that Churchill, at times, seemed clairvoyant about threats to his safety, and, acting on a premonition, changed his departure to the following day.

Speculation by historians also centred on whether British code breakers had decrypted top secret Enigma messages outlining the assassination plan, and Churchill may have wanted to protect the code breaking operation so the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht would not suspect that their Enigma machines were compromised. German spies (who commonly watched the airfields of neutral countries), may then have mistaken Howard and his manager, as they boarded their aircraft, for Churchill and his bodyguard, as Howard's manager Alfred Chenhalls physically resembled Churchill, while Howard was tall and thin, like Thompson. Although the overwhelming majority of published documentation of the case repudiates this theory, it remains a possibility. The timing of Howard's takeoff and the flight path were similar to Churchill's flight, making it easy for the Germans to have mistaken the two flights.

Two books focusing on the final flight, Flight 777 (Ian Colvin, 1957) and In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard (Ronald Howard, 1984) concluded that Germans deliberately shot down Howard's DC-3 to assassinate him, and demoralise Britain. Howard had been travelling through Spain and Portugal lecturing on film, but also meeting with local propagandists and shoring up support for the Allies. The British Film Yearbook for 1945 described Leslie Howard's work as "one of the most valuable facets of British propaganda".

The Germans could have suspected even more surreptitious activities, since Portugal, like Switzerland, was a crossroads for internationals and spies from both sides. British historian James Oglethorpe, investigated Howard's connection to the secret services. Ronald Howard's book explores the written German orders to the Ju 88 squadron, in great detail, as well as British communiqués that verify intelligence reports indicating a deliberate attack on Howard. These accounts indicate that the Germans were aware of Churchill's real whereabouts at the time and were not so naive as to believe he would be travelling alone on board an unescorted, unarmed civilian aircraft, which Churchill also acknowledged as improbable. Ronald Howard was convinced the order to shoot down Howard's airliner came directly from Joseph GoebbelsMinister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany, who had been ridiculed in one of Leslie Howard's films, and believed Howard to be the most dangerous British propagandist.

Most of the 13 passengers were either British executives with corporate ties to Portugal, or lower-ranking British government civil servants. There were also two or three children of British military personnel. The bumped passengers were the teenage sons of Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt: George and William Cecil, who had been recalled to London from their Swiss boarding school. Being bumped by Howard saved their lives. William Cecil is best associated with his ownership and preservation of his grandfather George Washington Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate in North Carolina. William Cecil described a story in which he met a woman, several months after his return to London, who said she had secret war information, and used his mother's phone to put in a call to the British Air Ministry. She told them that she had a message from Leslie Howard.

A 2008 book by Spanish writer José Rey Ximena  claims that Howard was on a top-secret mission for Churchill to dissuade Francisco Franco, Spain's authoritarian dictator and head of state, from joining the Axis powers. Via an old girlfriend, Conchita Montenegro,Howard had contacts with Ricardo Giménez Arnau, a young diplomat in the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Further circumstantial background evidence is revealed in Jimmy Burns's 2009 biography of his father, spymaster Tom Burns. According to author William Stevenson in A Man called Intrepid, his biography of Sir William Samuel Stephenson (no relation), the senior representative of British Intelligence for the western hemisphere during the Second World War, Stephenson postulated that the Germans knew about Howard's mission and ordered the aircraft shot down. Stephenson further claimed that Churchill knew in advance of the German intention to shoot down the aircraft, but allowed it to proceed to protect the fact that the British had broken the German Enigma code. Former CIA agent Joseph B. Smith recalled that, in 1957, he was briefed by the National Security Agency on the need for secrecy and that Leslie Howard's death had been brought up. The NSA claimed that Howard knew his aircraft was to be attacked by German fighters and sacrificed himself to protect the British code-breakers.

The 2010 biography by Estel Eforgan, Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor, examines currently available evidence and concludes that Howard was not a specific target, corroborating the claims by German sources that the shootdown was "an error in judgement". There is a monument in San Andrés de Teixido, Spain, dedicated to the victims of the crash. Howard's aircraft was shot down over the sea north of this village.

Howard married Ruth Evelyn Martin (1895-1980) in March, 1916, and they had two children, Ronald "Winkie" and Leslie Ruth "Doodie." His son Ronald Howard (1918–1996) became an actor and played the title role in the television series Sherlock Holmes (1954).

Arthur, Howard's younger brother, was also an actor, primarily in British comedies. A sister, Irene, was a costume designer and later a casting director for MGM. Another sister, Doris (aka Dorice) Stainer, founded a small school, Hurst Lodge School, in SunningdaleBerkshire, England, in 1945 and remained its headmistress until the 1970s.

Widely known as a ladies' man (he himself once said that he "didn't chase women but … couldn't always be bothered to run away"), Howard is reported to have had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when they appeared on stage (in the UK) in Her Cardboard Lover (1927); Merle Oberon, while filming The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and Conchita Montenegro, with whom he had appeared in the film Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931) There were also rumours of affairs with Norma Shearer and Myrna Loy (during filming of The Animal Kingdom).

Howard met and fell in love with Violette Cunnington in 1938 while working on the film Pygmalion. Cunnington was secretary to Gabriel Pascal who was producing the film. Cunnington became Howard's secretary and lover and the two travelled to the United States, living together while Howard was filming Gone With The Wind (1939) and Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939). Howard's wife and daughter joined him in Hollywood before production ended on the two films, making Howard's arrangement with Cunnington somewhat uncomfortable for everyone. Howard left the United States for the last time with his wife and daughter in August, 1939. Cunnington soon followed. She later appeared in two of Howard's films, "Pimpernel" Smith (1941) and The First of the Few (1942), in minor roles under the stage name of Suzanne Clair. Cunnington, in her early 30s, died in 1942 of pneumonia, just six months before Howard's death. Howard was distraught over her death. In his will, Howard had left her his Beverly Hills house.

The Howards' family home in Britain was Stowe Maries, a 16th-century six-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of Westcott village near DorkingSurrey.

Howard's will revealed an estate of £62,761 ($251,000) (the equivalent of £2.55 million as of 2015).

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorating Howard was placed at 45 Farquhar Road, Upper Norwood, London in 2013.


Howard did not publish an autobiography, although a compilation of his writings, Trivial Fond Records, edited and with occasional comments by his son Ronald, was published in 1982. This book includes insights on his family life, first impressions of America and Americans when he first moved to the United States to act on Broadway, and his views on democracy in the years prior to and during the Second World War.

Howard's son and daughter each published memoirs of their father: In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard (1984) by Ronald Howard, and A Quite Remarkable Father: A Biography of Leslie Howard (1959) by Leslie Ruth Howard.

Estel Eforgan's Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor is a full-length book biography published in 2010.

Leslie Howard: A Quite Remarkable Life, a film documentary biography produced by Thomas Hamilton of Repo Films, was shown privately at the NFB Mediatheque, Toronto, Canada in September 2009 for contributors and supporters of the film. Subsequently, re-edited and retitled "Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn", the documentary was officially launched on 2 September 2011 in an event held at Leslie Howard's former home "Stowe Maries" in Dorking, and reported on BBC South News the same day. Lengthy rights negotiations with Warners then delayed further screenings until May 2012, although the situation now appears to have been resolved and Repo Films now intends to enter the film into various International Film Festivals.


Leslie Howard was a polished actor, quiet in his method, with a certain wistfulness that added to his natural charm of manner and intelligence. His voice was charming, gracious, and beautifully modulated. In private life he was of a rather shy and retiring nature, but he was extremely popular.

J. Parker, rev. K. D. Reynolds  DNB

Artist biography

Eves, Reginald Grenville (1876–1941), painter, was born on 24 May 1876 in London, the son of William Henry Eves JP and his second wife, Anne Grenville. As a child he showed a talent for painting and drawing, and while at University College School, London, he won the Trevelyan Goodall scholarship in art, which took him to the Slade School of Fine Art. He worked there under Alphonse Legros, Frederick Brown, and Henry Tonks and won a Slade studentship.

Eves left the Slade School in 1895 and spent the next five years living on a farm near Holwick, Yorkshire, where he devoted his time to painting landscapes, animals, and portraits. In 1901 he returned to London and took a studio in Fitzroy Street; in the same year he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy. In 1903 he married Bertha Sybil, an artist and the younger daughter of Philip Oxenden Papillon JP and deputy lieutenant, of Crowhurst Park, Battle, Sussex, and Lexden Manor, Colchester; they had one son, Grenville Eves.

Success did not come quickly to Eves, and it was not until 1912, when his portrait of Sir Herbert Cozens-Hardy drew considerable praise, that he became a regular exhibitor at the academy. From then until his death in 1941 he exhibited every year (with the exception of 1931) never fewer than two paintings. He also exhibited at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Paris Salon (where he won a gold medal in 1926), and elsewhere. His sitters were for the most part men, but his portraits of the queen of Spain (1921) and Miss Kyra Nijinsky (1935) showed that he could be equally successful in painting women. During his career he painted many of the most prominent figures in British public and artistic life. His portraits of George VI (1924), Sir Ernest Shackleton (1921), Thomas Hardy (1923), Sir Frank Benson (1924), Stanley Baldwin (1933), Lord Jellicoe (1935), Geoffrey Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury, Leslie Howard, Sir Frederick Pollock (c.1926), Sir William Watson (1929?), and Sir Charles Scott Sherrington (1927) are in the National Portrait Gallery; another portrait of Hardy (1924) and one of Max Beerbohm (1936) are in the Tate collection, the latter having been purchased by the Chantrey bequest in 1937. Although the majority of these are now perceived as unimaginative, the status of his sitters indicates that Eves achieved a highly successful portrait practice.

In 1931 there was a controversy concerning some architectural paintings which Eves had sent to the Royal Academy and which were rejected on the ground that a photographic process had been used at one stage in their production. Eves claimed ignorance of the regulation forbidding such a practice. This slight conflict did not, however, hold up his advancement, for in 1933 he became an ARA and in 1939 an RA. In 1940 he was appointed an official war artist, and in 1941, at the time of his death, eight portraits by him of war leaders were on exhibition at the National Gallery.

Eves had a remarkable gift for catching and fixing a characteristic expression. He developed a trademark style in which loosely worked backgrounds and unfinished edges give the impression of a spontaneous sketch. Although he worked mainly in portraiture, he also painted landscapes in oil and watercolour in a style which owed something to Whistler and Philip Wilson Steer. Eves died at 25 Bridge Street, Middleton in Teesdale, co. Durham, on 14 June 1941. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the gallery of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1947.

James Laver, rev. Ben Whitworth DNB