April 3, 1893: Birthdate of actor Leslie Howard. The blue-eyed, blond-haired man who played the quintessential Southern gentlemen Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind” was Jewish. Leslie Howard Steiner was born in Forest Hill, London, England. He was the son of a Hungarian Jewish father, Ferdinand Steiner, and Lilian Blumberg daughter of a barrister named Charles Blumberg. The middle class Blumbergs did not approve of the marriage. However, they came to accept the marriage after the birth of young Leslie who was an officer in the cavalry during World War I.
After the war, Steiner, now Howard built a career on the stage and later in films. He changed his name to avoid anti-Semitism, a typical career necessity among theatrical people of the time.
Howard’s death in June 1943 is still shrouded in mystery. The Luftwaffe shot down the civilian plane which was carrying him from neutral Portugal back to England. According to some, Howard was a British spy and the target of the attack.
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 the Germans deliberately shot down Howard’s DC-3 to assassinate him, and demoralize 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 mystery may not be solved until 2025 when government papers concerning the matter will finally be declassified.
The United States issued a 25-cent stamp on March 23, 1990 featuring the film “Gone With the Wind” (Scott No. 2446) as part of a block of four stamps honoring classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era.