Early Work

Leslie's first published story was The Impersonation of Lord Dalton, in the Penny Magazine.

The Penny Magazine

Early Acting Career

The Title


The Title, London stage, 1918.

Leslie explains his views on the corrupt Honours list to cast members Eva Moore and Joyce Carey, as a public school boy, dressed in (apparently) fashionable short trousers and white ankle socks.

The Lackey and the Lady

Scene from The Lackey and the Lady

(One of Leslie's first parts in an early silent, which later gave rise to a scandalous court case - not Leslie's fault).

From Kinematograph Weekly, Jan 30th 1919.

A disastrous moustache!

Leslie with utterly disastrous moustache, grown for The Lackey and the Lady, 1919. It never appeared again!

Text of Leslie's letter from America to Adrian Brunel, early British film director, 1920, mentioning Charlie Chaplin, amongst other film and theatre folk. )From the archives of the British Film Institute.)

"My Dear Adrian,

I have been most anxious to hear from you with regard to Minerva as I know you have been passing through a critical period and I wonder what decision has been arrived at with regard to the future.

I have had some very interesting conversations with Sydney Drew whom I met at a dance and have since seen several times. I told her all about our company which interested her enormously. She gave me her life's history and incidentally mentioned that she herself wrote all the Drew Comedies, in fact I imagine that she was the driving force behind the whole enterprise and she had to overcome the greatest prejudice in persuading people that there was a market for that kind of stuff. She is launching out with a five-reel comedy drama in the new year and I expect to play in some of these.

I had the signal hour of dancing with H.M. Dorothy Gish last Sunday and also at various times with Norma Talmadge and Alice Joyce, Mae Murray and Mabel Normand, the latter being very drunk at the time and insisting in a loud voice that I should go at once with her to California to play in Goldwyn films. I explained this was quite impossible at the moment, but that as soon as I was a free man I should at once turn my steps towards the City of Angels. At this particular dance Charlie Chaplin was one of the party at our table and (while he was still sober) I had a little chat with him and found him quite a nice little cockney.

It is really rather amusing meeting these people. One feels one knows them beforehand.

Our play continues to go very well. It is really almost the best acted play on Broadway, tho it's me that says it. I am at last beginning to feel moderately at home in NY tho its ugliness and complete lack of ?? is very monotonous. Also everything is worked out marvellously as to present the maximum amount of difficulty to the unwary stranger. For instance it is quite impossible to board a street car. These are of the armoured car pattern, are hermetically sealed with concealed doors and only personal influence with the conductor results in their being opened…. However I certainly am having a very good time, plenty of amusement though I should be ashamed to admit to give my average hour of retirement.

You don't say whether Minerva is producing anything regarding this. I don't know when I shall be back. I wish I were there now to arrange things with you, but it is so difficult to make any money in England that I simply can't afford to return. I expect to more than double my present salary in my next engagement. I assure you that £100 per week is considered only an ordinary salary for a decent actor - not a star - on the stage. The movies pay better still. There is a strong tendency now for the picture producers to leave California and come East. Griffith is permanently settled down in a studio in New York. His film, Way Down East, which is still running here (3 months at one theatre) was entirely produced round this part of the world.

Ps Hope to send you a cheque next mail. Am waiting to here from B-? in London."

And another, in 1921,

"My dear Adrian,

At last I am sending you the cheque (or as I should now say, the check.) You must forgive the delay but to tell you the truth I have just straightened out my bank account in London, which had previously been suffering from a prolonged drought. We have been to several big cities since leaving New York and are now here for a run of probably six weeks or more. I am really longing to be home and am not keen to stay out here indefinitely though I have had several offers to follow this engagement. And they offer such good terms that one does not like to refuse. I am getting now quite a smallish salary for this country. $250 a week, about £62 at present rate. I am asking $400 for future engagements and if I get this can hardly afford to give it up. In any case I am coming home for the summer but shall return complete with family in the autumn if I get my terms. Otherwise I shall try and fix up a good autumn show in London.

The rotten part about this country is that everyone has to travel after the play finishes in New York. So that it puts one out of the running for film work in New York which one can do while the play is running there.

Lynne Fontanne is here with her new play (Dulcy). Ruth has seen it and says she is excellent in it. She goes to New York with it in the autumn. She plays the part of a 'bromide lady' if you know what this means. If not, just let me know and I will advise you by return.

We have seen her several times (Lynne I mean) here and in NY. We all danced together the other night and she was very amusing. Sends her love to you, by the way. Though I expect you hear from her.

I long to hear from you about Minerva, whether she still exists and in what condition she is. Milne has quite a big success over here with 'Mr Pym' which seems to have caught on in NY. I could not play in it as they would not release me here.

I am attempting some literary efforts in my spare time. Have started a play and have another in mind. For myself of course. Also I am writing a series of humorous reminiscences entitled 'American Adventures of an English Actor' which might possibly be worthy of publication. I will send you the first two instalments and perhaps you would give them to your friend at Hughes Massie to see whether he would handle and attempt to place them for me.

I still have hopes that you and I may one day be able to do something together in the film line. I have seen several studios over here and picked up some useful information. If only we could find some old gentleman with a million or so loose.

Anyway I hope to see you some time towards the end of May.

Ps I enclose a snapshot taken on the beach at Atlantic City. At the back is an appropriate description. Should like you to send it to the Picture Show.

And finally: (also in 1921) mentioning Lynne Fontanne

"Just a line to let you know we are sailing for England on the 7th May by the Lapland so I hope to see you by the 16th. I am quite out of touch with Minerva's plans but hope you and I will be able to do a film together again when I get back I don't quite know what I am going to do or even whether I am going to say in England in the autumn. Lynne Fontanne wants me to return to NY and play with her. But I don't know yet. It depends on what sort of offer I get in London. I plan to take Winkie for a holiday when I get back but should not mind doing a film first. I have not had time to send you my 'Adventures' yet, having been so busy writing my play."

Leslie never did get to "play with" Miss Fontanne. At least for all we know.

Leslie's letter to Gilbert Miller, the great American theatre producer, 1926, just before his great success in The Cardboard Lover. The letter asks that he be featured in the play's advertisement which Miller first refused, and then had to allow, as Leslie became the play's acknowledged star. (Letter in a private collection, presumably having been sold by Gilbert Miller's estate.)

Great Neck

Nov. 8th 1926

"Dear Gilbert -

Inter-departmental communication from me to you.

A. The twelve month season in the Memorandum of our agreement seems to me awfully long. I must have some time in the summer when I can feel I'm free to go abroad and do what I want. Don't you think July 15th would be a fair date? This gives you six weeks more than the normal season to work off the guarantee, and I don't think it's a very great risk for you as I have never worked less than a 30 week aggregate on the year since I've been in America.

B. Is it true you have the rights of the "Deacon's Daughter", isn't it a part for me, and will you let me adapt it?

C. I hope you won't get a star for "The Cardboard Lover". It's an awful waste of money, and throws the play out of balance. Whoever you get, will you remember that I really am entitled to be featured. Which is balls, but necessary.

D. Valerie has an important communication to make to me. I'm seeing her tomorrow. (Presumably Valerie Wyngate, the translator of The Cardboard Lover.)

E. What stock is going up a long way soon?

F. Cheerio. Leslie Howard.