13 July, 2008

Trevor Howard

Trevor Howard, born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith, was an English film, stage and television actor.

Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith was born in Cliftonville, Margate, Kent, England, on 29 September, 1913, the only son and elder child of Arthur John Howard-Smith, who worked as Ceylon representative for Lloyd's of London, and his Canadian wife, Mabel Grey Wallace, nurse. Until he was five he lived in Colombo, Ceylon, but then travelled with his mother until the age of eight, when he was sent to school at Clifton College, Bristol and afterwards attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, acting on the London stage for several years before World War II.

His first paid work was in the play Revolt in a Reformatory (1934), before he left RADA in 1935 to take small roles. That year he was spotted by a Paramount studio talent scout but turned down the offer of film work in favour of a career in theatre. This decision seemed justified when, in 1936, he was invited to join the Stratford Memorial Theatre and, in London, given the role of one of the students in French without Tears by Terence Rattigan, which ran for two years. He returned to Stratford in 1939. At the outbreak of World War II, Howard volunteered for the RAF and British Army but was turned down by both. However, in 1940, after working at the Colchester repertory theatre, he was called up into the Royal Corps of Signals, airborne division, becoming a Second Lieutenant, before he was invalided out in 1943.

Although stories of his courageous wartime service earned him much respect among fellow actors and fans alike, files held in the Public Records Office reveal he had actually been discharged from the Army for mental instability and having a 'psychopathic personality'. These stories of war heroism were originally fabricated, without his consent, for publicity purposes, although Howard also recounted how he had parachuted into Nazi occupied Norway and fought in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Howard moved back to the theatre in The Recruiting Officer (1943), where he met the actress Helen Cherry; they married in 1944 and had no children.

Howard had certain notoriety as a hell raiser, based on his drinking capacity. Under the influence of alcohol he could embark on celebrated exploits, one of which led to his arrest in Vienna, for impersonating an officer. Despite his drinking, however, he always remained reliable and professional, never allowing alcohol to affect his work. He was also unfaithful to Cherry on a serial basis.

A short part in one of the best British war films, The Way Ahead (1944), provided a springboard into cinema. This was followed by The Way to the Stars (1945), which led to the role for which Howard became best known, the doctor in the 1945 film Brief Encounter, in which his co-star was Celia Johnson. Directed by David Lean, the film won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and considerable critical acclaim for Howard.

Next came two successful Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat thrillers, I See a Dark Stranger (1945) and Green for Danger (1946), followed by They Made me a Fugitive (1947), in which the roots of British realism in cinema can be traced. In 1947 he was invited by Laurence Olivier to play Petruchio in an Old Vic production of The Taming of the Shrew. Despite The Times declaring ‘We can remember no better Petruchio’[3] the opportunity of working again with David Lean, in The Passionate Friends (1948), drew Howard back to film and, although he had a solid reputation as a theatre actor, his dislike of long runs, and the attractions of travel afforded by film, made him concentrate on cinema from this point.

Howard's film reputation was secured in The Third Man (1949). He played the character type with which he became most associated, the slightly dry, slightly crusty but capable British military officer. He also starred in The Key, (1958; based on a Jan de Hartog novel), for which he received the best actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Sons and Lovers, (1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Another notable film was The Heart of the Matter (1953), another Graham Greene story, in which he produced probably his best screen performance.

A character actor, many times appearing in war and period pieces, Howard later appeared in such films as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Father Goose (1964), Morituri (1965), Von Ryan's Express (1965), Battle of Britain (1969), Ryan's Daughter (1970), Superman (1978), and Gandhi (1982). The Dawning (1988) was his final film. One of his strangest films, and one he took great delight in, was Vivian Stanshall's 1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End in which he played the title role.

In television Howard began to find more substantial roles. In 1962 he played Lovborg in Hedda Gabler with Ingrid Bergman, and in 1963 won an Emmy award as Disraeli in The Invincible Mr Disraeli. In the 1970s he was acclaimed for his playing of an abbot in Catholics (1973) and in 1975 he received an Emmy nomination for his role as Abbé Faria in a television version of The Count of Monte Cristo. The decade ended with him reunited with Celia Johnson, giving a moving performance in the nostalgic Staying on (1980), written by Paul Scott.

The 1980s saw a resurgence of Howard as a film actor. The exhilarating role of a Cheyenne Indian in Windwalker (1980) revitalized his acting. He continued with cameo roles, including Judge Broomfield in Gandhi (1982). His final films were White Mischief and The Old Jest, both released in 1988. Howard did not abandon the theatre altogether in 1947, returning to the stage on occasion, most notably as Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard (1954) and the captain in The Father (1964). His last appearance on the British stage was in Waltz of the Toreadors in 1974.

Throughout his film career Howard insisted that all of his contracts held a clause excusing him from work whenever a cricket Test Match was being played.

He died died on 7 January 1988, from a combination of bronchitis, influenza and jaundice, in Arkley, Barnet at the age of 74, survived by his widow Helen.

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