Actor. He is most remembered for his role of Ashley Wilkes, in the movie "Gone With the Wind" (1939). He was killed while returning to England from vacation in Portugal, when his plane was shot down by German fighters. Born Leslie Howard Stainer in London, England, of Hungarian parents. After attending Dulwich School, he worked as a bank clerk, until the outbreak of World War I, when he joined the British Army. In 1917, he was shell shocked and medically discharged from the British Army, and advised to take up acting as part of his medical treatment. Very quickly, audiences warmed to him, and he became known as the perfect Englishman: slim, tall, intellectual, and sensitive, a role that he would play in many movies. His first successful movie was "Outward Bound" (1930), based upon a stage play of the same name. Later roles played the Englishman perfectly, and perhaps his best performance of this was his role of Sir Percy Blakeney in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1934). As his success grew, he became more selective in the roles that he played. He was the perfect Professor Henry Higgins in "Pygmalion" (1938), a role that is more familiar with today's American audiences from Rex Harrison's portrayal in "My Fair Lady" (1964), which starred Audrey Hepburn. In 1939, he played Ashley Wilkes, an honorable, disillusioned, intellectual, southern gentlemen in "Gone With The Wind," perhaps his most remembered role. But with the coming of World War II, Leslie returned to England and began working devotedly on behalf of the British war effort. He wrote articles, made radio broadcasts, played in and directed several films, including "Common Heritage" (1940), "The Forty-Ninth Parallel" (1941), "Pimpernel Smith" (1941), "In Which We Serve" (1942), "White Eagle" (1942), "The First of the Few" (1942), and "The War in the Mediterranean" (1943). He was in a total of 36 films during his short career. In June 1943, he was returning from vacation in neutral Portugal, when a German agent in Lisbon spotted a Winston Churchill double getting on board the same plane. The real Churchill had just finished a well publicized official visit to Cairo, Egypt, and was returning to England, when his double boarded the London bound British Overseas Airways plane. Nazi fighters from occupied France, in a typical breach of a country's neutrality, shot the plane out of the sky over the Bay of Biscay. Everyone aboard, including Leslie Howard, was killed. Due to the war, no bodies were recovered. In a later book "In Search of My Father", written by Leslie Howard's son, Ronald Howard, the story of the Winston Churchill double was doubted, and the attack on the airplane described as a mission of opportunity by the German fighters.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson