Starring Trevor Howard - 4/28
Star Sign: Libra
Star Qualities: The modest good looks and restrained romanticism of an idealized Englishman; a gift for quiet understatement enlivened by touches of bravado.
Star Definition: "One of the greatest, and a lovely man with it." - John Mills
Galaxy Of Characters: Lt. David Baynes in I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Major Calloway in The Third Man (1949), Peter Willems in Outcast of the Islands (1951), Captain Thompson in The Cockleshell Heroes (1955).
Trevor Howard was one of the greatest actors ever to appear on the screen and the reason for his success lay in the simple fact that he was always believable, even when the films themselves weren't. He could transcend less than stellar material and always seemed to inhabit the character he played, no matter how long he was on-screen. And he was so good that he could steal scenes from the biggest stars. Unlike leading men whose careers always have the inevitable expiration date, Howard's went on for more than forty years.
Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith was born on September 29, 1913 in Cliftonville, England. His father was an insurance writer for Lloyds of London and his mother had been a nurse. As a small child, his father moved the family to Ceylon where Howard lived for a few years before traveling with his mother and younger sister on an extensive voyage around the world to England. One of the places they stayed was Los Angeles, where he got his first glimpse at film making. Vivienne Knight wrote in her book Trevor Howard: A Gentleman and a Player , "While in Los Angeles, Trevor remembers that they stayed in a house on Hermosa Beach for six months, which he didn't altogether enjoy. During this time he thinks he attended school, which might account for the disenchantment. Again the long shadow fell when Trevor was taken to watch Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks filming on the beach. Merla [Howard's sister] thinks this was around Christmas time because Trevor was talking about Father Christmas and was overheard by Mary Pickford, who thought the nomenclature cute; to her that legendary figure was Santa Claus. In later years, Trevor was told by his mother that he had actually appeared in a film called Bubbles with Mary Pickford. In fact his mother notes that, "They talked to Trevor and offered to put him in the picture, but we were just about ready to leave for Canada." Trevor's hour for stardom had not yet struck." It is unknown if Howard did appear in this film, as it is not listed in Pickford's credits under that title.
At the end of the trip, Howard, not quite eight, was enrolled in Clifton College, a boys' school, and his mother and sister returned to Ceylon. Although he was bright, Howard was never interested in scholastic subjects, preferring athletics, especially his favorite sport, cricket. For a time, he seriously considered becoming a cricket player, but at a school master's urging, Howard's mother agreed to enroll him at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Trevor Howard's time at RADA was a good learning experience and determined the direction of his career. During his time at the school, he was given a screen test by Paramount Studios, who were always on the look-out for talent. Howard did his test and then left immediately for the theater, where he went onstage, still wearing the orange-yellow film make-up used at the time, which somehow, the audience failed to notice. The test results were favorable and he was offered a contract with the studio, which he turned down. He wanted nothing to do with Hollywood. Howard later explained, "I couldn't bear the idea of going to Hollywood and leading the kind of life I'd heard about. I wanted to be an actor." At that time, "acting" meant the theater for Trevor Howard.
Over the next ten years, he made a name for himself in the theater, both in London, where one of his first successes was in French Without Tears starring Rex Harrison, with whom he had a lifelong friendship. He also appeared in several Shakespeare plays performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Howard spent World War II being posted around to different areas within England for three years before finally being discharged in 1943 for unspecified medical reasons. Frustrated at having wasted so much time doing nothing, he immediately went back into acting and was soon appearing on the stage in The Recruiting Officer, in which he met his future wife, actress Helen Cherry, and had his first movie role in a propaganda film called The Way Ahead (1944). It was a part so small it wasn't even listed on the cast roles, but it was directed by Carol Reed, with whom Howard would work with only a few years later in The Third Man (1949).
In 1945, Howard's film career took off with a supporting role in The Way to the Stars co-starring Michael Redgrave and John Mills. His next role would be his most memorable, in David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945), which earned co-star Celia Johnson an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, director David Lean a Best Director nomination, and the film itself was nominated for Best Screenplay. While he was not nominated, the film brought Howard international recognition and a lifetime of frustration. Everyone, it seemed, always wanted to talk about that role. "I have done other films!" he would say. However, when pressed, he would admit that Celia Johnson was his favorite co-star. They would work together again, thirty-six years later in Staying On (1980).
Although Trevor Howard's time in World War II was non-eventful, he spent a good part of his film career playing a variety of military roles, in films like Father Goose (1964), The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), Von Ryan's Express (1965), The Clouded Yellow (1951), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Operation Crossbow (1965), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and The Battle of Britain (1969), among many others.
His work in television also gave him a good opportunity to play different types of roles, including Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in The Invincible Mr. Disraeli and Napoleon in Eagle in a Cage for The Hallmark Hall of Fame series in the 1960s, and even doing Hedda Gabler with Ingrid Bergman in 1963.
Unlike many actors, Trevor Howard never went out of style. He acted continuously for his entire career, from the 1940s to the 1980s with Gandhi (1982), The Missionary (1982); the mini-series Shaka Zulu and Peter the Great both in 1986, and his final film, shot in 1988, The Unholy. Trevor Howard was known for his years of hard-drinking, which finally caught up with him when he passed away from complications from liver failure on January 7, 1988 at the age of 71.
by Lorraine LoBianco
* Films in Bold Type air on TCM
The Internet Movie Database
Trevor Howard: A Gentleman and a Player by Vivienne Knight
Trevor Howard: A Personal Biography by Terence Pettigrew