Leslie Howard, fighting Nazis with Celluloid Bullets

Reportedly, these two films alone particularly infuriated Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, who most probably saw the famous film star as a direct rival. Of course there was more that would infuriate him and members of the Nazi parties, such as his broadcasts to the USA, trying to convince them to end their neutrality and join the Allied forces in the war efforts. He also promoted Irish war involvement when somewhat audaciously meeting Irish Prime Minister at the time, Eamon De Valera, who was notoriously anti-British at a time when Ireland had reason to think any British vulnerability during the war an opportunity to seize in their own fight for independence.

Before the fatal flight back to Britain, Howard had been on a tour of lectures in Portugal and Spain. As mentioned earlier, Portugal as at the time neutral, while Spain – helmed by right-winged dictator Gerenal Franco – was more likely to be convinced by Hitler’s Party to quit licking their post-Civil War wounds and join the Axis in the armed conflict. Howard became convinced he should end his Portuguese-Spanish tour early, and ended up on the flight that would be his end.

howardspitfire

Leslie Howard on the set of “Spitfire”

But that is not all. There are more mysteries and conspiracies that spin out of an intricate web, and the more one stops to examine the circumstances the more one realises what a delicate stratagem it all was. For starters, it must be said that Howard had reason to hate the Nazis because he came out of Jewish background. This is perhaps what fuelled his determination in spreading his anti-Nazi doctrines so fearlessly. Despite all this, Howard remained flawed by a weakness that may have contributed to his end – women.

One conspiracy in particular sees a sudden trip to Iberian beaches to recover after the emotional shock experience after the death of his mistress Violette Cunnington – whom he had met during the shoot of The Scarlet Pimpernel. An established philanderer, while his wife sat at home, Howard enjoyed gaming women left and right and this trip was no exception. Like a true spy, a James Bond figure never off duty, he would meet an old flame named Conchita Montenegro, an actress who also just so happened to have been an ‘acquaintance’ of none other than General Franco himself! There is hence reason to believe that Conchita served as the right connection for Howard to contact Franco directly and try to convince him to join the war on Britain’s side. Was this the ultimate factor that left him exposed? After all, it hadn’t been too long before when Britain had fought against Franco’s Fascist faction in the course of the Spanish Civil War, and a chance to back stab an old enemy was too good to miss at this moment in time.

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