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Close Up of Leslie Banks
An intimate study of one of our leading
character actors who made his screen debut
in 1932 and has been busy ever since.
Picturegoer, October 3, 1942
In Leslie Banks, the British characteristic of understatement is personified to perfection.
You will never hear him refer to himself otherwise than by way of a joke.
He hates being interviewed, he will always try to wriggle out of any conversation which concerns him personally.
Praise, in whatever shape or form only embarrasses him.
Yet there is nobody who can carry on a more lively and witty conversation than Leslie himself.
An anecdote told in the "Banks" style automatically takes on a flavour and colour of its own.
He is at his best in a small circle of friends, where one story will lead to another and where he's never at a loss for quick, witty repartee.
It is absolutely fascinating to hear him talk, imitate people, dialects, animals, in short anything that will cross his mind.
His kindness and generosity, outstanding qualities of Leslie the man, show up in conversation too. You will never hear him run down anybody deliberately.
Early last year readers of PICTURE GOER were given a fine insight into the character of Leslie Banks.
"Banks is one of the few people," said the editor, "who will talk frankly and expect frank talk in return. He doesn't fish for compliments, he doesn't pull his punches in criticising other actors.
"Consequently, when he says he doesn't like another actor, you really know that he does not like him; and when he says he admires somebody, you know that his admiration is wholehearted.
His is just nature's greatest gift to see the amusing and funny aspects of life and unlike so many others, he is not dependent on the shortcomings and faults of his fellow men to be amusing.
[So when is he applying for sainthood? :)
The author of this article wasn't identified, was it Leslie's agent? Or maybe his Mother! Whoever it was certainly loved him]
Born in West Derby, near Liverpool, fifty-two years ago, Leslie originally intended to become a parson and studied at Oxford with this idea.
However, he gave up the idea soon and got a job in a shipping office.
[c.f. His role in Red Ensign (1934)] Again not for long; this job lasted exactly one day! Leslie then became interested in painting, and at the same time played a lot in amateur theatricals.
Many people suggested to him that he should take up the stage professionally, and he joined the famous Benson Company playing Shakespeare. He made his first appearance at the Town Hall, Brechin, in 1911, as Old Gobbo, in "The Merchant of Venice".
He then went to the U.S.A. and Canada with H.V. Esmond and Eva Moore, where he scored a great success in "The Dangerous Year".
Returning to London, he appeared in the West End. Then the first World War broke out and he served with the Essex Regiment 1914-1918.
At the end of the war he started his stage career all over again, and by 1921 he had re-established himself as a West End star.
Numerous crossings between London and New York won dual fame for him and it was when he was in New York that Kenneth McGowan persuaded him to go to Hollywood and make his stage debut in The Hounds of Zaroff in 1932.
Since then Leslie has played in innumerable films, gaining a very fine reputation for himself and he is today considered one of Britain's leading character actors.
In private life Leslie is the proud father of three delightful daughters. The eldest, Daphne, has inherited her father's talent for painting and drawing and is a very gifted interior decorator.
The war is responsible for her working in a different field at the moment. She is teaching arts and crafts to wounded soldiers in a hospital in Oxford, the present home of the Banks.
His second daughter, Virginia, joined Britain's Land Army from its very beginning, and the youngest, Evangeline, is still at school.
So far only "Baby" as Evangeline is affectionately known to the family, has expressed the wish to follow in her father's footsteps as an actress.
The Banks family have a wonderful knack for making up houses.
Their Oxford home overlooking the Isis river [as the Thames is known in Oxford] is a perfect dream, with lovely furniture against whitewashed walls, an abundance of flowers and a selection of very good modern paintings. To collect good pictures is Leslie's and his wife's particular hobby.
Leslie has been incredibly busy lately, one play follows the other, film companies are clamouring for him.
His latest part in films has been in Ealing Studios invasion picture, Went the Day Well? produced by Michael Balcon, directed by Cavalcanti.
Heading an unusually big start cast, Leslie plays the part of the fifth columnist, whose careful preparations make the landing of disguised German parachutists possible.
Leslie gives a brilliant performance of the quiet English squire, who really is the local Quisling, and whose charming manners and inconspicuous way of living endear him to the community. Everybody likes him, all troubles and worries are put to him and in all matters concerning the village he has the final say.
The subtle change from the quiet squire to the dangerous, scheming Nazi agent is put over by Leslie in an extremely clever and polished way.
This perfectly rounded character study shows Leslie at his very best and is again proof of the versatility and abundant talent of this accomplished artist.