One of the few obscure actresses that got nominated for an Oscar, Andrea was very talented, pretty and did justice to all of the roles she played. Unfortunately, her career went into freefall not long after, and she retired at at the young age of 26, perhaps the wisest move she could have done.
Antoinette Lees was born on August 14, 1912/13/14 to Charles E. and Lina Lees in Butte, Montana. Her father was a British born mining engineer who frequently moved around – this was the reason she was born in Montana, since nobody from her family had any connection to that state (her mother was from Iowa). Andrea was an endearing, good natured child, and was called “Little Jupe” by the ranchers working outside Butte. The family moved to Arizona in 1918, and after that to Long Island some time in the 1920s. She started to attend high school there.
It was during her high school years that she discovered an emerging talent in music, and took off to Chicago to study at the conservatory there and attend high school in parallel. Her parents were very supportive, and Andrea was determined and hard working, but at tome point she realized she will never become a top notch musician, and, mature beyond her years, gave up piano playing to find something else she would excel in. The answer to the question “What?” eluded her at the moment, but would make itself clear in the near future.
Not long after she gave up music as a professional career, her father was the sent to work in Durango, Mexico, and Andrea tagged along. The country was ravaged by the recent revolution and extremely dangerous to live in for foreigners. When they threatened her parents she would be kidnapped, Charles and Lina drew the line and sent Andrea alone to the US, to continue her education in Los Angeles. This proved to be a great choice, and Andrea would finally find out what talents she wanted to develop in that very city.
She enrolled into University of California at Los Angeles and study philosophy and literature, with plans to to become a writer someday. Her first writing output was for the student newspapers, when she described her memories from Mexico in vivid detail. It was obvious she could have become a good writer, but it took only one to make her change lanes – at her senior year, she was given a 16mm camera and told to make a UCLA promotional movie. Enter the well known acting bug, and there was no looking back.
The 20 year old beauty signed with 20th Century Fox in August 1934, and her career started.
It took Andrea some time and a change of studios to really make it in Hollywood – thus, almost half of her filmography consists of uncredited performances, but once she took off, she REALLY took off, and even got an Academy Award nomination!
Her first taste of movies was a an extra without a contract in the MGM’s Meet the Baron, a nutty comedy about the legendary baron . Her next feature was under contract with 20th Century Fox, Elinor Norton, a movie impossible to see today. The same fate is shared by her next two features, Bachelor of Arts, and the Hollywood Spanish language movie, Asegure a su mujer.
After being in totally obscure movies that did not make a splash even when they came out, the not-too-shabby drama Dante’s Inferno (very aptly named, if one watched the movie closely many references this seminal work of the Italian renaissance can be found), with a on his way to stardom Spencer Tracy and Claire Trevor, was a welcome step up. Anna Karenina was her next movie, giving Andrea the chance to enter the “I’ve been in the same movie as Greta Garbo” club. Nothing needs to be said about the movie except that is probably remains the best Hollywood adaptation of the Tolstoy’s classic.
By this time Andrea lost her 20th Century Fox contract, and freelancer working several times for Hal Roach. In the meantime, to earn some money, she worked sporadically in radio and gave appearances in nightclubs. Roach put her in one of his best Charley Chase comedies, Life Hesitates at 40 and The Count Takes the Count, and Laurel/Hardy movie, The Bohemian Girl. When you look at it, Andrea appeared in movies with some of the best known comedic stars of the day!
In between doing work for Roach, she had uncredited roles in several Universal Pictures movies – Magnificent Obsession, the grandfather of all weepies, and contrary to the popular belief about this genre, a well made, solid movie with a great performance by Irene Dunne, and low budget westerns Sutter’s Gold and Song of the Trail
Altough nobody knew it at that time, Andrea had just four years left to become a star, and become a star she did. She never reached the top echelons of stardom and rubbed shoulders with Errol Flynn or Marilyn Monroe, but she managed to juggle, very successfully, a solid career with her own personal ambitions outside movies, something only a few women who attained stardom did (most of them gave their everything, including their family and love life, to become big kahunas in Hollywood. This happened to Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Claudette Colbert. The very headstrong Kate Hepburn managed to maintain her own personality through it all, but it was not an easy road for her either).
Andrea signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn, who changed her name. So, the newly christened Andrea Leeds, still fresh from the mint, was cast in the prestigious Come and Get It. Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea and Frances Farmer were he co-stars. Andrea plays Arnold’s daughter, and while it’s Frances Farmer who stays in everybody’s mind after watching, she still made a favorable impression that pushed her into bigger and better things. Her next movie, It Could Happen to You! is today a forgotten one, with no information about it to be found easily. However, her next one got her the cinematic immortality everyone seeks in Hollywood. But the story how this happened is very interesting…
As we noted, Andrea scored a contract with Samuel Goldwyn. With a almost frightening stubborness, she refused to be put in several movies Goldwyn offered. A columnist noted how ill advised she was to act this way – she, a nobody trying to boss Goldwyn around. While he was right to some degree and such behaviour was a kiss of death for many starlets, Andrea had immense luck. To spite her back, Goldwyn loaned her to RKO for a seemingly minor production – Stage Door.
Stage Door is a strange movie, at the same time both funny and tragic, but made with such a decilate touch and perfectly balanced btween the two extremes that it’s a true joy to watch. The cast is very good, from Kate Hepburn (who plays the same character as in most of her movies) to Ginger Rogers. Andrea is an almost counterpoint to all of the other girls , a much graver, more serious personality, the actress who almost reached the stars, but failed, and now cannot live without the light that shone on her if only for the briefest of moments, suffering prodigiously for her art but sorely misunderstood and underrated by others. Andrea was very good in this tricky role. Director Gregory La Cava enjoyed working with her and later raved about it to the press.
The Goldwyn Follies separated Andrea from drama and put her for once in a musical, but nothing especially good came out of it, as she was not true musical material. Letter of Introduction, on the other hand, is a charming, light comedy. it proved how adept Andrea was at these kinds of roles, and how this latent talent was never again used to any capacity. Andrea and Adolphe Menjou have an interesting, sparkling chemistry as a father/daughter duo, too bad they never appeared in such a combo again.
Youth Takes a Fling is another forgotten movie, pairing Andrea with the drop dead handsome Joel McCrea. They Shall Have Music is a touching, warm musical. Andrea is again paired with Joel McCrea, and they sure make a handsome couple. All these films are decent, but Andrea never truly had a chance to shine? Why? her next movie illustrates this problem perfectly.
The Real Glory is a man’s flick, and Gary Cooper owns it expertly every minute her’s on screen. This leaves little place for Andrea to maneuver beyond the arm candy territory. Too bad, as I don’t see her as the usual hero’s girl type of an actress. Those actresses were superb at playing background beauties, and not everybody could do such a role (imagine Joan Crawford in those roles – as grumpy cat would say – No. Just No. Same goes for Bette Davis. But, for instance Frances Dee and Gail Russell, both fine actresses, were much better at it). Andrea is not as forceful as Bette Davis or as angry as Joan Crawford or as stubborn as Kate Hepburn, but she is too far removed from the paradigm of a woman there just to support her man. There is always a hidden mischievousness in her, a sense of independence. She comes of as a gentle, kind, but very active woman who is never the one to sit back and wait for anything to happen. She is the one who makes things happen for herself. She is much like Florence Rice in this regard, velvet hiding steel. These traits severely narrow the movie range an actress can excel in – as most movies are still moves with male leads and most female leads are still supports for the male leads. A few actresses had the chance to have movies tailor made for their strong woman persona – and Andrea, despite her Oscar nomination and popularity, never got to that stage.
Sadly, Andrea’s career went down a path not at all suited for her talents, and it disintegrated quickly. While she gives a genuinely moving performance in her next movie, Swanee River, again she is a second fiddle for the hero, played by Don Ameche. The movie is a rare melancholy musical, superbly made in terms of cinematography, defintly worth seeing, but Andre does not reveal her full potential.
Earthbound, Andrea’s last movie, was better suited for her talents than the previous three were. She plays a proactive woman out to find her husband’s murdered (and the husband helps her from the other side). Too bad the movie itself is not good enough to jump out of the mediocrity pool of 1940s Hollywood movies. It was the golden age of Hollywood after all, and the goals were set very high…
Andrea left Hollywood and movies to devote herself to family. True to form, she was never idle, but ran a variety of different businesses in the remaining years of her life.
Andrea hit the Hollywood star machine in 1936, and right off the bat started dating a great catch, Arnold Kunody. The wealthy insurance man had a long history with Hollywood actresses, but Andrea was one of the few that really managed to catch his interest. In December 1936 the press called for a Christmas elopement to Yuma, Arizona, and it seems Arnold was up for it, but Andrea, contrary to her gentle exterior, was a young woman who wanted to fully taste life before getting married. Very forward thinking for the time and age she lived in, she refused to be tied down unless in was on her own conditions, and marrying Arnold at at the age of 23 did not appeal to her. When Kunody became too pushy, she took up with handsome John Howard, and dated him casually for a few months in late 1936/early 1937.
In late 1936, she was ordered by her boss, Samuel Goldwyn, to put ten pound son her 114 frame for her ext role. Another she restriction she had: she had to retire every night at 10 pm, so her beaus had to do their courting early. Talk about a fast metabolism and a lust for life! Andrea generally was a thin woman and had problems maintaining her weight above a certain level.
Kunody remained a persistent suitor for our girl, but when he was convalescing in his Palm Spring abode from an unknown illness, Pat DiCicco, the well known playboy, jumped right in hoping to woo Andrea. She did not budge., but the damage had been done – she and Kunody broke up in late February. She then turned to John Howard, and was the one doing the pursuit, but this time Howard did not budge – she gave up on him in April. Time for new romances obviously!
Andrea was a good friend of french actress Simone Simon, and she managed to snag Simone’s would-be suitor, young actor Jon Hall. The romance reach a forrest fire stage in Late July, but fizzled out by September. Hall went on to date many pretty actresses, and marry two of them – Frances Langford and Raquel Torres.
Arnold Kuody, seemingly unable to get over her, again tried to win her over in early September, but failed. Andrea’s next was Jack Dunn, a renown ice skater who enjoyed a brief Hollywood sojourn. Small, lithe and with an adorable baby face, Jack was the frequent partner of ice skating legend Sonja Henie. He and Andrea became the young it couple of Tinsel Town for a short time in Setpember/October 1937. By December Andrea was dating Ken Murray (and had casual dates with Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy pupeteer master and future father of Candice Bergen), so it’s a fair guess the affair had gone bust by that time.
Andrea entered 1938 as a girlfriend of Ken Murray, comedican/impressionario extraordinaire. Then, in February, Jack Dunn entered the love arena again, and Andrea successfuly juggled the two of them to various public functions. This created some bitterness in Murray, as evident in this bit from a newspaper:
Among the set watchers on the “Letter of Introduction” set was Ken Murray. Of course, Ken was only watching one person – Andrea Leeds. But he was doing that job very very well. “Say, Ken” I brashly remarked “when are you going to get married?” An odd expression crossed his face. “Never” he replied in a bantering tone. “Comedians are always falling in love with swell girls, but they never quite make the grade – they don’t have the final punch” Yes, Murray was kidding – but he was kidding on the square.”
Seems to be that Murray wanted to marry Andrea, but she was blowing hot and cold to him. But he clearly saw the writing on the wall and knew he was not true marriage material for her. As a side note, Andrea also had an award winning cocker spaniel, her pride and joy, but unfortunately somebody poisoned the pooch and a columnist was so angry at this act of violence he declared the person should be hanged.
Andrea more or less dated Ken Murray exclusively for several more months (but still having casual dates on the side, like with a lawyer surnamed Brenann and others). Sadly, by July they were all but over, she taking up with Reeves Espy. Then, Jack Dunn died on July 16, 1938. Andrea was devastated by his death, and this probably contributed to the final demise of her relationship with Murray. The press noted:
She took Jack Dunn’s death much harder than anyone realized. Their romance was definitely on the rocks months before Jack died, but Andrea, had cared for him deeply at one time.
In November 1938, Andrea had a bad spill and broke a bone in her foot. To quote the papers:
If Andrea Leeds broken foot holds up “The Last Frontier”, her boss, Samuel Goldwyn, ironically, will have only himself to blame. Andrea was supposed to fly to Palm Springs, to spend an afternoon at the home of Jerry Cowan. Her pilot was to be E. L. Benway, who was good enough to be int he Lafayette Escadrille. Hearing of the trip, however, Goldwyn forbade Andrea to fly. So she stayed home home and went to a party at the home of a Goldwyn official. It was there she got into a game of badminton and broke her foot.
Despite her temporary impediment, Andrea did not let anything deter her from an active social life she was enjoying. Four days after she broke the leg, she was with an admirer at the Trocadero, using the crutches. Enter Ken Murray, who used her weakened state to try and win her affections again. He started the construction of a house next door to Andrea’s, and took her frequently out to nightclubs. She was so active hobbling on crutches everywhere in Hollywood that Goldwyn was fuming and the insurance company did not believe she was really hurt.
In the meantime, Murray desperately wanted Andrea to commit herself to him fully, but she refused. Irritated beyond any measure, he flew to New York, very much dissatisfied with the current situation. Those tricks did not work on her, instead of joinign him in New York as he hopes she would, she was seen with stock broker Bernard B. Robinson.
Andrea’s crazy ways caught up with her – what was supposed to be a two week period on the crutches turned to almost two months period. Gary Cooper rushed home from Europe to start making a new movie opposite her, but she was unable to start at the designated time and place. The papers noted in Late December 1938
Andrea Leeds, watching the polo at the Riviera Country Club, wearing a mink. She is still using crutches for her foot injury. She goes to Palm Springs to rest up, and it is safe to assume she will be much better when she returns home in January.
James McKinley Bryant courted her during her Palm Springs outing. She was finally crutch-free when she sprung into action in January 1939, going to New York for business reasons. Goldwyn ordered her to become more glamorous and date important men, but she brushed him off, saying she will date important men only if they are interesting men. No messing around with this one, that’s for sure!
Andrea got involved with Bob Howard sometime in early 1939. The romance progressed nicely, and by July it was clear to anyone the two lovebirds were very close to getting married. Andrea motored with Bob every weekend around California and the pair enjoyed a candid, sedate romance.
Andrea had very progressive opinions about love and marriage for a woman of that time and place. Two quotes struck my fancy:
Paul Harrison writes: “I’ll never forget the first time I shook hands with Andrea Leeds. After some sort of a conventional greeting she geld on for several second and looked off into space with a questioning trance like expression. She said she sis that with every man, hoping that some day she’s encounter a certain sympathetic vibration which would identify the right one. She must have found it in the handclasp of socialite Bob Howard: so far, I haven’t had a chance to ask.”
“I may marry some day, but not until I have enough money put away to make me completely independent of any man”
One wonder just how serious she was about this, is was it merely publicity? Since, just few months after she said it…
Andrea wed Robert Howard, often described as “wealthy young sportsman”, at St. John Chapel, Del Monte, California on October 25, 1939.Reverend Theodore Bell, Episcopal clergyman, officiated the marriage. Howard was the son of Charles S. Howard, owner of the horse Seabiscut and a wealthy businessman. His mother was Mrs. Edmond F. Merrscher. She was 26, he 23. Matron of honor was Mrs. Reeves Espy, and best man was Robert’s brother, Lindsay. The couple honeymooned in Hawaii until late December 1939. Andrea barely escaped a centipede bite while there, but they had a splendid time and would return to the island several more times.
Andre and Bob moved to Beverly Hills. She was still under contract, but adopted the lifestyle of the wealthy and rich very soon, attending Santa Anita racetrack almost daily with her hubby. Bob also for a “normal” job, owned and ran a business based on selling cars in California.
Andrea developed a love for midget racing cars and tennis games. She had to stop with her new found hobbies when she found out she was pregnant. Her son Robert Howard Jr. was born on December 10, 1940. An interesting anecdote was that the baby was born 10 minutes after they came to the hospital on a flat tire!
Motherhood did little to slowdown the couple. They undertook an extensive trip to southerm Americna lasting for several months before their son turned one, and entertained many Hollywood notables in their palatial home. Andrea and Bob’s second child, daughter Leeann May, was born on March 10, 1942. Her husband joined the army not long after. There was some talk of Andrea oing back to movies, but nothing happened then. The “Andrea returns to movies” soap opera was far from over by that time, however.
The marriage started to get wobbly in 1943, and this continued until 1944. They almost separated, but by some stroke of fate, it did not happen. This was their first and final big tiff. That same year, she signed a contract with Paramount, but made no movies before the contract expired.
For the rest of the 1940s, the Howards were a prominent Beverly Hills couple, and were very active in the horse racing and breeding word. They owned several stables (50-50, like true partners), and some of their horses were very successful. They mixed with the high fliers of Hollywood. Some of her best friends were Ann Sothern and Kay Williams Gable. She was also a doting mother, and frequently gushed over her children, especially her son (she liked to note that at 11 he was already taller than her!).
In August 1951, her husband sold his auto agency in Beverly Hills, and buyed an manor that will be known in the future as “Howard Manor”. It had been a private hotel built in 1935 by Al Wertheimer. They were to retain the home for three decades, and host may Hollywood notables, like Jack Dempsey and David Janssen.
In July 1953, Andrea lost 71.450 $ worth of jewelry in the Bel Air Hotel. After taking them out of the safe, her husband put them into a portable radio for protection, but later they were stolen from the radio. Luckily, they were returned to her a day later after a department store clerk found them in a coin purse at the hotel.
In 1954, a list of women James Roosevelt allegedly splet with was made public, and Andrea was among the names mentioned. She vehemently denies the accusations, claiming she was not even a democrat. Who knows the full extent of this story, or if there is any truth to it…
Andrea’s gallery in Palm Spring became a to-go place when it town. She had several very interesting exhibitions during the late 1950s there – for instance, exhibiting more than 25 000 pearls, ancient Japanese art, and unusual diamonds. She and Bob went to business-cum-pleasure trips often, visiting Hawaii, Europe and other places. In 1957, she added a dress shop to her business ventures.
Her life so far was a charm, but some dark clouds awaited on the horizon. In 1960 her son was bitten by a snake and barely survived the ordeal. On September 8, 1962, her husband died after an unsuccessful kidney operations.
A wealthy widow now, Andrea continued her business pursuits and was still active in the horse racing world. Sadly, another tragedy struck when her daughter, Leeann, died from cancer in 1971. She was only 29 years old. Andrea retired in the late 1970s, and sold the Howard manor to Sheila and Don Cuff, well known fitness pioneers. She continued to live in Palm Springs, just in a smaller house.
Andrea Howard was admitted to a Palm Spring hospital on April 8, 1984, in the last stages of cancer. She died on May 21, 1984.