You may not recognize the name but his face will seem familiar. He was top billed in B films, and got to play the second lead in A films.
Perhaps most heartening about John Howard (ne John Cox Jr.) are his offscreen exploits during World War II. The actor served heroically, and actually saw combat. No special service appearances or USO featurettes.
Born in Cleveland, and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Case Western Reserve, he was unearthed by a Paramount talent scout, and was plopped uncredited in his first movie, the 1934 comedy, One Hour Late.
After Paramount changed his marquee billing, the studio thrust him into leading man status in 1935’s Millions in the Air.
Over the ensuing few years, the blandly good-looking Howard appeared with several of the prominent movie divas of the late Thirties — including Gladys George, Marsha Hunt, and Martha Raye.
His big signature role was that of Ronald Colman’s younger brother in director Frank Capra’s 1937 smash adventure/fantasy, Lost Horizon. (That’s Colman on he right gripping Mexican-American actress Margo — later Mrs. Eddie Albert — as Howard looks on, concerned.)
It was Lost Horizon that established Howard as a key semi-lead/supporting player. Without the picture, he said, I doubt very much whether I would have survived in Hollywood.
Howard is remembered for two other notable pictures….
As Katharine Hepburn’s fiance in in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story (that’s Howard in the middle trying to thwart amorous advances from Hepburn to Cary Grant). And….
…as Bulldog Drummond, that suave gentleman/adventurer and protagonist in a series of Paramount B pictures. Here is Howard in 1937’s Bulldog Drummond Comes Back. Yes, that’s John Barrymore on the right.
That brings up to almost the War years.
Howard served in the U.S.Navy as a lieutenant and exec officer of a minesweeper on landing operations in southern France and during the invasion of Italy. In 1944, Heard took command of his ship after its captain was killed in a blast. Howard saved the vessel as well as a number of sailors almost abandoned in the water. For his valor he was awarded the U.S.Navy Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.
Alas, Howard did not flourish in post-war Hollywood, and took profitably to television. In all he rolled up nearly 120 movie and tv credits over a 54-year span.
He died in 1995 at the age of 81. John Howard — solid actor and World War II hero.