Leslie Howard as Alan Squier, itinerant and nihilistic writer “… in a way”
Black Mesa, Arizona, January 1936
Film: The Petrified Forest
Release Date: February 6, 1936
Director: Archie Mayo
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
“Petrified Forest, eh? A suitable haven for me. Well, perhaps that’s what I’m destined to become… an interesting fossil for future study,” suggests the self-deprecating Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) after he learns more about the surrounding desert region he’s entered after his thumb-powered journey to “set forth and discover America.”
Alan was portrayed on both stage and screen by the multi-talented Leslie Howard, an English actor, director, producer, and writer who was born 130 years ago today on April 3, 1893. Howard was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s, thanks to his performances in movies like Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Pygmalion (1938), and his perhaps most enduring performance as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Portending his fervent wartime activity in service to the Allies during World War II, one of Howard’s final roles was in Pimpernel Smith, a 1941 retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel that Howard also produced and directed, updating the story to a contemporary anti-Nazi thriller. Pimpernel Smith was considered to be such effective pro-British propaganda that it has been cited as a factor in why BOAC Flight 777 may have been specifically targeted when it was shot down by eight German fighters on June 1, 1943, killing all 17 aboard including the 50-year-old Leslie Howard.
Like many of his generation, Howard was an accomplished actor of both stage and screen. It was while originating the role of Alan Squier when The Petrified Forest opened on Broadway in 1935 that Howard encountered a talented but relatively unknown actor named Humphrey Bogart, who was playing the John Dillinger-inspired outlaw “Duke” Mantee, whose armed takeover of the Petrified Forest BBQ catalyzes the drama. When Warner Brothers tapped Howard for the screen adaptation but wanted to cast the more established—and thus bankable—Edward G. Robinson as Duke, Howard refused to reprise his own role without Bogart opposite him. Proving Howard’s own bankability, Warner Brothers caved and a cinematic legend was born as The Petrified Forest reignited Bogart’s screen career, leading to his own stardom within five years. Bogart would remain forever grateful to Howard, to the extent that he and Lauren Bacall named their second child Leslie Howard Bogart in tribute to the late actor when she was born in 1952.
The Petrified Forest is set in an isolated diner at the edge of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, run by Jason Maple (Porter Hall) with the help of his nostalgic cowboy father “Gramp” (Charley Grapewin) and his daughter, the lonely artist Gabrielle (Bette Davis) who is instantly smitten as the dusty and disillusioned Alan strolls into their eatery and regales them with the stories of his experiences.
“A writer? Well, that’s a funny thing,” comments Gramp. “Yes, it is,” laughs Alan, adding “I belong to a vanishing race… I’m one of the intellectuals.” Alan elaborates on feeling increasingly out of place in the world, as he was “born in 1901, the year Victoria died… I was just too late for the Great War and too soon for the new order.”
On the lam after a deadly robbery, Duke’s gang ultimately takes over the Petrified Forest BBQ, frightening its handful of staff and patrons… aside from the fatalistic Alan, who sees the situation as an opportunity for engaging the dangerous Duke in philosophical debates—and perhaps an opportunity for a sacrifice that would allow Gabrielle to escape her dead-end life and follow her dreams beyond the petrified forest.
Alan: Do you believe in astrology?
Duke: I couldn’t say, pal.
Alan: Well, I don’t normally. But tonight, as I was walking along that road… I began to feel the enchantment of this desert. I looked up at the sky, and the stars seemed to be mocking me, reproving me. They were pointing the way to that gleaming sign and saying: “There’s the end of your tether. You thought you could escape and skip off to the Phoenix Palace… but we know better.” That’s what the stars told me… for perhaps they know that carnage is imminent, and that I’m due to be among the fallen. Fascinating thought.
Duke: Let’s skip it. Here’s happy days.
What’d He Wear?
Alan Squier may be a drifter, but he’s still a philosophical one and dresses the part in his tweed jacket and tie, albeit dusty and disheveled after his extended time on the road, a look that was requested several years ago by a BAMF Style reader.
The single-breasted tweed sports coat has two buttons that Leslie Howard always wears both fastened, bucking the sartorial convention that informs men to never button the bottom button of their jackets, and there are three buttons at the end of each cuff. The tweed birdseye weave is a larger scale than usual, resulting in a jacquard diamond-shaped pattern with irregular flecks of fabric adding texture and character. The ventless jacket has notch lapels and patch pockets over the hips and left breast, the latter dressed with a white linen handkerchief.
Alan wears a plain white cotton shirt with a long spearpoint-style collar, front placket, and button cuffs which he often wears fastened but with the rounded edges self-cuffed. Unlike most drifters—even of that era—who likely wouldn’t bother with neckwear, Alan still wears a light-colored woolen knit tie, its coarse texture harmonious coordinating with his tweed jacket.
Alan’s mid-colored woolen flannel trousers are likely pleated and possibly even worn with a belt, though his practice of keeping both buttons of his jacket fastened prevents us from clearly seeing any details around the waist. The trousers have side pockets and a full fit through the legs down to the bottoms, which are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
The lighter color of his apron-toe derby shoes suggests tan leather, worn with dark socks.
Alan’s medium-colored felt trilby looks a bit misshapen and dusty from his hard travel, detailed with a darker narrow grosgrain ribbon.
Signifying him as more of an intellectual than the stereotypical vagrant, Alan wears a pair of pinky rings—one on each hand. The ring on his right pinky appears to be a simple band, while the left pinky ring is a chunkier signet ring.
What to Imbibe
Alan pairs his lunch with a refreshing Apache Beer, a regional brew that the Petrified Forest BBQ advertises extensively in signs posted throughout the dining area. Phoenix-based Arizona Brewing Company had just introduced the beer in June 1934, just a year and a half before The Petrified Forest was filmed and released.
Apache touted itself as “the most popular beer in Arizona” and, within a year, it was being distributed throughout the southwestern United States. The brewery continued to innovate both its products and packaging, through it restructured during World War II and ceased production of Apache Beer just shy of a decade after it was introduced, realigning behind its new A-1 Beer brand. In October 1964, the brewery was sold to the Carling Brewing Company of Cleveland. (You can read more about Apache and the Arizona Brewing Company in this comprehensive article by Ed Sipos for American Breweriana Journal, excerpted by BeerHistory.com.)
When Alan returns after Duke Mantee’s takeover of the Petrified Forest BBQ, Duke offers him a beer, but Alan requests “do you mind if I have some of that whiskey instead?” He gets served a pint of Golden Eagle rye whiskey which, like Apache Beer, is considerably well-advertised throughout the joint.
Unlike Apache Beer, I can’t verify if Golden Eagle was an actual brand at the time of production or if this was merely a prop label. There was a Golden Eagle Distilleries Company which produced bourbon and rye, founded in San Francisco in 1903, though it would be negatively impacted by the famous earthquake three years later and wouldn’t survive for more than a decade, all but vanished from the City by the Bay by 1912 according to the Virtual Museum of Historical Bottles and Glass.
“You better not drink any more of that rye whiskey,” Gabrielle later warns him. “It isn’t the rye, it’s the same disease that’s afflicting Boze… frustration!” Alan exclaims in response.
How to Get the Look
After brushing off the dust and adjusting a button here and a tie knot there, the dignified drifter Alan Squier presents a relatively timeless traveling outfit in his tweed sports coat, woolen tie, and flannel trousers.
- Diamond jacquard birdseye-woven tweed single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- White cotton shirt with spearpoint collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Light-colored woolen knit tie
- Mid-colored woolen flannel pleated trousers with side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- Tan leather apron-toe derby shoes
- Dark socks
- Dark felt trilby
- Simple band ring, worn on right pinky
- Signet ring, worn on left pinky
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Oh, I’m eternally right… but what good does it do me?