A new book – El vuelo de Ibis (The Flight of Ibis) by José Rey-Ximena – claims that actor Leslie Howard paid his last visit to Spain in May 1943 to persuade Francisco Franco not to join in World War Two on Hitler’s side. Howard was killed on June 1st, 1943, when the German downed the DC3 that was taking him back to London over the Bay of Biscay. According to the author, the British were desperate to keep Spain out of the war but the British Ambassador at that time, Sir Samuel Hoare, had been banished from Franco’s presence because of his conspiracies with Don Juan Borbon, heir to the Spanish thrown, to bring back the monarchy. However, the government knew that Howard had had a very passionate affair in the early thirties – before his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind shot him to international fame – with Spanish actress Conchita Montenegro, when she was trying to make it in Hollywood. In 1943, she was engaged to be married to one of the leaders of the Falange, Spain’s equivalent of Mussolini’s Fascists, who was close to Franco. Rey-Ximena claims in his book that Churchill decided to use the connection to keep Franco out of the war. Howard did in fact meet Franco during the visit, to inform him that he would play the part of Christopher Columbus in a film that the dictator felt should be made. Whether Howard actually discussed the other secret business with Franco is doubtful. Franco had already met Hitler on the Spanish border with France in 1940 and informed the German during that meeting that Spain was to weakened by the Civil War, which ended in April 1939, to join the Axis powers.


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