Today the Baz is talking to Michael B.Druxman, author of Basil Rathbone, His Life & His Films, about his new one-person play Rathbone.
Michael B. Druxman
is a veteran Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include Cheyenne Warrior
with Kelly Preston; Dillinger and Capone
starring Martin Sheen and F. Murray Abraham; and The Doorway
with Roy Scheider, which he also directed.
His one-person play, Jolson
, has had numerous productions around the country. Other produced stage credits include one-person plays about Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Spencer Tracy and Orson Welles. These and plays about Errol Flynn, Maurice Chevalier and Clara Bow have been individually published under the collective title of The Hollywood Legends
Additionally, Mr. Druxman is the author of more than fifteen published books, including several nonfiction works about Hollywood, its movies, and the people who make them.
TB: Michael, can you tell me why you decide to revisit BR at this time?
A major influence was your website, THE BAZ, Your research and the comments from some of your readers intrigued me. A lot of information posted was not available to me when I wrote my book almost 40 years ago. (We didn’t have the Internet then.) That prompted me to do some research on my own.
I had no intention of writing a new formal biography of Rathbone, but I thought that he might be a good subject for THE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS, the series of one-person stage plays I began writing almost 30 years ago. RATHBONE is the 10th in that collection, but the 9th one-person play. NELSON (Eddy) AND JEANETTE (MacDonald) is, of necessity, a two-person play.
TB: And has your overall impression of BR changed at all since you wrote the book?
DRUXMAN: My overall impression of both Basil and Ouida has pretty much remained the same. The new information I’ve learned from you website, my own research and from interviews with all three of the Rathbone grandchildren has simply enforced that impression.
TB:Can you tell me how much of the play is based directly on known events? The conversations with his granddaughter for example – is it true he asked her not to visit him in LA because he was ashamed of the film he was making at the time?
While much of the play is based on known events, I have employed dramatic license in the recreation of the scenes (e.g. the dialogue). When a particular fact was not known, I’ve used my playwright’s prerogative to make an educated guess. That’s the advantage of writing a play rather than a formal biography. For example, the scenes in which Basil “questions” Ouida’s background are totally my creation…based on facts that have come to light during the past few years. How much he really did/did not know about her true origins, I don’t know.
According to the granddaughter, a conversation similar to the one presented did take place. However, to simplify the play, I have “combined” the two granddaughters. In other words, it was, in fact, one granddaughter who visited Basil backstage when he was doing JB., and another who came to the apartment for tea.
Purists might object to such an alteration, but when you are writing a dramatic piece, one has to make choices. The goal is to present the essence of what occurred, as well as an overall honest portrait of the character(s).
TB: Your portrait of Ouida isn’t quite the conventional image of her as a controlling dragon, is it? In fact you show her as quite helpless and needy and that a sense of duty binds Basil to her as much as anything. It’s that aspect of your play I like best. Where did that image originate?
Controlling dragons, ultimately, get slain. A needy person can pull their partner down with them.
My image of Ouida and her relationship with Basil is a culmination of my research gathered from different places…and my writer’s sense of the human psyche.
You’ll also recall that, when I researched my original book, I did two lengthy phone interviews with Ouida.
When I wrote this play…as well as the other plays THE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS collection, I didn’t really have a formal outline, nor did I say to myself that I am going to present Ouida as a “needy” person. Yes, I had an image of her in my head, but I never actually defined it. I just wrote “to it”.
When I actually start writing any of these plays, I know my “framing situation,” how I want to end my first act and what the climatic moment of the play is going to be, Beyond that, I like to write “by the seat of my pants”. It’s perhaps the main reason I enjoy writing because I never really know where the characters are going to take me.
TB: Ok, I think we’ll take a few questions posted by readers. Roberta asks: “Why such focus on the end of Basil’s career? He cuts such a tragic figure from that perspective. And why did he let this awful woman do these thing to him?”
The end of his career is the framing story, which allows me (as the playwright) and the character of Rathbone to look back at his entire life. The older one gets, the more insight one has into oneself.
The fact is that he was a sad, tragic figure during his last years; forced to take virtually every lousy job that came him way in order to pay the bills. The play explores how/why he got there.
Why did he let “this awful woman” do bad things to him?
The man “sold his soul to the Devil”. Ouida helped him to become a star and by the time he realized what kind of person she was and how she was negatively affecting his life, it was too late. In most instances, it was easier to acquiesce to her demands (e.g. letting her throw parties, turning his back on his son and grandchildren) than to fight her. As long as he could escape into his work, he was willing to let her have her way.
TB: MC asks: “That section about Ouida having to go to a hugely expensive private hospital, is that true?”
DRUXMAN: I don’t know if it was a “hugely expensive private hospital,” but she did detest the hospital’s food and did order her meals in from 21.
TB:Cinegeek asks: “Why a one person play? It seems so hard to make such a thing dramatic”
: I enjoy working in the format. Nine of the ten plays in THE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS collection are one-person monologues.
And, a one-person play certainly can be “dramatic”. It allows the character to be in conflict with his inner self.
TB:Levasseur Girl asks: “I have a question – does Michael think Ouida loved her husband?”
DRUXMAN: What’s “love”? Love is different for different people. In her own way, I’m sure she did love Basil and was devoted to him.
TB: Balakireff asks: “Is Michael intending to re-issue his biography as well?”
DRUXMAN: BASIL RATHBONE: His Life and His Films was reissued in December of 2011 and is still available.
TB: And on that note, I think we’ll close, having already taken up too much of your time. Thank, Michael, and good luck with the play!
You can buy Rathbone at Amazon.Com in Kindle and paperback editions.