“…After…Basil died. You know, I knew…but. After he died. I got a phone call and it was Cynthia [Basil’s adopted daughter]. I hadn’t spoken to that kid since she was two years old. But there she is on the phone, about a day after her father died. And she says “mother doesn’t know I’m calling but I want to ask you not to go to the funeral because Daddy wouldn’t want anything to upset mother and me any more.” Mother doesn’t know, my ass. Ouida was on the extension or I’m Nancy Reagan. She’d basically given this kid a script and pimped her out there to talk to me. The kid says “please don’t disrupt this family occasion” like she was reading off a cue card, poor little monkey. But you know as if that is my default option. If you don’t ask me not to disrupt a family occasion I’m there throwing cat turds through your windows.
Oh yeah baby. But…this was a funeral. It was his funeral. What did she think I was gonna do?
[did you go?]
I didn’t need to. Maybe I wanted to, but I didn’t need to. She could have her victory.
[it almost sounds like you didn’t blame her too much]
I didn’t blame her. She…she was lost. He was her entire life. In her way.
[what about you?]
Oh God honey I’d been lost for years, I was used to it.
You know, we were both where we were because of other people. He was there because Ouida wanted to be the wife of a movie star. Yes. He’d have been happy spending his life just drifting along doing theatre for no money. And it’s where he belonged really in his heart. England. He was so English. But she wanted to be the wife of a star. Well, I think she’d wanted to be a star but that failing she wanted to be married to one.
She [Ouida Rathbone] was this rigid little frantic little bundle. She didn’t seem to know how to be natural, to just be. She was always on, always tense and on.
[when did you first meet her?]
I saw her a couple of times at parties and stuff. First time I met her was when she came to the set of [REDACTED]. She had lunch with us.
I was just [X]. The only girl and one of the boys. We were just working together. I had a crush on him, but he…no. No.
She loved him as much an she loved anyone. She was obsessed with him. She built her life on him. People say she controlled him, but it wasn’t really like that. She was…if she was in control it was because Basil let her be in control. I mean she didn’t take the power, he gave it to her. He was a much stronger person, a much more grown up person than she was. He was gentle, he rarely got mad – but he could – he really really could believe me. He was gentle but he was a very strong presence, very commanding and –don’t fuck with me – and you couldn’t screw with him unless he wanted to let you. I couldn’t. He wouldn’t take anything like that from me or from anyone but her.
[Did he love her?]
Constance Collier said…she knew him before Ouida…I think they may have had something, I don’t know. She said to Bunny Bruce “you do realize we’re all watching a slow form of suicide.” And years later Bunny said it to me. And I knew it was true.
[that he was in love with her?]
It was never about love. Not that kind of love. There’s all kinds of love though aren’t there. He used to say he’d have been dead before he was forty without her.
Booze or pills or you know…jumping off of a bridge or something. He was drifting and lost and she anchored him in something. In her. He was drinking a lot and screwing around when he met her. He didn’t want responsibility and didn’t care about anything. She turns up and she has this plan to marry him and reform him and he goes along with it. Only for all the wrong reasons, god damn it. That’s what [Constance] meant. I mean he had choices for Christ sake. There were other, gorgeous, women who wanted to marry him. Women just…he could have any one. And there were gorgeous women back then could have rescued him and done it with love. Made him happy. You know it’s like he took a look at her and knew just what she wanted and what she’d do to his life, and he handed himself over because giving himself to her was just achieving the same as the booze but by a more dishonest route.
I don’t know. I don’t know why. I’ve never known why. I went crazy trying to figure why. It was like somewhere in his heart he didn’t want to be alive…or…or like he didn’t think he had a right to be alive. Like he was paralyzed from taking hold of his own life. Or what he wanted. He was…he was. I just know beneath the surface there was a lot. He just had good defences. He was an Englishman. He used to get these appalling nightmares. He’d have insomnia. He’d bite his nails. When Roddy. When his son went to war he didn’t sleep for a month.
[did you love him?]
Oh honey what does that even mean? He was what he was and I was what I was and things just happened.
The thing is [with Ouida]. I think part of her did kind of hate him. He was…,all the showy stuff, and she…I think part of her hated him for that. She was a failed actress and a failed writer…She wanted to hold him and keep him and make him something she thought he should be, but not out of love exactly.
He…he didn’t care about any of the shit most people – most Hollywood people – care about. He didn’t care about money or society or status or any of it. He’d be happy in his comfy old sweater, messing about with a camera or some shit he was all enthused about. He didn’t care where he lived so long as it was warm and dry. He loathed big grand parties and formality. “Making small talk with dull people” was this quote he always used, I don’t know who said it first. She cared about all the things he thought were kinda stupid. And he just gave her permission to make his life, on her terms.
So she made this life. Beautiful house, beautiful husband, beautiful everything. And…The reason she had all those parties I always thought was because unless she had an audience all that lovely living didn’t mean anything. And he just was part of the furnishing. He was supposed to wear the gorgeous clothes and drape about in the gorgeous lounge for the photographers and the visitors, and be there in a gorgeous tux to welcome the guests. And he was too smart not to know. I mean most people who knew them real well guessed it to some extent. He just didn’t mind. And he just played the part when asked. They didn’t even sleep together after the first few years. The marriage was…it was about something too weird for me to understand.
And this…it was all on her terms you know? The books on the shelves had to match. Everything had to be co-ordinated and themed. Even their friends. Their friends were just…were mostly people she knew would look good on a guest list or in the photo coverage. His friends were not part of that. His friends didn’t go with the furniture [laughter]. They were a mess. They didn’t look right. They weren’t elite. They drank the wrong brands and smoked too much and stayed too long and laughed and told dirty jokes. When there were big parties Basil’s friends were usually in the kitchen with the beer. Or in the library. The library was his room and it was the only one where the books were allowed not to match and there was dog hair on the couch.
[who were the friends?]
Oh…Willie [Nigel] Bruce. Vincent Price. Reggie Gardiner. Karloff, Clifton Webb. Errol. David [ X's husband, name changed]. Yes. They knew each other going back. They’d been in a couple of movies. David loved Basil. God bless him. Willie couldn’t stand [Ouida]. His face when he talked to her…it was a mask, it was him trying not to betray anything and just ending up looking like he’d had a stoke (sic) or something. [laughter] Mostly they just didn’t talk to each other. She didn’t like him either.
But the thing is people blamed her and that was never totally fair in my view because he had responsibility too. He helped create that situation. His friends didn’t really see that part of it. I guess they didn’t want to see that part. I saw that part of it yes. He let it happen. He let things happen, until when he wanted them to stop it was too late. It was just too damn late…”