BIOGRAPHY, Biography Project
Comments 64

the Basil Rathbone Biography Project

To date, 46 years after his death there is still no full length biography of Basil Rathbone. The Biography Project is working towards achieving one.

How it began

As soon as you start a website about anyone or anything people begin writing to you and sending you things. Since I’ve been running this blog I’ve been getting emails and comments sent in, and a fairly significant minority of these have been bringing to light some facet of the Baz’s life, of which I was not previously aware.

Some of the pieces of information coming in are tiny, others (one or two) have been quite huge in their potential impact on Basil’s life and work; some have been things that were hidden away in personal papers or family recollections, some have been published in books but yet somehow not assimilated into the “official” Rathbone biography you’ll find on Wikipedia and the IMDB – and indeed in Basil’s own elegantly allusive, poetically selective “autobiography.” Looking at some of this stuff, it occurred to me that they’re pieces of a life that have become detached from the memory of the man they belong to and just sort of float, waiting to be rediscovered. If someone doesn’t record them, keep them somewhere they risk being lost forever before any biographer gets to do his/her work.

So, Marcia Jessen from basilathbone.net, and I formulated the the Basil Rathbone Biography Project as way of trying to catch the fragments of scattered life story and glue them together again. We are not – at this stage – planning to write a biography ourselves, but we aim to at very least keep a record in one place so that when a biographer – or a film historian or researcher or whatever – comes to do his/her work – this resource will be there to help them.

What is it?

At present it’s a large and ever-growing collection of newspaper clippings, book extracts, letters, personal memories, and much else. We are always on the look out for more and welcome any contributions or assistance. Below I’ll list the areas we are particularly interested in or where information seems hard to find. If anyone can help us find more information on these topics, or on any other aspect of Rathbone’s life, please get in touch!

You can reach us by leaving a comment on this page, by going to the contact page or by emailing basilrathboneproject@gmail.com

There’s a FAQ on basilrathbone.net that might help answer any questions this hasn’t covered (there are probably several). This is just a start, but we hope it will build.

If you’d like to help out by linking to this page then feel free to download the banner at the top of this post.

Areas of current interest:
Cynthia Rathbone

Almost nothing is known about Cynthia. We are looking for people who may have known her as a child or as an adult. She worked, at least for a while, at Hockaday Advertizing Agency in NYC. Does anyone remember her from that time? Does anyone have information on the nature of hr tragic illness and early death?

“Madame X”

We are keen to get additional information on Rathbone’s connection with this lady. Anyone who can help us please get in touch.

“Lost” or hard to find films we would like to locate:

INNOCENT (1921)

THE MASKED BRIDE (1925). Officially designated a lost film.

THIS MAD WORLD (1930)

AFTER THE BALL (1933)

ONE PRECIOUS YEAR (1933)

Contact us: basilrathboneproject@gmail.com
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64 Comments

  1. Classic Movie Fanatic says

    This is a great project. I’d like to make a suggestion if that’s ok. Why not make a selection of banners available to download. The header on this page is very large. People might appreciate smaller versions they can add to their blog or website without resizing.

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  2. Ellen Foley says

    Wow,Evelyn Hope so appropriate after reading “X’s” interview exerpts.She could be Evelyn,in a way,unfulfilled permanent commitment with Baz.Quite touching!But then again,he was on a leash at home.OR usually seemed to toss husbands when she was bored previously,IMHO,but him,she enslaved,again IMHO.Got to be a street brawler in her middle age,was he her youngest hubby (he was 33 going on 34 when they married:her,39,going on 40).I’ve worked in institutions in which some of female patients had hubbies who played around,and when they started menopause,developed schizophrenia,hence,my comments about OR & X’s revelations of her affair w/Baz-still think she belonged with him,not the Clawlady.That’s no way to resolve marital issues,and maybe she would’ve won in court,but maybe she was really one with more to lose (OR) if she revealed all she knew about him-sort of reminded me of some of my granny’s threats when she went off the deepend,which was too many times for comfort.No wonder his insider friends/kitchen party friends hated her-they were too cool.

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  3. Hannah says

    I like the new menu it makes it a lot easier to find stuff. I forgot how much was on here.

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  4. RANDOM LATE COMMENT
    Reminds me, I have something you guys might wanna see πŸ™‚ (Keep meaning to do it but never do ;n;)

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      • BASIL says

        I have a poetry book which used to belong to the Baz, he’s underlined a couple of bits in it! ^_^
        There’s a hand written dedication to him in there! πŸ™‚

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          • BASIL says

            Sometime I will! ^_^
            I found it on eBay a while ago, so if you just search regularly there’s a chance that you might find something similar! ^Ο‰^
            (Something tells me the previous owner of the book didn’t actually look inside properly and find the underlined sections in there, because it was only about Β£15! =3=’ )

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            • the countess says

              Yes please do tell us what poems he underlined. Even if you cant send a scan. A certan person on here keeps makeing so many empty promises…a bout Basil’s personal diary it would be nice to see something like that. PLEASE!!!! Ive read “Evelen Hope” a 100 times because he did.

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  5. lΓ₯n says

    This i an excellent idea – congratulations, and I’ll watch your progress with interest. I read a biography of Basil many years ago, but found it very superficial, don;t remember what ti was called.

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  6. Philippa says

    This is such an exciting idea. Is there a biographer lined up? I saw one mentioned on Amazon a week or so back.

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  7. e c writer says

    Excellent idea. I met Mr Rathbone once in the mid fifties, around 1954. I was in my twenties so do the math. I’m afraid I recognized him in the street in NYC, CPW near Columbus Circle, and spoke before I was even aware. He looked quite startled but was very affable and kind while I did a bit of gushing about the films I’d seen and loved. I’m afraid I was a Holmes fan and raved rather about The Hound of the Baskervilles, but contrary to what others have said he didn’t seem put off and actually told me it was the Holmes film he’d enjoyed making most. I said I loved the two period films, he said he had reservations about the second but mostly because the experience of making it had not been easy as the director was a harsh sort of man, and he said the plot was “what someone polite would call loosely woven.” I said I’d been unhappy they updated the Universal films he said Holmes fighting Nazis had been a mistake. He had a young girl with him who I think was his daughter. She looked about 13 and was holding his arm rather sweetly the whole time we spoke. Physically he was very tall and commanding, and his eyes were a very deep grey/blue. I got a strong impression of his personality, which was of a restless sort of probing intelligence, surface reserve (I was a stranger accosting him in the street) but a great deal of natural warmth just behind it. I had the sense he was appraising me very quickly and would miss nothing of the subtleties and undercurrents in things around him. Without the warmth beneath the surface I would say he was almost like meeting Mr Holmes himself. We spoke for just a few minutes but the impression was vivid. I’m a male, not one of his lady-fans who still seem to be legion.

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  8. Alyssia Warren says

    This project should be about celebrating Basil’s love story with his wife. I really want to help with this in any way I can.

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  9. NYGuy says

    There’s a large Rathbone collection at NYU

    http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/search/?q=basil+rathbone&collectionId=tamwag&start=0

    It’s in the Tamiment Library. It’s mostly Ouida’s stuff from what I can determine; lots of her MSS, but there’s some of Basil’s stuff too. Galleys of his autobiography, correspondence between him and Ouida and him and his daughter Cynthia. Probably other stuff.

    I don’t think many people know it’s there or have evaluated its contents. I stumbled upon it one day but never looked at anything, only read the index. If you are based in NY I recommend you go along and ask to see the collection; you never know what might be lurking.

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  10. rosebette says

    I’m very much looking forward to your work and to your sorting out rumor, fact, and fiction. I just read your interview with M. Druxman, and it was very intreresting.

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  11. this is a long overdue and much needed initiative. I wish you all the luck you need with it

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  12. FredaKowlie says

    I have a biography question. His Wiki page said or used to say he was knighted but now it doesn’t, what’s going on there?

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    • AnnaPindurka says

      That was actually us. The claim seemed spurious (as Marcia had pointed it out on basilrathbone.net way back) because there is no trace of knighthood in the London Gazette or The Times. We also contacted the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor, who wrote back that they do not have Basil Rathbone on their records. Neve first queried the claim on wikipedia, then deleted it. And now the author of the claim has accepted this in the Talks section.

      On a personal note (besides wishing to grant Basil a knighthood just because), I myself would be interested to know where this misinformation can be traced back to, it seems to have originated in pre-internet times.

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      • AnnaPindurka says

        The following is definitely no proof of anything Basil may have been thinking but look at this sentence about Ronald Colman in Sheridan Morley’s The Brits in Hollywood: “…(he) went to his grave more than a decade later convinced that his decision to remain in California throughout the war had cost him a knighthood (a theory undermined by George VI’s knighting of Aubrey Smith in 1944)…”

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      • You mean he wasn’t knighted at all? How disappointing, I had some of my faith in our honours system restored when I read he had been KBE’d!

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  13. Anna Wallace says

    this is wonderful. I have been a fan of Basil for years and while Michael Druxman’s book is very good it doesn’t go into detail about his life. There are so many mysteries at the moment. I have always wondered about three things especially.

    1. What happened to his sister Beatrice?

    2. Why did he not have any relationship between ending his marriage to Marion and marrying Ouida? He only seems to have been with these two women which is very few considering he was an attractive man and an actor living amongst other bohemians, and free and easy in the early twenties. I’ve always wondered if there was a sensitivity in him that meant he couldn’t have relationships easily. Was he shy, or did he need to be powerfully attracted in order to feel justified in expressing himself physically?

    3. How did his beloved daughter die so young?

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    • AnnaPindurka says

      re. 2: He did! Good question, though: Basil is so coy, so gentlemanly about the subject in his autobiography, so what would he now say if a future biography is a tell-all? I personally don’t think he would mind all that much, he would care more about giving his beloved theatre enough space in such a book.

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      • Anna Wallace says

        Hello Anna from Anna! May I ask how you know he had other relationships at that time? There’s nothing about that in his autobiography or in Druxman’ book.

        I do agree about the importance he would place upon the theatre too. I see you are one of the three running this project. Congratulations and thanks to all three of you!

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        • AnnaPindurka says

          Hello Anna and thank you from all of us!

          I understood much more about this when I read Helen Sheehy’s biography of Eva Le Gallienne. And then you sort of start wondering what other surprises there are. This detective work is fun.

          A very different example but just to show you how much is not clear at first sight. I had searched online for Basil’s obituary and also read the report from his funeral in the New York Times archive. And I was very sad to read that only 350 people attended his funeral. I remained sad about this until recently when I read an article by a great admirer of his in the Castle of Frankenstein magazine (No. 12, 1968) in which he says “During the several days Basil Rathbone lay in state, until he was removed for burial from St. James’ Episcopal Church on Tuesday, July 25, 1967, thousands of people came to view him and pay their last respects – at times, the lines stretched all the way outside the funeral chapel, down the street and around the corner …”

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  14. Fred Singer says

    This is an excellent idea. I would quite happily send anything from my fairly large collection of Holmes memorabilia of any of it is relevant

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