BLOG INTERVIEWS, Michael B. Druxman, More from Michael
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Michael Druxman answers a few of your questions

We’re welcoming back Michael B Druxman, author of Basil Rathbone: His Life & His Films, to answer some of the questions put to him by our readers following his recent Q&A

The Baz: We’d like to thank you Michael for taking the time to come back and do this.

DRUXMAN: No trouble, and I want to thank your readers for all their kind words. It’s always great to know that your work is appreciated.

THE BAZ: OK let’s begin…

Bryony asks – I’d like to ask Michael Druxman if he ever met Basil

DRUXMAN: Unfortunately, no.

Winnie the Pooh asks – I have a question. Why does Mr Druxman think those like Cukor stipulated they wouldn’t talk gossip about Rathbone but not about Muni? Was it a tribute to him as a man?

DRUXMAN: I didn’t interview Cukor about Muni. However, some people, like producer Henry Blanke, I did interview for both books.Perhaps the truth is very simple: Rathbone was a nice, gentle man who did his job and didn’t create waves, and Muni, the great actor that he was, was a pain-in-the-ass to work with. Indeed, no disrespect intended toward Basil, but Muni was a much more “colorful” character to write about.

Philomel asks – When writing your book, did you talk to Basil’s ex-wife and son?

DRUXMAN: No.

Hipolita asks (as a follow up to your favorite movie)- What about The Last of Mrs Cheyney, or is that just for his lady fans?

DRUXMAN: I don’t recall if I saw MRS. CHEYNEY or not. If I did, it certainly didn’t make much of a lasting impression. You must remember, when I wrote this book, it was before the advent of home video. In order to watch these films, they either had to be shown on television or I had to get my hands on a 16mm print, which was not always the easiest thing to do.

Frank B asks – I would like to ask Mr Druxman if he is in contact with the family and if they would like the originals of the letters I have as if so I will let them have them. They are their property IMO and I would not expect any money.

DRUXMAN: Sorry, I am not really in contact with the family…although Rathbone’s grandson did order a copy of my book for his son a year or two ago. The young man was about to play Tybalt (his great grandfather’s role) in a school production of ROMEO AND JULIET.

Alyssa asks – Do you agree the suggestion [made briefly by Rose Hobart in an interview] Basil was a womanizer is ridiculous?

DRUXMAN: He was not a womanizer.

C asks – Did you manage to view all of Basil’s movies?

DRUXMAN: Many, but definitely not all.

Roxanne asks – Did you like Ouida? She has had some bad press here and someone called her some terrible things, but I think she has been unfairly treated do you agree?

DRUXMAN: I didn’t like or dislike Ouida, because in our 2 telephone conversations, I didn’t really get to know her. However, after I did this interview with THE BAZ, I pulled my 35+ years old notes out of my storage space and reviewed them. Many of the people I spoke to were not too kind in their remarks about her. They all “loved” Basil, but the general consensus about Ouida was that she was “manipulative”, “controlling” and that her spendthrift ways did “break” Basil, who she could “wrap around her little finger”. One person even suggested that her parties were so elegant and so frequent that people in Hollywood made fun of her behind her back.

I’ve also learned, via the Internet, that her actual background is not what she claimed.

To answer the obvious question: I didn’t use this information about her in the book because (1) This was always meant to be a “Films of” book, and was never intended to be an in-depth biography about Basil or Ouida, and (2) Ouida was still alive, and neither the publisher nor I wanted to invite a lawsuit.

THE BAZ: And no one can blame you for that. Thank you Michael, and good luck with all future projects.

87 Comments

  1. Hipolita says

    I jhave always enjoyed Michael Druxman’s biography of Rathbone even though it leaves out a lot of detail of his life. I like its focus on film which is something Druxman really knows about. One of my favorite Hollywood books.

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  2. I have read Mr Druxman’s biography of Rathbone more than a dozen times over the years and I never tire of it

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  3. Professional Historian says

    Michael B. Druxman said –

    “Prior to Murdstone, the majority of his roles WERE “romantic” ones, but a good actor much prefers to play the villain or other types of character roles. They are much more interesting and challenging than playing the handsome hero. Besides, Hollywood…particularly in those days…believed in type-casting, and producers did not see Basil as the “romantic hero” type.”

    Statement A:

    “Prior to Murdstone, the majority of his roles WERE “romantic” ones”

    Statement B:

    “Hollywood…particularly in those days…believed in type-casting, and producers did not see Basil as the “romantic hero” type.”

    Are complete negations of each other. if one is true the other can’t be true. Mr Druxman needs to be clear.

    Having read mr D’ book I think he’s done Rathbone a disservice by employing 20/20 hindsight – ergo that a thing must always have been true because it ended up true.

    Just because Rathbone ended up imprisoned by tyepcasting as Holmes and Heavies does NOT mean he was always seen that way or that it was in any sense inevitable.

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  4. Takako says

    I just want to say how much I enjoy visiting here an checking up on your updates. Big fan of Mr Rathbone

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      • Lourdes says

        Thank you. I have an amateur interest in genealogy and have been trying to discover more about Basil’s Liverpool ancestry. Are there any living members of the Rathbone family in the UK at present? And where did the family originate? I’ve seen both an Irish and northern English ancestry postulated. The Rathbone physiognomy looks very Celtic in the sense of blue eyes and black hair as is seen in the south of Ireland away from Viking influence which produced the famous red headed Irish of the north. And the poetic temperament of so many members of the family is quite Celtic too.

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        • His father looks like he’s a redhead with possibly green eyes.The picture of Basil,Bea and John,Baz looks like his hair is light brown or reddish

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          • Amomwholovesbasil says

            Basil was definitely olive skinned and black-haired, yet with blue/grey eyes, which is a very unusual an striking combination.

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  5. Joaquin says

    I was at their house for a while in the early 40’s while my father did repairs on their pool. I was 12 at the time and used to help my dad weekends. They used to fight!

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  6. AnnaPindurka says

    And these are his comments on those early 1930s film roles and the shift to villain: “I’d been grooved as a drawing-room actor, a fellow who knew how to kiss ladies’ hands and tell them sweet nothings, but wasn’t up to much else. I didn’t want to go back to the films in that kind of part. I’d had my fill of them, and apparently so had the public. I wanted something different – and I got it – with a vengeance,” he murmured, his brows tilting, “when they began bombarding me to play Murdstone”
    And also in the same article, re. their run in New York later that year:
    “With Murdstone in David Copperfield at one theatre, I was playing the most beautiful love scenes ever written at another. I think it saved me in New York. It saved my peace of mind, at any rate. When Murdstone glowered, I’d push his ugly face away and say to myself: ‘Tonight I go out and play Romeo.’ ”
    The article is in Motion Picture, August 1935. It promotes Anna Karenina and Basil says that at least he is thankful to the Murdstone role for one thing: getting him Karenin and the chance to play with Garbo.

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    • This is cool, where can we find a copy of this article? I didn’t know they were available

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      • Greg Rathbone says

        I second that! I have never read any print media about Rathbone apart from a few horror fan mags from the 1960s. I would love to be able to read contemporary interviews from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s!

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      • The Project has text and PDF copies of quite a few early articles on Rathbone. I’m going to be publishing extracts as part of my thesis-work here. I’m not sure yet whether to publish the actual articles as well. I’m fairly sure most of them are out of copyright for all practical purposes, so I may just go for it. In the meantime I’ll load this article as a pdf and those interested can download it. Look out for it in the next few hours.

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  7. AnnaPindurka says

    On typecasting, this is Basil writing in the New York Herald Tribune in 1932 (Jan. 3):
    ‘Among the many curses of the theater, could there be anything worse than that of being “typed”? That is, if an actor is an actor – and we all think we are anyway, whatever the managers think of us. We have all our fair share of it. I’ve had mine, of which there are two glaring examples.
    I shall never forget, after playing with Eva La Gallienne in “The Swan,” being told that it would be impossible to play the Waiter in “The Grand Duchess and the Waiter” with Elsie Ferguson, as I was not a comedian. When I asked how it was known that I was not a comedian, the reply was, “Well, it’s obvious.”
    Still, I wasn’t convinced; I played the part of the waiter. I don’t say I did it particularly well, but at least it did this for me – nobody could see me in anything but comedy thereafter. “The Command to Love” finished it. Since the closing of that play I cannot induce anybody to sell me anything but comedies. When I say that years and years ago I played in “The Swan,” I am treated as if I were talking nonsense – or just not listened to.
    In pictures it was even worse. I played Lord Dilling in “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney.” White ties and teacups for me from then on. I remember going into Irving Thalberg’s studio and begging to be allowed to play Tom in “Romance,” a part that I had played on the stage. Mr. Thalberg was vaguely amused.’

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  8. Margaret G says

    MICHAEL. B DRUXMAN SAID:
    “I think that the more realistic explanation is that, once he played Murdstone in DAVID COPPERFIELD, the die was cast. Hollywood producers saw him as the perfect villain.”

    @ MICHAEL – Well he could act villains because he was a very good actor, but he could also act heroes, like Holmes, because, to repeat, he was a good actor. I don’t see there was anything that made him more suitable as a villain than a lover, other than people became habituated to seeing him that way because that is how he was cast. I think you might be mistaking effect for cause. I’ve long wondered why he was not cast in more romantic roles in the thirties and this suggestion of a rift could offer an explanation.

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    • A “rift” had nothing to do with it.

      Prior to Murdstone, the majority of his roles WERE “romantic” ones, but a good actor much prefers to play the villain or other types of character roles. They are much more interesting and challenging than playing the handsome hero. Besides, Hollywood…particularly in those days…believed in type-casting, and producers did not see Basil as the “romantic hero” type.

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      • Margaret G says

        The producers must have seen him as “romantic,” at one time, else why were the “majority of his roles romantic” prior to Murdstone?

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        • AnnaPindurka says

          A 1931 article calls him “One of the screen’s greatest lovers, and a man who has no equal when it comes to pouring him into one of those ready-made drawing room scenes.”
          And I just love this crazy metaphor from the same article: “[his] polished, smooth drawing room manners may be but the velvet covering of a masculine volcano”.

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  9. I noticed a comment by HRD that, I think needs clarification.

    Rathbone, under Ouida’s advice, refused to sign a long term contract with any studio during the 1930s, because they felt that he would get better roles and larger salaries if he remained freelance. Indeed, Errol Flynn didn’t like the fact that Rathbone made more money than him on their movies.

    I doubt that there was any fallout with MGM, because Basil worked there fairly steadily during the 1930s, and at the start of WW2, he signed a long term contract with them because he wanted to be active in the war effort, and if he had a guaranteed steady income that would make it easier.

    Unfortunately, that was a major career error. MGM did not use him well in their movies (e.g. BATHING BEAUTY), and they lent him to Universal at a nice profit for the Sherlock Holmes series.

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        • Sorry, I was a bit vague. I was thinking it would be good to clarify how we know he didn’t sign a contract until the ’42 MGM one. I’m assuming he said it himself somewhere?

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          • As I recall, that specific piece of information came from Ouida.

            On the other hand, I think if you peruse his film credits for the 1930s, you’ll see that he worked virtually everywhere, which certainly substantiates the fact that he was free lance.

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              • Thanks, Michael, that does clarify things. So, if the only source for him not signing a contract before 1942 is Ouida, then I suppose she might just have misremembered (she was pretty aged by then), and it’s possible HRD’s story of a 1930 contract that he broke or that was torn up or something just might be true?

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                • Perhaps HRD is referring to the fact that Rathbone had been “cast” in a MGM film (REUNION IN VIENNA), but decided instead to return to England for some stage and film work. It’s more likely that he had been cast, but (since he was a free lance actor) no contracts had been signed.

                  If he had angered Thalberg, I doubt very much if he would have worked as much as he did at Metro after he returned.

                  Actors drop out of movies all the time, so it would have been no big deal…particularly since Rathbone was not a box-office draw. I assume that John Barrymore, who WAS a major star at the time, replaced him.

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                  • gooseberry pie says

                    What do you mean by not a box office draw? The Last of Mrs Cheyney was a very big success and so were most of his other movies from that time. Only A Woman Commands was a real failure and that was down to Pola Negri being unfairly attacked for her accent. It’s a raw point for me as I am a huge fan of Pola Negri

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                  • Margaret G says

                    if he turned down a contract in 1930 maybe that would explain why he was never considered for lead roles when he returned to Hollywood in 1935

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                    • I think that the more realistic explanation is that, once he played Murdstone in DAVID COPPERFIELD, the die was cast. Hollywood producers saw him as the perfect villain.

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                • I just remember something about him either having a contract and walking out on it or refusing to sign one and Ouida being pissed.

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                    • No, I don’t think so. I was around in the late forties and I dimly remember that happening. Because Basil came to see my father at the time he left Hollywood, which would have been in about 1946.

                      The incident I am talking about definitely involved MGM and Thalberg in some way, and I am fairly sure it was around the time he made his first talking pictures, which would be about 1930 or something.

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                    • The majority of the movies that Basil made in the very early 1930s were for MGM, so the only explanation that I can think of (aside from the aforementioned REUNION IN VIENNA situation) is that perhaps Thalberg was unhappy (IF he was unhappy) that Basil refused to sign a long term contract.

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                    • I don’t remember the “Reunion in Vienna” situation. You say Rathbone was offered this part and turned it down? Would this be just before he returned to the UK in 1932?

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                    • AnnaPindurka says

                      On Reunion in Vienna, Basil says the following talking about the British film industry in the British film weekly Picturegoer (Jan.28, 1933): “I have great faith in our ability to pull it off, otherwise I should not have deliberately walked out on Reunion in Vienna, which I was to have played in California with Ina Claire, and come back here.”

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    • rosebette says

      Thanks for this additional information about the differences between contract players and free lance. This also supports the ideal of professional jealousy between Flynn and Rathbone that also comes up in Matzen’s interview.

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  10. Benny says

    I have been a fan of Mr Druxman’s book for twenty years. This is a marvellous opportunity to learn more. Thank you sir.

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  11. AnnaPindurka says

    And look at this, from the same Picturegoer 1933 article, as just a bit of isolated info in response to Nina&Fredric above: “Asked if he was in England only for a visit, the star returned emphatically: ‘Rather not! I’m home for good, I hope. Whether I shall continue to make pictures here depends on our opening sentence! But I don’t want to go back to Hollywood.” I’d love to know the background to this, the article does not explain it all.

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    • This is very interesting. I wonder what might have persuaded him to change his mind and return to Hollywood when he disliked it so much.

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  12. AnnaPindurka says

    To confirm what Rosebette says, this is Basil interviewed in the January 28, 1933 issue of the British magazine Picturegoer: “As it is, you can deprive me of anything but music. I must hear music. Without it, I really believe I would never find complete happiness again.”

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  13. rosebette says

    I also find it interesting that Rathbone played a musician at least twice, in “Notorious Affair,” which I just watched last night, courtesy of our gracious host, NeveR, and “Confession.” Also, as Holmes, he’s always playing the violin. BTW, hope folks don’t take offense, but I found his performance in “Notorious Affair” rather comical — musician as neurotic spoiled baby, almost campy.

    I think Rathbone’s focus on music in the latter part of the autobiography is not just “name dropping,” but an indication of where his interests and passions are. Both my parents in their later years developed an abiding love for classical music that gave them much pleasure and emotional sustenance, although in their youth they loved the “tunes of the day.”

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  14. James H says

    No disrespect to Mr Druxman but he seems to have sleep-walked trough his research back in 1974. All of Basil’s fans have read this book and all (I am guessing) been left thinking there were more questions left unanswered than anything else. What does he mean “colorful”? Does he mean someone who lived his life in the spotlight? Another poster here said something true when they said that scandal can be the dullest and least colorful thing of all to read about. The fact Basil had a happy marriage or didn’t take drugs or sleep with starlets doesn’t make him less interesting. Read those beautiful letters he wrote home, and the beautiful mind expressed in his autobiography and tell me he is less “colorful” than Paul Muni!

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    • AnnaPindurka says

      I agree with James. I, for one, have been fascinated to read about all the world-class musicians he was close friends with. The violinist Fritz Kreisler and Basil’s dog were great pals (I get this from an article Basil wrote in 1936 – about the dog, Moritz), tenor Richard Tauber sings a lullaby to Basil’s daughter Cynthia (that’s from the autobiography). One is “regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time”, the other “acclaimed as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century” (these are wikipedia quotes). I see what Mr Druxman means by “colourful”, as there still is, I think, a sense that an actor should entertain his audience by his off-screen persona as well, have a presentable girlfriend/wife, preferably from the business, stories to sell to the papers, keeping the fans glued. Brainy actors can seem standoffish and suspect. But “brainy is the new sexy”, as we now know.

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  15. Nina&Fredric says

    “The Last of Mrs Cheyney is very smart and sexy! It’s a pre-code movie and it really shows. They can drop the kind of innuendo that would never have gotten past the censor ten years later. Basil is basically a gigolo who has affairs with other men’s wives, and Norma is a professional con woman. The two of them are fantastic together and have amazing chemistry. I think Basil should have been the next big MGM romantic lead, and I have never understood why he wasn’t. I mean The Last of Mrs Cheyney was a massive picture at the time and a huge hit too. Why wasn’t Baz signed up for a longterm contract?

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    • Denise says

      I wish I could see this film and also his silents! And I saw a pic once of him in a movie where he is like an artist in a studio and there’s a nearly naked woman modeling for him! I mean seriously, she looks naked only there’s like a chair or something hiding her “bits”. Does anyone know what this film is? He looked gorgeous in this photo. Just totally hot. Seriously, you would all drool. And there was this naked woman, which I can’t believe!!!

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      • I believe he was under contract to MGM in 1930 but broke his contract and returned to the UK. Or he was offered a contract and declined it. I think it was to do personally with Irving Thalberg in some way. There was residual bad feeling about the way it was done or something. It sounds terribly garbled, but I reconstruct it from things heard in the family as a child, and the details are not clear. I always understood it was a source of friction with him and Ouida, whatever happened.

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        • Wow,thats interesting.Maybe that explains him not making anymore films with Norma.Do you know if Ouida was managing his film career at that time?

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          • The idea she “managed” his career is another bit of fiction. She didn’t know how to manage a career, that woman couldn’t manage a lemonade stall. All she did was interfere and embarrass him, but he let her pretend. The same way he let her spin all this other nonsense about being Spanish or Russian and all the rest of the crap. We were supposed to believe it but it was obvious lies. No one knew where she really came from or what part of what she said might be true. There were all kinds of things put forward but I don’t know how true they are. She was a person who was all about show and constantly reinvented herself and if she was challenged she would go batshit crazy and become a victim.

            But from what I know it’s highly possible she messed things up for him somehow with Thalberg. She was always offending people. But Ouida never wanted Basil to leave Hollywood. He hated it there, but she never wanted to live anywhere else. And before they’d been there too long she had run up such debts he had to keep making movies just to pay them off. You know when you ask about her a whole flood of memory comes back and there is a lot of anger and confusion too. From my position I have no way of making sense of it. It’s just very baffling. I’m afraid the thought of her makes me sick and I guess I don’t hide that well. I feel like I should try to find saving graces in her to talk about. I’m sure she had them. I just don’t remember seeing any or being told of any. I know that seems to make no sense, because Basil was no fool and he lived with her for forty years. But all I can tell you is what I know. Her saving graces are not known to me.

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            • Hey thats ok .I am glad to hear.I wondered about some of his career choices.I can get what you are saying.Maybe thats why he left Hollywood for New York.His way to control spending.

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    • I like this film too.I think it was based on a play.Alot of his early movies were .This film did get him noticed.the next year he did seven films.They did not go over to find a big audience.
      I also liked him with Ruth Chatterton in The Lady Of Scandal as a romantic couple.Though he did not choose her in the end.

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  16. Greg Rathbone says

    Did any writer interview Basil’s son after Basil died? Rather a lost opportunity if not

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  17. Alyssia Warren says

    I’m glad Mr Druxman agrees with me that Basil was never a womanizer, but it’s a shame he listens to the mean-spirited gossip about Ouida. I don’t understand why people who love Basil want to think badly of the woman who meant more to him than anyone else in his entire life.

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    • It seems to me that Mr. Druxman was merely reporting what people who knew Ouida said about her 40 years ago, when he was doing research for his book. And he didn’t put the negative comments in the book, so you should be pleased with him.

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      • alyssia Warren says

        Whatever other people said about her, Basil knew her best didn’t he. I think we should be celebrating their love. It was a beautiful love story. She healed him when he was so damaged by his terrible first marriage and the sadness of his mother’s death. She was his salvation.

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    • Hokey Pokey says

      dude no offense but how do you know what Ouida meant to him? Did you know them? I bet you weren’t even born when they died

      Like

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