BIOGRAPHY, general biography, Relationships
Comments 146

more about Ouida

Halloween is coming up and typing is still a nightmare, so just to keep the biography thing ticking over, I’ve decided to post extracts from a transcript the Project was given. It’s an interview with an actress who knew Basil well, and who left this record with her executors with certain restrictions about its publication. We have presently got permission to use it within specific limits, which of course I’m observing here.

I’ve chosen the extracts because they answer, or at least address, some of the questions people have been asking here about Basil’s marriage. I’ll say more about this when my wrist is good enough to permit real typing! In the meantime, people are welcome to take from this as much as they choose:

“Madam X” remembers Basil & Ouida Rathbone

“…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…

…She loved him as much an she loved anyone. She was obsessed with him. 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…

…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…

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…

And this…it was all on her terms you know? The books on the shelves had to match. Everything had to be co-ordinated andthemed. 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…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 stroke 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…
She never spoke to me. You know actually I can’t remember her ever speaking to me…. We didn’t…we weren’t on a wavelength. She was a grande dame and…and I was, kind of a nobody. In her eyes. In her scheme of things. I wasn’t Hollywood royalty, so I was a nobody. You had to have butlers and things to be a somebody. The Colmans were somebodies. Fairbanks and Astor, the Marches, the Barrymores. Crawford. I only even had a maid sometimes. I had dog hair on my clothes. I wasn’t even in the ballpark of somebodiness

[laughter]

No, she did talk to me once. Oh God, she did. We were…at some big War Relief function. And their daughter was there. With her nurse. And…and she had just started walking, and she’s…Cynthia’s toddling about with her nurse…and she toddles up to me. All googa and happy. Well, she knew me…and she just toddled over and I picked her up. And that’s when Ouida talked to me the only time she ever did that I remember.


She came up from wherever she was. I didn’t even know she was there. She just appears out of nowhere. In my mind it’s this cloud of perfume and fox fur and a hat…and she takes hold of Cynthia and says “she’s bothering you, let me take her.” And I said, without even thinking, feeling kind of flustered, I said “oh no it’s ok.” And she fixes me with her eyes. She had really dark eyes. Dark eyes and flaming red hair. And she was little. Shorter than me. And she says “no, it really isn’t.” And she turns round and walks off, like a duchess, trailing fox fur and the nanny…Oh God yes.

Cynthia. She was a sweet kid. She was adopted. Ouida wanted to have a child, but she just had miscarriages. And then she was too old. He told me he hadn’t really wanted a child but Ouida was desperate for one. So, they found Cynthia. But…I

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146 Comments

  1. roesbette says

    Neither of whom made a film with Rathbone or had a professional relationship with him. I think it might be Lupino myself.

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    • Lana had a bit part in Adv Marco Polo,which got played up as more major after fame arrived,as with THE BLACK CAT and Alan Ladd’s smaller part.

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    • Ellen Foley says

      Lana was in Adv of Marco Polo in a bit part.That’s the movie she wound up losing her eyebrows permanently.

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  2. Is it possible this is Gale Sondergaard? I think she was good friends with Rathbone wasn’t she? And weren’t they both in trouble with HUAAC?

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  3. Jack Collet says

    I would stake my life this was Ida Lupino talking. If you read other interviews with her – so similar in style.

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  4. I have a feeling this is written by a jealous woman – possibly one who wanted to seduce him and failed? She resents Ouida Rathbone certainly.

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  5. Did this actress have an affair with him? Does she say what kind of relationship they had?

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  6. Jenny says

    Kay Francis? She was very outspoken and knew Basil from way back. She was also wildly promiscuous and made notes of her conquests in her diary in code!

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    • I’m wondering if it was Barbara O’Neil,she worked with him at least twice and I thought they looked good together,esp THE SUN NEVER SETS.

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      • GRETCHEN says

        NON-BAZ-RELATED-FACT:

        Vincent Price had a HUGE crush on Barbara O’Neil, ever-since they were in elementary school together…they later dated off-and-on for several YEARS, but she never decided to MARRY him, despite his constantly telling her he was ready whenever she was. She ended-up marrying some OTHER guy, instead. This must’ve BROKEN poor Vincent’s heart; and I’m sure one reason he married his first wife Edith Barrett, was ’cause she looked EXACTLY like Barbara! (Compare their pics to see what I mean.) I have a feeling he NEVER got-over his love for her, which is pretty SAD…I know how MUCH it hurts not to have one’s love reciprocated…she probably just thought of him as a “friend with benefits” the whole time, while stringing-him-along, KNOWING how he really felt about her. NOT COOL!! 😦

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