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The Baz Observed

Today we’re looking at a couple memories of the Baz by people who encountered him in passing.

This photo was sent by someone who says his father’s friend took it when he happened to see BR in the street in LA in about 1956.

BR c1956

“…He approached him with a bit of trepidation because he knew Rathbone could be impatient or irritable on a bad day, but he responded with great good humor and patience….”

The photo is apparently in a book of celebrity pix taken by said father’s said friend, but unfortunately the sender didn’t name either the book or the friend so I can’t put in a link. If anyone has additional info, then feel free to let me know. It’s cool because it’s the Baz caught in an everyday situation. And you can get a glimpse of the scruffier side of his wardrobe-persona that Ouida apparently deplored, but which I rather like πŸ™‚

This memory of encountering him on campus was sent in by a reader called “GC” – who is so charmingly self-reproaching that you sort of fall in love with him a bit. Would any of us have done any better if brought face to face with our hero and asked to come up with intelligent questions? I highly doubt it.

“…In 1965 I was a freshman cartoonist for the university newspaper when I was thrilled to hear that Rathbone was booked for the arts & entertainment series with his one-man show, an evening of poetry, dramatic recitations and reminiscence about his career. I begged to be allowed to interview him even though I had no prior experience or qualifications to do it.

On TV I’d seen (in those days of VERY sparse opportunities) many of the Universal Holmes series and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, one or two of the swashbucklers, and television guest shots like DR. KILDARE, but not much else; on the big screen I’d seen some of Basil’s last gasps like COMEDY OF TERRORS. The U library had many of his Caedmon LPs of Doyle and Poe stories that I listened to, and a copy of Basil’s autobiography, IN AND OUT OF CHARACTER, which I read carefully to prepare for the interview.


On the big day I waited for his arrival in the auditorium; when he finally showed up he looked very tired from his long trip, but was already besieged by a local TV reporter who badgered him with questions for about 30 minutes, asking most of the obvious ones I had prepared. When she was finally through he was thoroughly wrung out, and when I approached him he tried to put me off, suggesting that I should have more than enough information from the answers he gave her.


I really didn’t have much more I COULD ask him — except for something about those series films and horrors I loved, which I knew he wouldn’t be pleased to discuss. But I persisted and he agreed to “just one or two questions.”


While I racked my brain trying to figure out a way to broach the taboo subject, I mentioned prestigious highlights of his career (like his youthful stage role as Romeo to Katherine Cornell’s Juliet) and then, in my abyssmal incompetence and desperation, clumsily blurted out a question about his “B-movies,” phrasing it so ineptly that it surely must have offended him — a shuddersome embarrassment I’ll take to the grave. But he was composed and gentlemanly enough to give me a civil answer:


“One can’t always appear in masterpieces unless one chooses to live in a garret.”


Then he VERY generously signed the handsome 40s portrait I had ordered from Movie Star News for 50 cents (I had carefully avoided ordering a SON OF FRANKENSTEIN or Holmes portrait but now I wish I hadn’t).


That evening I sat in awe in the front row while he mesmerized us with superb recitations in that magnificent voice (“Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”). Afterward, I had the gall to confront him AGAIN for two more autographs, my program and the library’s copy of his autobiography. He gave me a funny look but signed both.


I returned the book to the library, where it was enshrined in the rare books room — by now some fiendish film fan has probably added it to his collection, and I wish it had been me.


If only I had been able to express to him how deeply I loved those “B-movies”!…”

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95 Comments

  1. Nanette B. says

    Just finished re-reading Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.’s book, The Salad Days, and thought I would quote from a paragraph of that book regarding Basil and Ouida Rathbone. It certainly backs up most of the info on Ouida’s spending and Basil having to make up for it (see page 336):
    “…. Contrary to his theatrical image of strength and purpose, Basil was a sweet pussycat of a man. He was obliged to play in too many pictures he hated because his wife, Ouida, a writer but not a great one, frightened all resistance out of him. She was a character with cultivated uniquely bright red hair. It was said she was a femme fatale when young, but by this time she was round and fully packed. Nevertheless, she was, to her many friends and guests, a pleasant and expansive hostess. She was so extravagant as well that poor Basil had to work constantly at anything to pay the bills for her numerous parties.”

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  2. lonely hunter says

    Did anyone ever film or tape Rathbone giving his talk? If they didn’t they missed a golden opportunity

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  3. Sonje says

    I see what you mean about a slightly shabbier Basil – but it is very attractive too. I like it better than the well-groomed Basil of the posed pictures.

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  4. I know a guy I work with,in his 70s who wont quit his job. I think they[the co.] will eventuly force him out.I know Basil needed money, As it seems his paycheck never even got in to his hands sometimes before it was long passed spent, but we also have to consider that he was an actor..by choice. When you love what you do.What you do isnt realy a job.

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    • Jemma Wise says

      It’s not so much he kept working a the standard of work he was doing.he wasn’t doing those films because he wanted to, he hated them, he was doing because he was broke and that’s sad.

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  5. Le sigh..my post was eaten again..one more time..I know nothing about money or finance..I just figuered if Joe Anybody made $28.599 bucks in 1967. And Basil only left an estate worth $10.000 bucks, in 1967. As quoted by MamaSaysNo in above post. That is less then a 1 year income of saveings,in fact it’s not even 6mo. in 1967. Now we all know, he is NOT Joe Anybody..hes Basil Somebody.Shouldnt he be makeing a biger income then Mr Anybody? Basicly he left apx. 6mo of an ordnary mans salery to Ouida to live on. Still thats not bad as it seams the avarge woman made $9thou something. still not the type of an estate that a big star should have to leave his family. thats how I see it Bet that figuer came as a shock to her ..not much partying to do on that much money..looks like miss hollywood party harty had to cut back on the cabvier

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    • The other site this one http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1967.html I posted to give some insite as to the cost of things in 1967.Of course cost is basicly relitive to where you live. and note this site says joe Anybody only made $7.300 bucks a year. which sounds like a low ball figuer in my ball park. As i know my dad made more than that,and he was not a welthy man. But here still if the avarage house[what house is avarge?] cost 14 thousand Ouida couldnt even have bought one straight out with her $10.000 bucks.If you go to the bottom of the page you get an idea of home prices in 1967.right side last box.

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  6. MamaSaysNo says

    I want to take him in my arms and hug him when I read that line about living in a garret! I mean he seems to have been not far from that anyway. An estate of $10,000 is nothing much even in 1967. Ouida had just cleaned him out.

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      • She didn’t seem to mind spending it when he was around,and obviously couldn’t have planned in case he went first.She wrote a book after he was gone,so I’m sure she had money from that,saying she never went for the he-man type.

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          • Never did find any info on anything she wrote after he was gone.Maybe it didn’t sell too many copies,or was a figment of OR’s imagination.He was the talented one in that relationship.

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        • Odd he has always struck me as a he man. Just not a caveman type he man. Lets see, he can ride,he can shoot,he can shoot a bow and arrow, he can fence. He can lead men into battle, The leiut. does get to lead sometimes. Oh and he’s a war hero.Dont forget that by compleating the mission that won him that medal,he saved how many lives we will never know?Theres real heroisum there..dont be fooled by humilty, they dont give medals for dressing up as a tree. If so every battelfeild would be a forest. Those things make he man in many dif. time periods.Just because a man can cuddel a kitten,pet a dog, dry a childs tears, and quote shakespeer. Does it disqulify his manhood? If Ouida didnt see him as the kind of man he realy was..how sad.

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          • OR was quoted as saying that she never went for the he-man type in something she was asked about Clark Gable.Clark was fine in his younger days,but give me Baz Baz and more Baz anyday.

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      • Ellen Foley says

        Today they might’ve had a telethon for her w/o disclosing how she spent him into poorhouse.I’ve worked w some that were spiteful enough & did just that to their man.Borderline personalities.They also went after other’s jobs and boasted about it.

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  7. Edmund Goulding's BB says

    I love that photo very much – and the story is so honestly told! You have to pity and admire the freshman cartoonist bearding the legendarily “difficult” Rathbone don’t you.

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    • Leonie says

      How “difficult” was he said to have been? I always see him described as gentle and kind

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      • The only time I ever heard he wouldn’t sign autographs or became impatient was when fans only wanted to talk about the Holmes series of the 1940’s.Can’t believe he thought he was demeaned by working in “Horror” movies.Loved the story of the snobby doorman refusing to let a young girl Baz had worked with backstage,he heard about it and came out calling her “My girl”She must’ve been over the moon!

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  8. Margaret G says

    My heart breaks a bit for Basil when I read this. He was 73 and deserved better than to have to slog around doing these tours. He ought to have been semi-retired, doing Lear on Broadway or the Old Vic as a guest spot. He ought to have been knighted and respected like Richardson and Gielgud. If only…if only…

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    • David says

      I agree, it totally amazes me how passed over he was for most of his later career after coming back to Hollywood in 1935. He had literally just played Romeo on Broadway and yet when it came to casting the movie he was passed over for (of all people) Leslie Howard!!! Who could possibly look at him and at Howard and think Howard would do it better?

      And I believe the casting of Maxim DeWinter was mentioned on here recently. Again, why on earth was this not given to him as first refusal? Who in Hollywood at the time could have done it better? Gaslight too – obviously his part. And I could name literally more than a dozen other examples. It’s really very strange. he became identified with horror an the like but he was never one of the B-Movie horror clan who were all from a very different background. Basil was romantically handsome and a very fine classical actor who can;t be compared with Karloff or Carradine but who ended up on their level, if not lower. Even Karloff got more Broadway cred in his later year than Basil. Why? it’s such a genuine puzzle.

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      • Some how it makes me happy that he was Margert Mitchels 1st pick to play Rhet Butler. Realy shouldnt they have listened to her.

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          • Margaret G says

            And The Lark! Yes, in later years Karloff did much better than Basil on Broadway. In fact Basil struggled to get work from the moment he left Hollywood. Apart from JB was he ever given another stage role of prominence after about 1953? Tragic and seemingly inexplicable. it’s not as if he was a drunk or a druggie or unreliable. And only look how marvellous his performance is in the TV version of The Lark! It simply beggars belief why he wasn’t in regular work on Broadway for the rest of his life

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      • This is an excellent point, thanks for raising it. I’ve thought less about his stage work than movies, but yes you are right, his Broadway career never got back to what it was before he went to Hollywood. He was barely able to get enough work to make a living.

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          • I wondered about this as well.I understand Baz needing or wanting more money.Do you think Broadway saw him as totally selling out to the movies?Forsaking the stage and now wanting it back to make a living?Thats why i think if possible he should have stayed in England as Olivier,Richardson ,Guilgood etc.Establish himself more than he did.Then supliment his income with some films as they did.
            Olivier was not too well excepted here in the early 30s in film or on broadway.He and Vivien Leighs Romeo and Juliet was a big flop.They lost 60 to 80,000.

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            • Sounds as if Broadway and Hollywood thought he’d flipped when he gave up a screen career to go back to the Great White Way.Jed Harris,he scares me in that picture.No wonder he and Ouida had issues.

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              • Ellen Foley says

                Read in coffee table sized book Sherlock series cancelled ,Baz felt he had his freedom,went back to NYC.Thought until recently his leaving movies meant he’d declined The Heiress.Mistaken casting Richardson,who I find okay,but sub par to Baz.Think it would’ve given him back what should have been a stellar career.Instead,he came back in Casanova’s Big Night,which I liked,but too little Baz in it.Loved him as Cousin Andre in We’re No Angels.Must’ve given Bogie the joke dog do cuz they knew of each other from Broadway.Wonder what Bogie thought of him,besides gossip.Like to have seen Baz,Errol,Olivia in The Heiress,esp Baz & Olivia.Wonder if he’s why she saw the play,if she saw it in USA,not London.

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      • About Baz roles,Garden Of Allah,he should have gotten the role Boyer got after Baz auditioned for it.But he was sexy as Count Anteoni,he’s why I chased down the book.

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        • He did say the part is bigger and better in the book..It def is. Ditto Anna Karinia,and Frenchmans Creek. I wish they would have left in alot of what was cut out of the book from Frenchmans Creek.In the movie Basil seems like a stalker.In the book Rock and Dona had an affair.

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          • Agree about Frenchman’s Creek,his part was much different,but maybe cuz of shooting sched for Sherlock Holmes movies.The scenes in the dining room and on the stairs where Baz and Joan come to blows make up for his minor part for me.When he was in shirtsleeves,he just seemed to smoulder.Also love in Adv Robin Hood with the arm upraised to strike Much,what a nice bicep.

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          • Yes,agreeThey could have and should have given more of Karenin’s part in Anna Karenina.Watch the 1948 version with Ralph Richardson and Vivien Leigh to see how well more of Basil would have been in that role.Tho as said on here by someone else,Basil would have been nice in Vronski’s role instead of Frederic March.

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            • No I’m glad he didnt play Count Vronski,I find him to be a shallow unlikeable person.I think that shows at the end of the movie,and in the book.[Which is WAY to long,And wanders around with too many chacters,till i lost track at times.]I felt in the book Karinen was very symphathetic[sp?]Srsly his wife went out had an afair moved back in went off with the guy a 2nd time..I always found Anna to be well…I read someplace that Garbo wanted the movie tailored to suit her. She got her wish.

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              • I am always thinking of Basil in a love interest role.March got to hold and kiss Garbo.Would not you like to see Basil in that situation ?Instead of cracking his knuckles or wringing his hands?

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                • well as you put it like that….It’s just I get tired of seeing him play badguys,even though we all know there more fun to play.And I’ve always felt Vronski was a realy smuck. But the kissing part…Also would have enjoyed seeing him in the race sceen.

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            • Um Have you seen “Adv.Of Marco Polo?” Basil realy needed to take his shirt of more often. Heyes code be danged. Amhad?..Marco?..what WAS kookooo chin thinking?

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              • Hot Chick says

                In Rio you get to see him naked to the waist and also naked thigh too. He had GREAT legs

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                  • Oh my goodness not the version I have on tape. He hardly ever stands up in that movie. He does walk, Preston and his son to the door I think.Bout all you get is a flash of ankle. Wooohooo! Toga party at Basil’s house.Bed sheets optional;} Is that the Nazi spy one in the jungle? With Doug Fairbanks Jr.? Where he keeps trugging back and forth through the jungle. If the mission was so dang imporant Why couldnt they give him a car?.

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                    • Petronella says

                      Rio is the one where he is escaping from Devil’s Island to get back to his wife. Nice kissing scenes πŸ™‚

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                    • The one i was thinking of is “The Sun Never Sets” he wears shorts alot. About the only memoribale thing about it. That and him slogging back and forth in the rain. The plot is SO bad. And this from a fan who has loved him for years..

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                    • Ellen Foley says

                      Love pics of him,Barb O’Neil and the goat,The Sun Never Sets.Like him in shorts,Hate Atwill’s part.

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                    • Ellen Foley says

                      The Sun Never Sets Baz in shorts trudging thru jungle chasing perv Atwill bent on world domination.Thought Baz & Barb had chemistry as married couple and luv their pic with goat from studio backlot

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          • Ellen Foley says

            And Dona was preg by the Frenchman,too,in Frenchman’s Creek.Loved Arturo DeCoroba,even if it was felt he was poor choice.It was quite a cast,but only a fair script of book

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      • LoveOldFilms says

        I have read somewhere on a film buff forum he annoyed his agent who was very powerful and who vowed he’d never be a major player in Hollywood again. It was said once he left his mistake was going back.

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        • Whould that be the same guy that had to wright a note to the drictor of Frenchmans Creek and tell him please stop kicking Basil down the stairs,Your getting him all bruised up? If the guy disliked Basil that much wouldnt he have let them kick away?

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          • The story is Lew Wasserman from MCA begged Basil not to quit the Holmes franchise in 1946 as it was hugely profitable and when he refused Wasserman vowed Basil would never work a major film or a major part in Hollywood again. It’s theorized this is why he was passed over for The Heiress the next year.

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            • Newt Face says

              That’s very interesting! I always wondered if something like that might have happened.

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              • Ellen Foley says

                Too bad Wasserman didn’t get the runs from those grapes.Shows you the power of the mogul in screwing up the very people they need to depend upon.Hope he had a G & T in open defiance.I always thought Universal ended the franchise.

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  9. David Macklin says

    I was the President of the Basil Rathbone Club and met him at many of his lecture and concert projects.  I received 7 letters from him that are on Marcia Jessen’s truely great “Basil Rathbone Master of Stage and Screen”.  Marcia has been interviewed here.  On her site are anecdotes about my meeting Basil and working with him in “The Warbirds”. This pilot film by 20th was based on Basil’s great film “Dawn Patrol”.  Unfortunately it did not sell but I worked with Basil Rathbone for six days and go paid for it!

      The letters are on the home page under “Letters” and the story’s and other stuff are under “Potpouri”

    I don’t say that Basil could not have a “nippy” moment.  He certainly had his burdens.  But in my experience with the great actor and gentleman, who really cared for his fans,  I never saw a “nippy” moment.  There are are story’s and photos of Basil Rathbone in my book.

    Happy New Year!

      David Macklin ACTING In The Motion Picture BUSINESS http://www.davidmacklin.com (book site)

    ________________________________

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  10. If only, if only, if only. The most dreadful words for anyone who met a celebrity at the wrong time. I have many that I met in youth and could have asked any question in the world to but was constrained by fear or circumstance or slow-wittedness–but mostly fear. Experience teaches us that they’re happy to talk if you ask the right questions, a practice that has made John McElwee a master at the process. His blog contains many gems unearthed during his private conversations with the legends of Hollywood. As for GC, I sympathize and commend him for the guts to face the Baz and create a memory that benefits us all. I’m happy to be the first to say, Thank you GC!

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  11. Hot Chick says

    Glasses, I see glasses in his hand! I saw him in specs in “A Feather in Her Hat” and thought he just looked so scrummy. Certain kinds of English dudes do. Put ’em in specs and they are just like some dishy sexy but cool and aloof English prof – total GILF material!

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