Today the Baz is talking to Michael B.Druxman, author of Basil Rathbone, His Life & His Films, about his new one-person play Rathbone.
TB: Michael, can you tell me why you decide to revisit BR at this time?
I had no intention of writing a new formal biography of Rathbone, but I thought that he might be a good subject for THE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS, the series of one-person stage plays I began writing almost 30 years ago. RATHBONE is the 10th in that collection, but the 9th one-person play. NELSON (Eddy) AND JEANETTE (MacDonald) is, of necessity, a two-person play.
TB: And has your overall impression of BR changed at all since you wrote the book?
TB:Can you tell me how much of the play is based directly on known events? The conversations with his granddaughter for example – is it true he asked her not to visit him in LA because he was ashamed of the film he was making at the time?
According to the granddaughter, a conversation similar to the one presented did take place. However, to simplify the play, I have “combined” the two granddaughters. In other words, it was, in fact, one granddaughter who visited Basil backstage when he was doing JB., and another who came to the apartment for tea.
Purists might object to such an alteration, but when you are writing a dramatic piece, one has to make choices. The goal is to present the essence of what occurred, as well as an overall honest portrait of the character(s).
TB: Your portrait of Ouida isn’t quite the conventional image of her as a controlling dragon, is it? In fact you show her as quite helpless and needy and that a sense of duty binds Basil to her as much as anything. It’s that aspect of your play I like best. Where did that image originate?
My image of Ouida and her relationship with Basil is a culmination of my research gathered from different places…and my writer’s sense of the human psyche.
You’ll also recall that, when I researched my original book, I did two lengthy phone interviews with Ouida.
When I wrote this play…as well as the other plays THE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS collection, I didn’t really have a formal outline, nor did I say to myself that I am going to present Ouida as a “needy” person. Yes, I had an image of her in my head, but I never actually defined it. I just wrote “to it”.
When I actually start writing any of these plays, I know my “framing situation,” how I want to end my first act and what the climatic moment of the play is going to be, Beyond that, I like to write “by the seat of my pants”. It’s perhaps the main reason I enjoy writing because I never really know where the characters are going to take me.
TB: Ok, I think we’ll take a few questions posted by readers. Roberta asks: “Why such focus on the end of Basil’s career? He cuts such a tragic figure from that perspective. And why did he let this awful woman do these thing to him?”
The fact is that he was a sad, tragic figure during his last years; forced to take virtually every lousy job that came him way in order to pay the bills. The play explores how/why he got there.
Why did he let “this awful woman” do bad things to him?
The man “sold his soul to the Devil”. Ouida helped him to become a star and by the time he realized what kind of person she was and how she was negatively affecting his life, it was too late. In most instances, it was easier to acquiesce to her demands (e.g. letting her throw parties, turning his back on his son and grandchildren) than to fight her. As long as he could escape into his work, he was willing to let her have her way.
TB: MC asks: “That section about Ouida having to go to a hugely expensive private hospital, is that true?”
TB:Cinegeek asks: “Why a one person play? It seems so hard to make such a thing dramatic”
And, a one-person play certainly can be “dramatic”. It allows the character to be in conflict with his inner self.
TB:Levasseur Girl asks: “I have a question – does Michael think Ouida loved her husband?”
TB: Balakireff asks: “Is Michael intending to re-issue his biography as well?”
TB: And on that note, I think we’ll close, having already taken up too much of your time. Thank, Michael, and good luck with the play!