BIOGRAPHY, BOOKS
Comments 39

IN & OUT OF CHARACTER: an attempt at analysis Part III

I think all the oddness of everything we have read between the leaves of IN & OUT OF CHARACTER pales to nothing beside the extract I’m sharing with you today:

“…[Ouida]was both my secretary and my banker; and it was certainly not her fault that on two consecutive weeks in Texas my week’s salary was stolen, putting a considerable crimp in Ouida’s well-thought-out and carefully guarded budget.

On the first occasion our hotel suite was entered in the dead of night and my week’s salary stolen, while Ouida and I and Moritz all slept soundly! This was unquestionably an inside job. The following week was on her way to the post office – my salary was in her handbag. She stopped at the hotel newsstand and put her bag don as she turned over the pages of the latest Vogue or Vanity Fair. In a flash a hand grabbed her bag and as she turned and shouted “stop that man,” he was through the revolving doors and out into the street. This moment of the unexpected is so often what this type of thief relies on to make his getaway. Before those in the lobby of the hotel realized what Ouida was saying and what had happened, maybe fifteen valuable seconds had passed. There was no time for details of identification and once in the street the thief could swiftly get lost – and did! “

My first reaction is hard to express. If this was tumblr I’d do some sort of keyboard smash and a lot of question marks. It’s basically just a very very weird segment. Let’s start with this:

“…she was both my secretary and my banker; and it was certainly not her fault that on two consecutive weeks in Texas my week’s salary was stolen, putting a considerable crimp in Ouida’s well-thought-out and carefully guarded budget.”

Ouida Bergere-Berger-Branch, one-time bankrupt and Olympic-class compulsive shopper, had never “carefully guarded” a budget in her life and never would. The only thing Ouida ever did with money, her own or other people’s, was spend it until it was all gone – and then spend some more. She would have had less chance of carefully guarding a budget than being President of the United States, or winning an Oscar for one of her screenplays. So, if BR wrote this he was either lying or had been smoking some serious stuff.

But that is nothing compared to the story of the double-robbery it segues into.

“On the first occasion our hotel suite was entered in the dead of night and my week’s salary stolen, while Ouida and I and Moritz all slept soundly! This was unquestionably an inside job. The following week Ouida was on her way to the post office – my salary was in her handbag. She stopped at the hotel newsstand and put her bag down as she turned over the pages of the latest Vogue or Vanity Fair. In a flash a hand grabbed her bag and as she turned and shouted “stop that man,” he was through the revolving doors and out into the street. This moment of the unexpected is so often what this type of thief relies on to make his getaway. Before those in the lobby of the hotel realized what Ouida was saying and what had happened, maybe fifteen valuable seconds had passed. There was no time for details of identification and once in the street the thief could swiftly get lost – and did! “

Are we actually supposed to believe this? First a thief breaks in to their hotel room – with (we are told) a German Shepherd dog asleep in it – steals the money and exits, while the dog did nothing in the night time. Then the following week, a completely different thief steals Ouida’s purse, with another pay check in it, while she’s browsing at a magazine stand? No mention of police being called. No mention of any other witness beside Ouida.

I don’t know why it’s in the book at all, let alone why it’s introduced with the words “and it certainly wasn’t her fault.” Because the one thing that this narrative makes almost painfully obvious is that both robberies were entirely Ouida’s fault, because it was Ouida who did them.

It reads either like something written by a fairly clever writer who wants people to know beyond doubt Ouida stole the money without actually having to say so, or like something written by a very obtuse, narcissistic writer who has no idea how absurd and implausible their cover story is.

In other words, it could be BR telling the story of his wife’s deceit in such a way that Ouida would ok it – thinking he was absolving her. Or it could be Ouida telling the story herself, in the belief that her cover story was perfect and would fool everyone.

Which is it? I’m really unsure on that. It could be BR, it could be Ouida, or maybe both – BR’s story with Ouida’s interpolations. I can see her adding in the stuff about “carefully guarded budget” and “it certainly wasn’t her fault,” because to a naïve and childlike mind such as she seems to have possessed, this simple stating of things like “it wasn’t her fault” is enough to make everyone believe them. The possibility of it having the very opposite effect – drawing attention to the very thing being denied – would be beyond the scope of her imagination.

But whoever wrote it, I think the one thing we can take away from this is that Ouida stole her husband’s pay checks and made up bad lies about what happened to them. Lies so transparent it seems pretty unlikely anyone believed them. (In fact according to one of our readers, Katharine Cornell opined at one time that Ouida had stolen the money, but I’m not able to verify this at the moment).

And I think the major question for us is – what does this say about Ouida and her marriage?Ouida2

Why was she stealing from her own husband? Was this an isolated example or something she did regularly? Did she just steal from him or from others too?

Is it time for a diagnosis of this woman who seems to have lied at any opportunity, stolen from at least one close family member, manipulated people ruthlessly,been impervious to their consequent suffering, and obsessed with her own image to the point of delusion?

And why did BR endure it? Why didn’t he realize no good was going to come of being married to someone who did this kind of thing, and just get out while he could, before there was a child to consider? Why did he put himself in this compromized and hellish position? Because whether he wrote that story about the theft of his pay checks or she did, it shouldn’t be an issue being dealt with in this way, in public, years after the event.

Why was he still there, thirty years later, trying to deal, or letting her deal?

That’s the real question isn’t it.

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39 Comments

  1. TrudieTrue says

    Fascinating! Ouida certainly comes across as mentally disturbed. Poor Basil. This ought to be turned into a film.

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  2. Ellen Foley says

    She’s in her 80s,he’s gone,what she did when he was around prob made many avoid her,esp his family she scorned.She really should’ve made the effort w/Rodion & Caroline,cuz doesn’t sound like after being grand dame for 41 years kept her in too many good graces.Cynthia was ill,no doubt pretty seriously by 1967,since she lived til 1969,and really unless she had done any acting herself,may not have had much insurance.,and that is too sad.At least now,some programs are available for someone chronically ill.The moral of Ors story shoul’ve been,don’t throw it away,cuz ya never know when the rainy day is upon ya.She could’ve kept car & home and declared bankruptcy again.

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  3. And NOBODY BOUGHT THEM? Big? Wow how romantic was she? He’s dead I’ll sell of all his pics..espicly ones of him and other starlets.I’m gona be evil here..”Gee. I’m so broke,S.S. dosent pay me enought to live in my park ave penthouse AND eat all my meals at 21..so… I’m gona sell off all your dads stuff for a quarter or mabey .50 if I dont get a handout soon.” Owww did i realy say that.I was getting more then 50cents a week alowence in 1967.I spent more on bubbelgumcards in 1967 then that.

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  4. rosebette says

    The photos with price tags are of BR or BR and leading ladies, and some are glossy photos taken of celebrities at their parties. I believe that they are BR and OR’s own property and the prices on the back are form OR tried to sell them in an estate sale. Some photos have handwriting, even on the front, possibly OR’s or BR’s.

    Many other photos are in scrapbooks, and the scrapbooks are obviously old, from the era in which the photos were taken

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  5. Judy D. says

    Still reeling over the Pullman car bit (Hyacinth In The Night-Time) and the dinner invite where “Gert” was expected to pay her own (and their??) way.
    And interesting in the J.B. review how Christopher Plummer got his toes singed by the evil Ms. Weeder. But nice how CP comments on how fit BR was at that age–it helps in our notion of how he was, mentally/physically, at least until then. Is there any possibility that the play was filmed and might some day show up on DVD, like other popular plays have? Cross fingers.
    Hope no offense over my ideas of Rodion/Cynthia–figured it was pretty much an elephant in the room and I might as well be bad and bring it forward. Perhaps some later pix of Cyn will surface in which she had changed quite a bit; but didn’t have long to go before she died at 30, unfortunately. If she was BR’s daughter, one shudders to think of her life with OR, especially after BR’s death.
    I don’t have any problem with Jack Miltern being around–he was probably quite a character, with lots of interesting old-Hollywood and theater stories, and obviously not at all rich or famous enough to ever intrigue OR in any way other than as a friend. I think he dabbled in real estate a few times and went broke.
    And not to be mawkish, because I don’t give a damn anymore, but as to identifying parent/child relationships: years ago, age 23, I gave up a daughter to adoption, for all the usual reasons. Once she was adult I was able to track her down, and some years passed and I got photos of her in her job as hotshot lawyer. I stared and stared at one, wondering what the resemblance to me was, not to mention her supposed father. Did I have the wrong person?? Suddenly I looked at the corner windows behind her and saw her reflection–and realized that from the side we had the same profile! Being a typical bitch lawyerette (I was a legal secy. and met a few), she wants nothing to do with me, but so be it. (I digress!!!)
    Wish I could help on that mysterious bit of movie! Wonder if the person is mistaking another actor for BR? Not often that PBS resorts to playing old movies–just when they’re really broke.
    Any chance that those photos in the BU collection, with price tags, came from OR or BR haunting the local flea markets? In their business it would be a fun hobby to collect stills of people they may have known.

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  6. Roberta says

    I’ve been trying to comment for over a week! Let’s see if this time it gets through

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  7. Hey all – I keep getting notification of comments which disappear somehow before I can approve them. Really sorry if you’re one of the people it’s happening to. I’m trying to look into it.

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    • Any comments I make that go astray are on ORs mealticket.What a diva,at least today’s queen bees earn a living.Maybe part of reason other marriage/s she had went bust?If I were her,I’da been afraid of BR doing same,then where would I get Grand Piani,minks,flowers unless I earned them.Still doesn’t explain Jack M around if she was still married 1st time she met Baz/THE PARTY.

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      • Ellen just rember any coments on O.R.’s mealticket wont be picked up..you’ll have to pay for them your self.;]

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      • Hope OR liked tunafish,cuz that’s what she’d git.Why didn’t OR get up and stand outside for a while until cars in proper place/order?

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        • Have no idea what my 2nd sentence was meant to say.OR def needed to learn restraint,and she lived thru Great Depression with BR at her side.

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  8. Now my FAVE part i copied from same book….on the longer stands the company stayed in hotels on the shorter, they slept in pulman cars.Some were beter troupers then others.Often on the 1 night stands the cars wouldnt be shiffted to out going tracks or hooked onto departing trains untill 2 or 3 in the morning and then above the slaming and banging.Mrs Ouida[i only wrote her 1st name probly says Rathbone] could be heard exhorting her husband to tell the enginer not to bounce her around so.much. Where upon the dauntless Romeo and intreped Browning ,not to mention the fastidous Morrell,would emerge obedinetly from his compartment,climb down to the tracks in the cold.and run ahead to the locomotive for a word with the engenier.He was such an affable man that it usualy worked and his wife felt justifide in her self-indulances.” when I read the I wanted to somehow rember that at least 1 other person on earth felt as I did that she was a ..”well being a christian woman..I cant say it” to qoute Auntie Em.

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    • Judy D. says

      Thanks for all your great comments from the Cornell book. (Wonder if “Gert” could be Gertrude Lawrence?) Especially about the Pullman cars. I could only picture our dear Hyacinth Bucket/Bouquet pushing poor Richard out in the cold in his jammies to try to get the engineers to take it easy. Oh, if only the series was still running, you could send in this suggestion!!
      And them always running out of money on tour–what in heck did they have to spend it on? Big hotel parties? I can’t help it, I love the guy, but I’m losing a lot of respect for him. Today actors take such women and sock them in the jaw and the heck with what the press says.
      I had this vague memory that one of the amounts stolen (in the hotel lobby; had forgotten the room “invasion”) was $10,000 in cash. But that sounds wildly improbable for a week’s salary in those days–the equivalent of $100,000 or so today? Or maybe it was two weeks’ pay counting the reimbursement? It’s nice to know they got reimbursed at least once, according to Cornell, but would have loved to see that signature if a check. Not to mention the look on Cornell’s face during all of this. But you say in “hold the presses!” that it was probably all in cash. Wow! Maybe Bazz actually conspired with her in this little caper, if they were so constantly hard up. (Maybe we can dig up some data on what his salary may have been, what actors on average got in successful plays.)
      Moritz would definitely have had to be drugged, I think, unless it was Ouida herself at work. Any dog would at least emit a wake-up grunt under the circumstances, and he would probably be inclined to do much more than that if not DUI (doggie under influence). Unless they were both DUI after a night on the town (on someone else’s tab).
      Hope you come up with some more goodies!

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      • proof12 says

        I don’t think the amount was $10,000. Basil was making $5000 a week in the late 30s, early 40s, which was considered a lot of money, but stage acting paid considerably less. The $10,000 might be the amount left in their estate when he died.

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        • embechtel says

          Yes,i agree about the stage salary.That is why he had to do films.They could not have survived with spending beyond their means.I know Ouida sealed her own fate.She was broke before she died.I still pity her though.She had someone pawn some of their possesions after Basil died.Thats how i ended up with a silver cigarette case she gave him for their third anniversery.

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          • wonderfull luck for you. Try as i might i cant fell bad for her.Him yes her no. From her family background [what i can find of it] she HAD to know 1.money dosent grow on trees 2.if you spend money like a drunken sailor on leave,you end up broke.[She filed bankrrupsy,for heaven sake before she ever met Basil]. How could she not catch on at some point. 3.Did she think,GOD love her,that Basil would ALWAYS be there to pick her up and FIX it.[p.s. for those ofyou that dont speek hillbonics’God love her/him is a phrase we use generaly followed by GOD love her her mamma droped her on her haid when she was a baby]

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              • I wonder if this will come through?Has anyone heard “Hyacinth Weeder” speek? A record? On a show? Born in Ark.The deep south.. has a way diffrent accent from… Born of diplomat parents on a train to OR from Madrid. Russian,French, Spanish,Outer Mongolian, what ever the claim was.Her phony made up folks were.Did she manage to compleatly lose that accent.Basil never lost his after all his years in the USA.

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            • embechtel says

              Perhaps she had OCD like Howard Hughs.She just could not heip herself.

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              • Ellen Foley says

                She just couldn’t stop helping herself,what was his by the sweat of his brow she spent before the money was cool from the presses.Does anyone really need a wall of flowers for a party,or snow trucked in from Truckee for winter scene?Why mascarade (Sic) as Russian/French/Spanish when really American,and then fake being born in VA?Ava never faked where she was from,she was a good actress,but the real deal and countless others.Had to know people would investigate if things didn’t smell right.Prob discharged debts in early days of/before marriage to work on accum more to force him to work.Maybe he had his doubts during latter days of SH,and that’s why his precarious health issues,smoking/drinking/looking less healthy than 50 odd-year-old man would if cared for,not exploited.Could understand if passed over for coveted roles and used to fund lavish parties to show off.My granny threw yearly St Pat’s parties without shipping over all the leprechauns from her neck of Co Tipp,and everyone still had a good time,and grandda was an executive,but he poured and she entertained for all the Irish family and friends and they could still eat the rest of the week,and my mum could still have shoes and her Catholic School ED.

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          • rosebette says

            I posted on one of the other threads that I was over at the his collection at the BU archives, and some of the photographs actually ahd prices on the back written in pencil — .25 and .50, beautiful images that you’d pay a fortune for on Ebay now. It’s enough to make you sick. I also feel sad that O felt she had to sell off such precious memoribilia.

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        • rosebette says

          By the way, this post is from rosebette. For some reason, one of my other online IDs got entered. Go figure.

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    • Should’ve padded her beehind w/her ill-gotten gains!Must’ve bought ‘nother mink fer the fambly.Why didn’t she just stay in Ark w/family while tour was in Tejas?Hope she didn’t try to take over production on that tour.Thought she had to be handy with the honey cuz he had tonsillitis?So what did she need to buy?Interesting about taking someone to dinner and pleading poverty.

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  9. HOLD THE PRESSES! I found it..well not ALL of it.[she says sheepishly]I did’nt find the quotes from Kat Cornell,I did find some of the things i had copied from ‘leading lady the world and theater of kathren cornell.’sorry didnt copy the authours name.The authur had to have had access to Kat’s personal letters.And I wish I could tell you who Gert is..but i dont know.But what what this is worth,..’The Rathbones never seemed able to cope with the ecomics of touring and found themselfs in constant need of money,asking for all or part of the Saturday pay check be in cash. On one of the longer stands,they took Gert to Saturday night supper and over the meal told her they couldnt aford the sumptous spread they were treating her to,that they had no money to pay there way out of the hotel the next day.Because Basil’s pay envlope had been stolen.Kat insisted on rembursing him,prevaling over Gert’s conviction that Ouida Rathbone had simply spent the money and invented the theft’

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    • Brilliant! Great find. But what a weeeeird and screwed up dynamic. Why didn’t he just tell the awful old bag to just go to hell!

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  10. Oh and thanks about Moritz..I recalled there was something about him being on death row so to speek.. but couldnt recall why? I doubt Mortiz was a killer dog…they usuly dont socialize well with any other animals.If Basil had anything it was animals. He was the Elly Mae Clampett of Hollywood.Still saying someone entering a hotel room in the middel of the night that has a german shepard in it. and then rumaging around till they find her purse andfor some odd reason not takeing the whole purse? just the check out of the purse..not her jewrly? not ANYTHING else but a check inside her purse… Thats right out of a bad b detctive film.Thats a case even Lestrad would be able to solve.Just sayin.

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  11. You know Judy, you brought up something that I had totaly forgot. Now banks are to cheep to return your checks.[at least mine is].then it was standered pratice. At least in the 1940s through 1980s anyhow.This was the times when he was touring as Romeo correct? 193something.So were assuming,a payroll check…not a personal chek..would it have been returned to him OR Kat Cornell? She wrote the check out…to him. Because He went to HER to get it replaced.Check was cashed? She did say she had to repay him or was it an advance on the next check..wish the libary still had the book.My memory is faulty on that bit. If the checks were cashed..and like, why steal them if not to cash them? Wouldnt she have come to Basil and said I got the check back it was cashed at so and so place on so and so day.? just thinking out loud.Did she not prsue it? and why not? Was she protecting his feelings..she obsily didnt like Ouida. She obsily saw right through Ouida like a pain of window glass!She said she didnt belive it! Mabey she didnt want to cause a bigger stink but it seams fishy all around dosent it? Another thought. 1930s depresion era..pick pocket..cashing that big a check? If I’m a bank teller I’m gona look twice. Nice dressed lady cashing her hubbys check.I’m not bat an eyelash.

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    • rosebette says

      Countess, I often notice your misspelllings, but I think there might be a “pun” in the one about Ouida being “like a pain of window glass!” Sounds like Ouida really was a pain. And that business about O sending B down to tell the conductor not to jostle the train so much…. Really! No wonder he brought along Cynthia rather than Ouida in his later years as a travelling companion. Cynthia was probably more grown-up than her adoptive mother!

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  12. I’m so glad your feeling better! Asking Ouida to guard a bankbook was like saking a fox to guard a henhouse. And yes I looked to see if our lib still had the Kat Cornell book .No. Someone who can locate there copy of IAOOC please refresh my memory of how and why Basil got Mortiz? Some place I rember reading or hearing about Mortiz not being good with strangers? Ever owned a German Shepard? Ever looked at there ears? German shepards can hear someone messing around in the barn when there in the house.

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    • Judy D. says

      According to IAOOC (if memory serves), the dog belonged to a friend, who brought him backstage at one of BR’s plays. Moritz was wanted by the police because he had killed, or attempted to kill, sheep, so BR offered to take him off his hands. Guess Moritz behaved after that, or at least didn’t run into any sheep in his lovely new life. My own dog is part-shepherd, possibly part-Corgi, and if there’s a man in the house she assumes (rightly so far) that I want him there; never a bark out of her unless she’s outdoors patrolling the fence, when she occasionally goes into shepherd mode. Ergo, not much of a watchdog. Certainly doubt Moritz was that laid back.

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    • Surely,anyone would be wiser than leaving a purse down while browsing even x-# yrs ago had to realize it could be lifted.Had she heard of pursesnatching?And living in NYC or H’weird,know enough to be more careful w/hubby’s earned income?Oh,well,2 wks they both had to beg.Maybe why Cynthia was one acc’ying Baz on summer stock tours,or in some trips back to H’wood in 50s (still love tale of the dogdoo on Bogie’s stoop in We’re No Angels).OR wrote that passage,I agree,to absolve herself.Otherwise,why look for sympathy when it was better to say nada?

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      • Ellen Foley says

        Why was this 2 check business mentioned anyway if not self-promotion?Take your loss,or find out what really happened by calling police.Did it happen in town where his ex-sniper was on PD?Wonder what Tanner thought of Ouida.The only thing barking in the nite was her lack of conscience.

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  13. rosebette says

    This little tale troubled me, too. It seemed like an attempt to “clear” Ouida’s name. What may have happened is that Ouida cashed the check and spent it on things for herself, but didn’t report that to her husband, which I’m sure spouses do at times. Of course, nowadays if you lose a check or it’s stolen, it can be tracked electronically — where it was cashed, etc. But back in the day, this probably wasn’t possible, so it was probably relatively easy for Ouida to get away with her “embezzlement” of hubby’s funds.

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  14. Judy D. says

    Wow. And wow again (two thefts!). First, if they were checks, couldn’t they have immediately stopped payment? Could a thief have cashed a probably substantial check in those days? Or did BR get paid in cash, which wasn’t uncommon? And the sheep-killing, German Shepherd, Dog in the Night-Time did Nothing?!? (Or was drugged?) I can only assume it’s in the book at all because, like that suspicious fall in Central Park, the story got out to so many people that he had to say something in defense.
    If it was checks, she would have had to sign them as usual (as his “secretary”) and hidden the money in a secret account(?), but they would have been able to see the signatures when the bank returned the checks at the end of the month, if that’s what banks did in those days, and how could any thief know what her signature looked like. BR would definitely have smelled a Sumatran-sized rat.
    If the thefts were cash, anyone at all could have benefited, including Weedie. Maybe she had an accomplice on both jobs, some trusted good ol’ relative from AK…or–more likely–someone with the goods to blackmail her about something. Good work: the plot thickens!!
    Glad you’re feeling better!

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  15. I like how you’re shining light on short little sections that are easy to skim over and miss. Until you go, Holllllllllld on a minute. Not so fast. When I read this passage, I don’t hear, see, or feel the writing of Basil Rathbone.

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  16. Why didn’t Ouida talk Basil out of quitting the successful “Sherlock Holmes” series? She could have squandered that money also. Basil had one hit on Broadway … “The Heiress” but he didn’t get rich on that. He went back to “Sherlock” any time he could including Ouida’s flop “Sherlock Holmes”. Basil never had a money making hit after quitting “Sherlock”. You know the rest of the tragic story.

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