BIOGRAPHY, general biography
Comments 81

A Life Divided

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I think BR’s life can be divided roughly into (slightly uneven) quarters.

“Before the war” (1892-1914), “after the war” (1919-23), “The Ouida years”),1923-46, and the “post-Hollywood years” (1946-67).

Each one of these segments or chapters is divided by a crucial event that shaped him, made him the man he was, for good or bad, gave him his successes and failures, his joys and his pain.

The first of these crucial events, I think, was (unsurprisingly) the Great War. The second was meeting Ouida. The third was….well the thing that culminated in him quitting Hollywood so abruptly in 1946.

We’ve talked about Ouida already, and we’ll certainly do so again. I’ll come to the whole “Leaving Los Angeles” thing later on. It’s a big subject, and a sensitive one.

Today I’m going to talk about World War One, the “war to end all wars.”
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Of course war is always crucial in people’s lives, it always defines moments and experiences, and it always leaves scars. The Great War in particular cut a huge and bloody gash across an entire generation. Every man and woman who was in that war or who had people in the war was shaped by the experience, it goes without saying. But some got away more lightly than others. There were “good wars” and “bad wars”.

I think BR’s was, in many ways, one of the “bad” wars. And the immediate aftermath made it worse rather than better.

In 1914, when Europe erupted into conflagration, Basil Rathbone was a 22-year old actor with Frank Benson’s Shakespeare company (which would one day form the basis of the RSC). he seems to have been a warmly enthusiastic, passionate sort of young man. Theatre was his life, and he was ambitious for success. Everything else (apart from women) was a distraction.

The thought of war appalled him, and he had no qualms about admitting as much. Unlike his little brother, who joined up in 1915, aged 18, Basil was in no hurry to become a soldier and risk his life in what many saw as a pointless war. He put off taking the step for as long as he felt able. But at last, in 1916, he joined the London Scottish as a private. Because of his upper class background he was immediately chosen for officer-training and eventually became a 2nd Lieutenant. In early 1917 he was attached to the 2/10 Liverpool Scottish, also known as the King’s Liverpool Regiment, and in the spring of that year his battalion was sent to France to go into the line.

We don’t have details of the fighting he saw, and won’t until some researcher tracks down the Battalion war diary or other records, but like every other man out there he would be living in mud and squalor and the daily risk of sudden death from snipers or artillery fire. In his own words they lived with death “on a daily basis.”

Life in the trenches was more than enough for any human being to have to cope with at one time. But then, in 1917, while he was on active service, his mother died suddenly, aged no more than fifty-something, and this removed an important centre of stability from the family. Not only was he deprived of his mother, but her loss probably brought quite a responsibility on BR, as the oldest sibling, to be strong for the family, particularly as neither his sister nor his father seem to have coped well with the bereavement.

And then fate took another swipe. Less than a year later, in June 1918, his little brother, John, was killed by a trench mortar. The need to be the strong one and support his devastated family probably only increased. His sister, as we know, became lost in grief, possibly suffering some sort of mental breakdown, and his father began depending heavily on his one surviving son.

The cumulative impact all this – the stress of war and the loss of his family – had on BR can best be seen in the two WW1 letters discovered by Frank Belcher, and which appear to have been written by BR to his family in 1917 and 1918 respectively.

In the first, written not long after his battalion shipped out to France, he is bright, full of fun, seeing humor in the hardships, describing the trench his company is in as “the Park Lane of accommodation,” and joking “even the rats wear little dress suits and have impeccable manners.” His spirits are still resilient enough and youthful enough to joke even about a potential gas attack

“…Oh but we had a real gas scare the other day. Our part in it was small but telling. It was very near to being an incident. I was out on duty and there were a few shells coming over, nothing much and mostly falling pretty deep, when one of the men said he heard the dread call ‘gas’ coming from north of us – We were all straining to catch anything unusual on the wind, but we couldn’t see or smell anything and we thought it was just imagination, until the CSM and I went along to the next traverse and we caught the smell of something sharp and acrid in the air, and we stopped dead and looked at one another, and I said ‘is it chlorine?’ and he said ‘I’m not taking the risk’ and he spun around and called out “gas” to the men and everyone began putting on respirators, and it was only then I realised my respirator was in the abri and not at my side, which was not a happy realisation. I’m afraid I took off and ran for it all the way back. Heroically of course…”

The second letter is a massive contrast. It’s only about a year later, but everything is different. He’s seen a year of life in the trenches, encountered death on a “daily basis.” His mother is dead, and his brother has been killed only weeks before. The joking is over.

“You ask how I have been since we heard [of John’s death], well, if I am honest with you, and I may as well be, I have been seething. I was so certain it would be me first of either of us. I’m even sure it was supposed to be me and he somehow contrived in his wretched Johnny-fashion to get in my way… He had no business to let it happen and it maddens me that I shall never be able to tell him so, or change it or bring him back. I can’t think of him without being consumed with anger at him for being dead and beyond anything I can do to him.

I’m afraid it’s not what you hoped for from me and perhaps that’s why I haven’t written. I suspect you want me to say some sweet things about him. I wish I could for your sake, but I don’t have them to say. Out here we step over death every day. We stand next to it while we drink our tea. It’s commonplace and ordinary. People who had lives and tried to hold on to them and didn’t, and now slump and stare and melt slowly to nothing. You meet their eyes, or what used to be their eyes and you feel ashamed. And now Johnny is one of them. That’s an end of it. Grieving is only ridiculous in this place…”

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His emotions seem flattened, almost detached and disengaged. I don’t know when the photo on the right was taken, but the eyes seem to have the same distance and bleakness in them that we read in this letter. The only feeling he talks about is anger. He hints, maybe unconsciously, at what amounts to a death-wish (“I’m even sure it was supposed to be me…”). The fact that at the same time he was writing this he had persuaded his commanding officer to let him go on highly risky, if not suicidal, daylight patrols into No Man’s Land, on at least one of which he and his men were almost killed, really underlines that he means what he says. He truly believes, by this stage, that John died in his place, and he is gripped by intense guilt about that. He was the older brother. It was his job to protect the baby of the family, and instead he let him die.

Worse than this, John had been the hero BR didn’t want to be and never thought himself capable of being. He had joined up almost a year earlier than Basil, even though he was five years younger, and had been near-fatally wounded at the Somme while Basil was still a civilian. This itself was an inversion of how things “ought” to be, and Basil must have been well aware of that. His baby brother, the hero, had died, while he, the waster and the coward, remained alive.john rathbone

I think this is the thought, conscious or not, that is driving BR slightly mad at this point, and the guilt flowing from the fact that he survived while his brother died would be the thing that shaped the rest of his life more than any other single thing.

I think the second letter, and BR’s own self-descriptions in later years, make it clear he was by this time suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Guilt, withdrawal, depression, self-destructive impulses,lassitude, all these symptoms he carried home with him at the war’s end in 1919.

But this emotionally scarred young man was not going to be allowed time to heal, supported by a loving family. On the contrary, his sister, apparently heartbroken by the death of her mother and brother, vanished from the scene, possibly returning to South Africa. We have no firm information about where she went or what she did other than the fact she left her brother all alone to care for their father, who leaned heavily on the one child he could still depend on. In BR’s own laconic words:

I was completely alone for the first time in my life. Of course there were my father and my sister. But my father had aged considerably, I thought, since I had last seen him. He seemed completely lost without my mother and to the day of his death was to cling to me desperately…My sister was lost to us both. Her spirit had been deeply wounded by my mother’s and brother’s death… And so each of us lived alone in our own particular form of loneliness.

His marriage too had broken down, possibly as a direct result of his trauma, and the changed man he had become. According to some sources he was taking refuge in drink and pills, and was “serially unfaithful’ to his wife. Whatever the cause, only months after coming home from the army in 1919, he left Marion and their young son, and began living on his own on a small bare room in Kensington.

At this point he truly was “alone.” Which was, apparently, what he wanted. He may or may not have indulged in a lot of sex, but the last thing he wanted was emotional closeness. According to his own testimony, he had no interest in life, no ambitions:

I was a man living from day to day and perfectly content in doing it. I had no plans, few ambitions…I shrank from decisions… I hated any sort of battle or argument. I just wanted to be let alone – to vegetate.”

In a private letter written years later he is even more frank:

“…[after the war] I had this mad feeling I’d become some sort of Wandering Jew. And everything for so long afterwards was about dragging this living corpse of myself around, giving it things to do, because here it was, alive. And nothing made any sense and I didn’t even hope it would. I followed paths that were there to be followed, I did what others said to do. I didn’t care…”

Even his old passion – the theatre – was something he only returned to out of habit. As a means of earning a living.

“…I found I was still a good enough actor. I got some good parts in London. Whatever they offered me, I took. Money meant nothing to me. I never thought of getting ahead. I never cared about it…”

The fact he became a stage star in a few years was almost an accident, the result of other people’s diligence, not his own.

What’s absent from this, and all other descriptions he gives of himself at this time is any self-pity. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. On the contrary, he saw himself as having been one of the lucky ones who came through “comparatively untouched.”

“I wasn’t shell-shocked or scarred up. But I had lost all sense of life’s realities.”

This fact, that he had come through “untouched” but “lost all sense of life’s realities” must have seemed ungrateful. He must have wondered why he wasn’t making a better job of appreciating his luck. Why he wasn’t just happy to be alive. He couldn’t see that he was damaged, sick, in need of help. And back then, before PTSD was even recognized, there was no one to tell him. Like so many other men of his generation, he could only struggle on, despising his own “weakness,” but powerless to leave it behind. In his own estimation he was:

“…such a weak fool…Letting myself be dragged here and there for no better reason than that..”

A hopeless weak fool who doesn’t deserve to be alive, waiting to die. How could anyone even begin to heal when that’s how they view themselves?

And I think that’s why BR basically didn’t heal. Why he just existed within his trauma and his damaged psyche, and why everything else he did after this time has to be viewed through that prism.

I think if we don’t factor that in then his life – especially his relationship with Ouida – would never make much sense, but when we do factor it in a lot of things start to explain themselves.
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He was, in some ways, in the immediate post-war years, a disaster-in-waiting. I don’t know if Huxley’s portrait of the lost and self-destructive Theo was based on BR, as a reader alleges, but it certainly could have been. He was a man who didn’t think he deserved to be alive, but was, who didn’t think he should have success, but did. Part of him was always looking for a means of destroying it all as he “knew” he deserved.

It’s funny how this urge to self-destruction gives him something in common with Errol Flynn. Maybe it even helps to explain why Flynn apparently liked BR and why BR was so able to diagnose Flynn’s psyche. Maybe they both sensed that, however different their lives appeared on the surface, beneath the skin, they were kind of brothers. In the post-war years of the 1920s BR was living a fairly empty and hedonistic life, not unlike the life Flynn himself would be living fifteen years later. BR said of himself that he would have been dead before he was forty if not for Ouida, which, if true, would have beaten Flynn’s record for wanton self-destruction by a decade.
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Maybe BR would indeed have drunk and whored himself to death at an early age if Ouida Bergere hadn’t turned up when she did. Maybe if Flynn had found a Ouida of his own he’d have lived to 75 and ended up doing movies like THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI just to keep his wife in hats.

Maybe.

But it’s only in stories that people are two-dimensional enough to be rescued from their demons by other people. In real life things don’t often have clean and happy endings. Ouida Bergere may well have prevented Basil from being dead before he was forty. But did she save his life?

Or simply prolong his existence?

Because I think we’ll agree they aren’t the same.

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81 Comments

  1. Ellen Foley says

    Still think he should’ve remained in H’wood to support the wife,or else go to B’way for a while for a vacation from the strife,ah,wife.Too bad Marion agreed to divorce,why marry an agent if that’s all she did was manage his affairs,and pose as happy couple.

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  2. Pingback: full(er) text of letter quoted in “a life divided”… | The Baz

  3. wally says

    Great piece thanks. I think you can see his trauma in his eyes in early post-war photos.

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    • Woman in Green says

      Absolutely! There’s a particular photograph where he looks absolutely ravaged. Very beautiful, but the eyes are so lost!

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  4. Hot Chick says

    Totally brilliant article. Man what a deep and fascinating guy. It’s always so disappointing when some gorgeous male turns out to be a clothes horse and not much else but Baz just keeps on giving out the buried angst. And he’s beautiful too. What more can a girl ask?

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  5. If British families are anything like Irish,everyone defers to the woman of the house.So,to me,when Mrs R died in 1917and John 6/4/18,,it makes sense how the family fell into depression all around.Many men have responded in anti-social manners to grief,a cousin of mine threatened violence to MD he held resp for sibling’s death.Wonder how it affected Rodion.As for grandkids,Baz has a granddaughter who runs a business,and I think she’s beautiful,think she’s the youngest.Quite insightful about Baz having to shoot enemy soldier,esp w/sniper in his company present,I’d have thought he’d fired at the enemy himself,but I wasn’t there,so wishful thinking on my part.Rodion def resembled his dad,tho w/o lot of his distinguishing features,thought that 1st time seeing TOL.Think a lot of his appearances w/Cynthia,think he looks proud of her as a teenager.Lucky girl,too bad she was so ill.I remember him mention in his book how she was Irish,so wonder if she had hemechromatosis,which can lead to fatal build up of Iron in the body.Parade’s End was on HBO,and quite something in the trench warfare.Pictured John when mortar attacks happened.My thanks to all hard fought for info everyone’s provided..

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    • Roberta says

      English families tend not to have that matriarchal set up, especially in the upper classes. But I know what you mean about Irish matriarchs. My family is Irish living in the UK and we still have that. My grandmother rules the roost.

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    • Judy D. says

      Thanks for the info on his granddaughter. Can you tell us more without giving away her privacy? What sort of business? As to shooting an enemy soldier, even with a sniper in his company, in an ambush it’s every man for himself and no time to think twice about defending your own life. Until we can alter the human dna, guess mankind will always kill rather than negotiate, in war and on the street. The movie “JFK” fascinates me, partly because of its comments about what’s really important in the world–the warmaking dollar.

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    • He looks very good in above photo,esp since over 60 y.of age.Bea never married,don’t member where read this,not John,died tragically young.Baz ragged on himself for having diff learning lines,prob in 1960’s,but ~70+ in age,so doesn’t count as Alz’s to me,normal aging.I have prob in mid-50s,prob cuz of overly-resp jobs/homefront.Can’t believe with his homefront he could always be civil to everyone,but he’s an inspiration,and I don’t mean that as in breath.Grace under pressure must take its toll,esp his life after WWI and 1926.Class and honor,he had it and in a handsome carriage,tall straight back,sincerity,manners,prob good intensions,eager to help/please,kind.

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  6. Tucson Girl says

    about Basil not divorcing Marion until 1926, from what I understand of the divorce laws at that time, Basil couldn’t divorce Marion as he was the guilty party so Marion would have had to initiate divorce and she didn’t want to. I don’t beleive Basil wanted a divorce either until he met Ouida. I think he had no intention of marrying again and so saw no need to divorce Marion.

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    • Judy D. says

      Yeah, it’s easy to live an ocean apart in those days and live your own life in freedom, but–what if Marion wanted to remarry? Unless she was another Eva LeGallienne… One must wonder if Marion met OR when they were in England and why she agreed to a divorce, unless the two women had a few traits in common. If she still had any feelings toward BR (doubtful!!), she might have considered refusing a divorce to save him from a mistake!
      I wonder, if Johnny had survived, would he too have become an actor? Imagine a Rathbone dynasty, like the Barrymores. (Well, without so many weirdos.)

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      • I dont think she ever did.I dont know anything at all about what she did with the rest of her life. But it dont look like she ever remarried. The only thing I can say to that is…Who on earth could be bettter then Who she had alredy had. ;}

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        • HRD says

          Marion never remarried. She divorced Basil in 1926 on the grounds of adultery. She did this because he told her he wanted to marry someone else. So far as I know he’d never asked her before. I believe she thought Ouida might be good for him initially, as she was not like the sort of women he usually was hanging out with. She was worried about him and thought Ouida might fix his problems. She was wrong.

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          • Thank you. I didnt think she had remarried.I find that rather sad..not that she never remarried,but that “she felt Quida would be good for him, and that she was worried about him.” Is anything quite so sad as unrequited love?I wonder if she carried a torch for BR ?Just how sweet.

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  7. Levasseur Fan says

    I have the feeling BR’s life would have been very different if his younger bro had survived the war. Does anyone agree?

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  8. Judy D. says

    So much of the above is so great, and I’d love to reply if I had my facts straight (like, if OR was married to a producer, why was she broke, was he doing badly (didn’t seem to be in press, but one never knows the truth), or was he denying her alimony? If she and BR stayed in separate hotel rooms at the time (while he too got divorced) that’s two folks who don’t want to be caught by the hotel dicks. They could easily have rented or borrowed a third suite to get together, or just took a chance and got together…not something he as a gentleman might put in his book.
    As to taking over Benson’s troupe, it probably was simply more work than it was worth, especially if he was in USA at time; maybe that’s when the Royal whatever took it over and had the resources to resuscitate it.
    And of course the horrible shock of knowing he had been face to face with a boy like himself, different only by allegiance, and knowing he had been forced to snuff out the life of some other family’s son and brother. Awful.
    Not the place for this, but didn’t want to lose track–found two items in an old notebook of mine stuffed with lists of his radio/tv shows and plays. Was hoping to find a reference to OR in some sort of interview that was unavailable for purchase, but I think it was posted later on the internet. At any rate BR was on a heck of a lot of series, and you might find these two interesting to read of:
    4/13/44: “Three of a Kind,” CBS Network, audition program, 30 minutes. RY 52053 (probably a reference to Radio Yesteryear’s vast catalog of the time–1994). The plot was: “Comedy–three fraud psychiatrists try to treat patient Basil Rathbone.”
    mid-1950s? “Ethel and Albert,” radio. An OTR-fanatic friend wrote me that Peggy Lynch (“Ethel” and show writer) told him, in 4/95, that publicists insisted that they use BR in a skit. She didn’t want to because it didn’t fit the format. He did come on and it was awful–he was “out of it,” forgot his lines, etc. He wasn’t senile; just in his declining years and in the wrong place. Seems so “out of character” to see him not caring during a professional appearance, but maybe something was really bothering him and maybe he also agreed it was a very bad fit. May we suspect a prod of publicists by OR??
    Keep going–love it all!!!

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    • Hi Judy! Thanks so much for the information “Ethel and Albert”! I didn’t know that BR appeared on that show. I have a photo of BR with Peg Lynch and Alan Bunce that is dated 1956. Now I know that it’s from that show! Here’s a link:

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      • Judy D. says

        So glad to have solved the mystery. Thanks for the link. They certainly looked as if everything was going all right, but…that’s show biz. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the program that his former fanclub president, the actor, whose name always escapes me–David? (please don’t be insulted, I forget the names of people I volunteer weekly with as well), who told about trying to help him prepare for a program.
        I was sort of upset looking through my old notebook–seems to have been another souvenir of my obsessive-compulsive traits: spend hours researching someone who is long gone instead of doing normal social things. Depressing and scary, the amount of it, though there seems to be a lot of duplication. I have wanted to go through the broadcast lists and compare it to your list to see if I can come up with more stuff; I have lists of all the Tales of Fatima titles and so forth. So one of these days I’ll get to it. Sounds like a nice summer project out on the deck!
        Ironic–my folks loved “Ethel and Albert” and so I probably heard that episode! Only one I can remember though was on TV, where she knit a sweater, wore it to a party, and the thing began to unravel. As a knitter that stuck with me!
        Carry on with your project! It’s so professionally done!!

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        • Hugs Judy. I have the same kinda note book.Realy kinda sad,to go back and read mine now because so much of it is on the net now,but then I didnt even have access to a afordable copy machine.Let alone the inernet. Must have been a monk in a previous life.

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          • Judy D. says

            Guess it’s easy to look back and see time sadly wasted, but it’s probably more common than we ourselves see. Thanks for the viral hug, which I needed! Today we could go to college and get degrees in research techniques and maybe have done something enjoyable for a living! Now at least we have an outlet in our growing Bazz Brigade.

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    • David says

      I can’t help noticing that in his post Hollywood years a number of people begin saying they found BR to be “out of it” or the equivalent, and yet others knowing him at the same time or later found him to be quite on the ball. People have wondered if he was developing dementia, but the fact he was able to work right to the end never seemed to fit with this, nor did the fact his state of mind seemed to vary so much. I wonder has it occurred to anyone BR might have been on some kind of drug, prescription or otherwise? He clearly declines so markedly between 1944 and 46 that I think he was either ill or became severely depressed and depression can lead to alcohol and drug abuse. Just a thought

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      • Judy D. says

        Wow, even in 1944 during the last Holmes films?! Didn’t know about this. Guess the tranquilizers of the time could have been a problem if he tried to rely on them–I remember them in the ’60-70s where you’d take one, be totally dizzy for a half-hour, and then the silly thing would wear off and you’d have to take it again, if you dared. Wasn’t Miltown one of the very early ones? If it were drinking, people would certainly have noticed his alcoholic aura. Pain meds from the after-effects of his various duels, etc.? He certainly seemed okay at the time of his autobiography–if it was all written at the time, and all written by him, both of which options seem doubtful on this website. (But he certainly looks depressed on the back cover!!) This is certainly something worth exploring–“is there a doctor in the house??”

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  9. Thomas Dekker says

    A very mature piece of work. As Margaret says it makes me want to read the biography you really ought to write

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  10. Someone sent in a comment that is now gone which asked if it was true Beatrice entered a convent after WW1. The answer to that is “we don’t know.” Information on Beatrice Rathbone is very scanty. We don’t know where she was living, if she married. We don’t even have a death-date for her. So anyone who has any info about Beatrice – *please come forward and talk to us!*

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    • peg says

      Great post. Those quotes from BR are fab, where did you get them? I’d be fascinated to read the documents they are lifted from any chance you can publish them here or Marcia can publish them on basilrathbone.net?

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    • HRD says

      I believe Beatrice re-emigrated to SA in the early 1920s. I don’t think she ever married.

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      • I know she visited there and I found her coming back to England from a trip there but that has been. The best I can do…so far.Not giving up ya know.I cant figuer out why I cant find her in the [whats it called drawing a blank here] List of deaths in the British Isles thingy.Even if she became a nun they die to.Found Edgar, found Annie,found Johnny,found Marion..no Bea?Mabey S.A. On the other hand I did check by entering S.A. deaths got nada.Still hunting.

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  11. Elaine says

    May I ask where you find the quote about BR being a “Wandering Jew”? And thanks for a very very interesting post! I posted about five comments that didn’t make it so my fingers are crossed.

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        • It’s part of a collection of letters we were donated, but with restrictions as to their use. I think it might be possible to publish most of that letter though. I might do that as a follow-up.

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          • Elaine Drury says

            Thank you! I would be SO interested to read more of Basil’s private letters, are there many of them that you know of? I’ve seen a lot of letters of his for sale but they are not to close friends or family and so are not generally very revealing of his thoughts and feelings.

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  12. You answered a lot of questions for me!How John died,the sister’s MIA when the whole family was hurting,wonder if they might’ve done something drastic to help her mental state,ie,lobotomy or something as drastic.Even today,some of us are still allowed to suffer like that,death of a highly significant other,not a spouse.The mother was ~51,the father would’ve been 61+ in 1917-8 when family devastated by John and Annie’s deaths.After hearing from a Vietnam era book about soldiers becoming “grounded” after combat by sex,I think Baz used freq affairs to achieve this,turning away from his home life before the War (I’m speculating,please bear w/me).Why did OR wait until 1926 to divorce GF?No wonder she didn’t sleep w/Baz before marriage,he’d have grounds for her infidelity,again,what would Jack constantly present convey to outsiders?And his memoir stated Frank Benson left him the acting company,Baz wanted nothing of it,so why not give it to Marion,since I read that she directed at some point,maybe give Rodion something to cut his acting chops,too.I don’t know if I managed to make a point,but a lot of my questions were answered in this post.Thanks.

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    • As I understand it Frank died a bit of a down and outer & didnt leave much. I could be mistaken, but…In all what does “leaving Basil the co.” realy mean? Props? Costumes? Trunks? Cant leave someone the other people. He couldnt pass on the job at Straford [if he still had it?] could he?Where did Constance fall into the pic?I read “My Memoirs” but its been like 12 years ago. and theres another book. http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Benson_and_the_Bensonians.html?id=DwQ2AQAAIAAJ Which I read at excatly the same time,and get them mixed up in parts.

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        • I have that book. There is a letter from Rathbone to the author of the book, in which BR explains how he joined the company, and Benson wouldn’t show him any favoritism because of their family relationship. Other than that, there are just a few mentions of him, such as what character he played in a particular performance. Nothing terribly interesting, unfortunately.

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      • Frank’s son was killed in War,he was very depressed.I understood from Baz’s book that Frank willed him the company,maybe because no one else in family around.Baz said he didn’t want to be bothered,but I think it would’ve done him well,if he tried,but maybe OR said no way,it won’t pay my way.Prob afraid she’d have to sing for her supper!Don’t know what else Baz meant by the company,but look at Kevin Spacey being manager of whatever company in England.I figured that’s what Baz meant by the company,managing a troupe of actors.Never pictured my man as a pill-popper to deal with stress,PTSD,which he seems to not recognize.Then again,if someone wasn’t shellshocked,I guess they considered themselves as unscathed.If only he could really sit back and see himself now,he’d realize how wrong his assumption was.Unable to act,be father/hubby and all he was pre-War,you were a casualty of war,BR,as was all your family.I guess his post-war regimen,not being anything but totally serious,was sex/drugs/alcohol/acting (not rock & roll).That’s not living,that’s barely existing in my eyes.Maybe that’s why when OR said he was her next hubby,maybe he saw it as a life preserver,what she’d been heard to say.Just me musing,as usual,don’t take too seriously.I’m really seeing him as a total hurting human,not just one of his characters.My fav is his Maj Brand in Dawn Patrol,with Errol and Donald Crisp as my fav scenes in film.He deserved Oscar nom/win for that pic,esp in poignant scenes,can see his grief over Johnny!No matter how you say it,it’ll break her heart.

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        • kendrick says

          I remember reading that Benson left BR his sword, but can’t recall anything about his getting the company. Didn’t the Benson Shakespeare company become the Royal Shakespeare Co?

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    • kendrick says

      Yes, I appreciate all this information too. How did you find out how John Rathbone died?

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      • It’s not confirmed, but I was given that information in an email from a researcher who has done a lot of work on the Rathbone family.

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  13. Roberta says

    John Rathbone looks so young and vulnerable in that photo. Thanks for a great post. I too hope you write his biography. I’m looking forward to the “leaving Los Angeles” post (was it a deliberate reference to the Leaving Las Vegas movie?. I can see why it might be.)

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  14. Brad says

    I am intrigued by the comparison between Rathbone and Flynn,and tickled by the image of the latter working at age 75 to keep Mrs Flynn in hats. I’m not sure Errol was an unselfish enough man to ever be put upon to that extent. I’m also wondering why Flynn’s self-destruction was about over-indulgence while Rathbone’s was about a kind of anorexia of the spirit – denying himself the basic necessities of autonomy and even love?

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    • rosebette says

      Wow, “anorexia of the spirit” — what a great phrase! One might also say that Basil’s loyalty to Ouida (despite her ill treatment of him) and his work ethic may have been part of the sense of honor and duty instilled in the British soldier.

      By the by, I looked up Ronald Colman, and Colman was also part of the Liverpool Scottish, as were actor Herbert Marshall (who lost a leg in the war) and Claude Rains. BR was the youngest of the lot.

      Another interpretation of B’s loyalty to Ouida might be a need to be “mothered”, since he lost his own mother. Perhaps this aspect of the relationship was needed in the 1920s when he was drifitng emotionally, but ultimately morphed into an unhealthy controlling relationship.

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      • Brad says

        Ah yes, why don’t these phrases arise when really needed? I have the impression the Rathbone family had embraced the idea of service to others over many generations and it was probably in Basil’s genetics to always try to do the decent thing. Ah, the longing to replace absent mother. I’d find that more persuasive if Ouida-Dearest seemed even a little bit cozy and mommyish. Instead she always gives me the impression of a rather spoilt and disagreeable child, demanding to be taken care of rather than dispensing security.

        But yes, something must have offered the initial lure. With all dues respect to her, it’s not likely to have been her looks. Her personality, what we can reconstruct of it, seems more the type to make the average man run for his life than be instantly seduced. And she was broke. So, perhaps we do need to assume she seemed, at first, to offer some sort of primal maternal comfort or some sense of stability. Poor fellow. If only he had known.

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      • Frank says

        I think Colman and Marshal were in the London Scottish, not the Liverpool Scottish. The Lon Scot was the regiment BR joined before getting his commission. Very good piece by the way. I think suicidal is the right word for the daily patrols. All very well to use camo and hide up, but once you are spotted all you can do is rely on God and the possibility the machine guns jam or the gunners have been at the schnapps. And once you have two seperate posts pinning you down, your are pretty well sunk unless you are already a good distance away which they were not by all accounts. They scrambled out of the German trench and into a shell hole that can’t have been more than a few yards away. So the gunners had pretty easy targets. I say again, the fact those boys all survived to get home is a miracle.

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  15. Fascinating stuff, it’s hard to imagine quite how dreadful the Great War was, not just for the comabatants, but also for the people at home waiting for that knock at the door by the telegram boy.

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  16. Neve You found another photo of Johhy!!! You rock! About everthing else you said..I cryed. You my dear have deep insight.If this is apart of your dissaration..and you get graded on it,dont you? Well if I’m your teacher.Wheres my red pencil?..no just teasing;] it’s A+++ Oh and def. Xtra credit on the imposible to find pic of Johhny!

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    • The photo is in Richard Van Emden’s book “Famous 1914-18”. I asked him where he found it but he couldn’t remember! Thanks for your kind words. I’m really nervous about the results actually so it’s nice to be reassured.

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  17. rosebette says

    Strange, I’ve become rather obsessed with WWI lately, perhaps due to reading Basil’s autobiography, as well as some of the earlier posts. I believed ever since seeing the posts with some of those letters that BR did indeed suffer a form of PTSD. I just watched the French film “The Very Long Engagement” and was greatly affected by the horrors of the trenches and the random destruction of life. I also just saw Random Harvest on TCM and was strangely affected by that movie, not so much the love story, but the lost quality portrayed by Ronald Colman who was also a WWI veteran and playing a mentally damaged soldier. Colman always seemed to have an undercurrent of melancholy in his eyes and voice. This is something we don’t see in BR’s performances — BR is very much always the character or role he played on screen and revealing little or nothing of himself, but I wonder whether he was in some way like Olivier, who claimed to be a shy man always feeling the need to use physical disguise or the mask of character.

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    • Elaine says

      I think Rathbone was a very similar type of actor to Olivier. A “becomer” as Jeremy Brett put it. Neve has made comparisons between the arc of both their careers which I found very interesting.

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    • rosebette “Random Harvest” a wonderfuul film a wonderfull performance.3 hankie film.Ronald Coleman.One handsome hunk. Totaly loved him in “TO2C”.Have you read “The Perfect Summer”? http://www.amazon.com/The-Perfect-Summer-England-Before/dp/0802118461 and the follow up book “The Great Silence”http://www.amazon.com/Great-Silence-Britain-Shadow-First/dp/080214540X/ref=la_B001HPS99Q_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1363230502&sr=1-3 Wonderfull insight into te world that Basil and Kit and Kin were living in at the time.

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    • kendrick says

      It’s hard to picture the physical reality of war for the men who lived through it. When Basil describes the raid on the German trench it seems quite unreal and yet it was something he actually experienced. Someone who goes through that must be changed in some way and must view life differently. He killed a man that day, shot him in close enough range to see his face, then he had to search the body. I can’t imagine being in a situation where I had to do that, kill or be killed. It’s alien to those of us who have never lived with the danger of violent death.

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  18. Margaret G says

    Marvellous article. is this a part of your dissertation? If so I have high hopes for your mark! With insight like this you should be writing Bail’s biography. You have gift for highlighting and encapsulating the meaning in things, which is the art of the biographer. I’ve read about BR’s war and the death of his brother and mother many times, but never before really conceived of it as a whole or viewed the impact it must have had on is life. You’re quite right about how his personality and outlook changes between those two letters. How sad it is to read them in this light, and look at the joking, fun-loving letter while knowing the the dark things that would so soon come along to wreak their changes.

    I DO hope this comment makes it!

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  19. Judy D. says

    Someone asked if OR’s voice was ever recorded. I think some years ago, browsing around on something (eBay, imDb?), I did find what seemed to be an interview–but it wasn’t available. So it’s something to watch out for. I suppose when she began to get successful in H’wood she could afford to hire a speech therapist (or gull one) into losing her accent, whatever it was. Is there any info out there on her marriage to George Fitzmaurice, or info on what he was like? Was he an early-model BR? How on earth did she land this no doubt wealthy and influential producer?? What made him see the light?

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        • Hmm. the photo i saw of him is straight on,not a profile shot and looks a bit disturbingly like a mugshot… of Al Capone. Not kidding. I dont recall a tash. But realy i wasn’t looking for him, so i didnt pay much attention only to note that Ouida traded up.

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          • Dear Countess,did you catch any of Parade’s End on HBO,by any chance?Thought of our Baz thru Christopher’s dealings with Sylvia,and his stating he wouldn’t put his (cheating,b–y wife) thru divorce to marry a woman he really loved.Think the wife maybe dies in the end of cancer,nothing to do with Marion,but that might explain/answer my questions of why he didn’t divorce sooner than 1926,if he was so miserable.Can’t understand OR not being divorced until 1926,esp if Fitz was seeing someone else.Think our guy must’ve been more interesting,more manly,even if a casualty of the Great War.Really seeing him for the real man with so much revealed in this site by everyone!

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            • I might shock you but..I have no access to outside tv..that is to say no cable,no dish and no antena. I watch only video and dvd.I do occosinaly see tv at a friends house but we almost never just sit and watch it.Her hubby does but she was raised totaly without one so she dosen’t realy watch it much.I have been cable-less about 10years. It’s just to expensive where I live and with what I make. My lil blue moon man is cute Neve

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