SHERLOCK HOLMES, Sherlock Holmes (1953), THEATRE
Comments 35

Sherlock on Broadway

Basilrathbone.net has an interesting new look at Ouida Rathbone’s slightly infamous SHERLOCK HOLMES stage play. That great, gobbling turkey of 1953, that could be said to have wrecked Rathbone’s Broadway career almost as effectively as his decision to flee Hollywood had destroyed his movie career.

For me – and I suspect for anyone who’s been following our journey through Rathbone’s life and work – the article highlights some of those enduring puzzles and contradictions that make BR both fascinating and frustrating as a subject.

For example, why was the man who allegedly fled Hollywood because he couldn’t stand being Holmes any longer starring in a Holmes play on Broadway just seven years later? And if it’s true that Rathbone was already trying to launch this vehicle as early as 1946, then that question becomes not just relevant but crucial, because it would mean he quit his massively lucrative Sherlock movie and radio contracts, fled Hollywood, alienating friends and colleagues in the process, all because he could not stand another moment of playing Holmes – and then almost immediately began trying to play Holmes again on stage.

Which means either at this point Rathbone was not a very sane man, or his reasons for quitting Hollywood were not quite the ones he gave out. Or he didn’t really want to do the Sherlock play but was being in some sense pressured into it.

Or maybe a bit of all three.

The major question of course is – how bad was this play? It died a horrible death on Broadway. Critics vivisected it. Did it deserve that fate? Did Rathbone really think it was good? Or was he actually prepared to put his already floundering career on the line for a property he secretly knew was a turkey?

We’ll be able to answer a couple of these questions this Christmas when THE BAKER STREET JOURNAL published the entire text of Ouida’s play (subscribe to get a copy).

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35 Comments

  1. Ellen Foley says

    Prob hear soon about Baz & PTSD/OR not any contribution to his choices/he spent money himself on things to give her.What man cares about woman’s hats?As for fancy feasts,eat in/cook for yourself,never mind “21”.

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  2. Ellen Foley says

    Must’ve gotten beau coup bucks for whatever project brought him to H’wood.Marcia & David’s comments very illuminating.What were his reasons for being manipulated by anyone else when he should’ve known best what was right for him.He should’ve been at his leisure,enjoying his grandkids not catering to impulse spending by Weedsy.Was Bib Hope in LaLaLand (Casanova’s Big Night)?Not sure which year filmed

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    • Ellen Foley says

      Just came to mind about Sherlock play,what if it was trashed because written by OR and for no other reason?Liked in Boston,maybe NY mavens wanted to humiliate her for some unknown reason out of spite?Maybe she couldn’t write for B’way,but wondering if there was an ulterior motive for causing such humiliation for Baz & OR.

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      • the countess says

        Well she does seam to have been pretty mutch universaly disliked by most who knew her.By that I meen knew her well enough to see past the ‘glitz and howw arre you dahhrrling..fakey party anamule[hehaw] extior’..oww ‘nother thought..mabey if you pealed of the faky outer peal ..the inside was hollow. Or this is too fun..mabey if you pealed off the outter Weedy you got the inside of Oggie Boggie.

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        • Ellen Foley says

          I just wonder if Jed scary was exacting some revenge for The Heiress suggestions which went over like a lead balloon,and seemed to reflect on Baz for humoring her,even if none of her suggestions adopted.Every time I think of peels and layers I think SHREK!

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          • the countess says

            Not up on Shrek only saw 1 time on tv and chopped for a ton of comericals. please xplane. Oh by the way werent you the one who quoted Basil Fawltys wife “what are you doing Basil?” “kissing you” “well dont!” just saw that for the 1st time last week…OMG you are SO right she is Weedy to the life!!!!! What a funny show. our lib only has 3 vol of it. hopeing they get more.

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            • Ellen Foley says

              Donkey to Shrek onions have layers,peel away and…they… stink/smell…1st Shrek was abfab.My comment when Baz kissed her was “My next hubby is Bieber” or something to that effect,as follow-up to her telling theater companion Baz was her next.

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          • Ellen Foley says

            Too bad no reports of what was in his diary regarding pans of Sherlock on the old B’way from Alyssia

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        • Ellen Foley says

          Must be the need for “upper crust” accent led to putting on about being Russian or Spanish/French/English,maybe to compete with Baz’s “clipped Londonese” as Sam Goldwyn or Goldwyn Studios referred to it in Adv Of Marco Polo promotions.

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  3. Judy D. says

    Golly, I had for some reason yesterday been wondering what the Holmes play script actually was, and here you are talking about it. Esp. (Oh, and I bashed a rib yesterday against a table after skidding over invisible upchuck laid down by my main cat….Basil.) (Shudder.) Maybe when the play was produced there was just no market for Holmes? I do remember a great market that seemed to coincide with the playing of the BR/NB films on TV and lasted through the “7% Solution” and other pastiches. Hopefully some nice person will steal us a copy when it is published in the BSJ? Maybe BR hated the role but was willing to do it for the money, just as we hate our jobs but show up every Monday for the money.
    I thought rents in NYC were very dear after the war and after the rent freeze, so how could he still afford even an apt. there, unless he got a deal from the current tenant. Was the ocean mansion really his rental and was he banking on a few successful films to come? We know actors have to put up a good front in Hollywoodland.
    And has anyone any info about when and for how long and WHY he and Weeder lived at the Garden of Allah? Nazimova owned or managed it and was once Weeds’ PR client, right? There was a nice documentary called Sunset Boulevard the other night on cable which showed a bit of it and the area around it. That should have been in the “Out of Character” part of his book, or was it secretly “In”? I’m just a tad too sore to look for the book right now, “The Garden of Allah,” by Gloria something, possibly Grahame, written when you couldn’t say anything really dishy, who simply writes there was an earthquake one night and OB accused BR of kicking her out of bed. Or was it the other way round. Them in the same bed is scary enough.

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    • the countess says

      Havent had time to full digest this whole ar-tickle but to know about the place he lived in 1950 IF big IF we could get the city diricteys for NYC and Hollyweird in 1950 the year in question. we could possibly back trace him by phone #. IF both of those place HAVE a city directry.The NYC public lib and Hollywood lib. would be the place to check out for them.An email or call io them might bring the answer were looking for. Any one here live near NYC or Hollywood.both would be a long distance call for me.

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  4. When Terry Kilburn auditioned for his role in the Sherlock Holmes play, he went to Los Angeles for the audition. In an interview he said, “I suppose Basil Rathbone was working on a movie or something at that time. I was called to go and audition at his home. He was living at that time in a beautiful mansion looking out over the Pacific Ocean.” I find this comment interesting because in his autobiography Basil wrote that in the fall of 1950 he had to sell the house on 9 East Ninety-second (in NYC) because he couldn’t afford it anymore. And they moved to a smaller apartment around the corner. So how was he able to afford to rent a mansion overlooking the ocean?

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    • rosebette says

      Or was Kilburn misremembering the date of the meeting? Or was Basil in Hollywood for a film around that time, and the house was something he was renting during filming? What was the time frame of the films B. made in the early 50s and the Sherlock Holmes play?

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      • Kilburn didn’t mention a specific date, but it was sometime in 1953, probably in the spring. BR’s first film in the 1950s was Casanova’s Big Night, produced in 1954. I suppose it’s possible that the producer filmed Basil’s scenes as early as the spring of 1953, because BR expected to be tied up with his hit play starting in the fall! I think that spending money he didn’t have on a fancy mansion was like counting his chickens before they hatched.

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    • the countess says

      9 e 92nd is an apartment building. at least now it is..presumably. because when you google it in maps it comes up as 12 e. 92nd that usuly means more then one addy in building.IF it was a house then a just 1 person rez. and that house they show /is /was/ 9 at the time, its HUGE like 3storys tall,and all windows.I cant fathom just Basil, Cyn and Weedy living in that monster. the heat bill alone in the winter would have bankrupted J. Paul Getty.

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      • When they settled in New York they started with an apartment (townhouse) on Central Park West. It was there they were interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on TV. I saw it live. Basil and the digs were elegant. The grand piano (I forget which make … I think Steinberg ) that Arturo Rubinstein played was there in all it’s glory.
        . Basil was a bit nervous but carried the thing off well. Chubby Oida was there of course but I can’t remember what she said. . What was the name of that show with Murrow?.

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        • rosebette says

          I think the show you’re thinking of is Person to Person. The interview was on youtube for a bit.

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          • the countess says

            OWWW link please? I’m just discovering the wonderes of Youtube..couldnt make it work with my daile up and google maps.David have you a addy for Central park west building?I tryed to get Basils childhood home last night but couldnt get street view,just map.

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  5. As the last president of “The Basil Rathbone Club” and having communicated, met and talked to him and worked with him in “Warbirds” a pilot at 20th based on “Dawn Patrol”. I find this article verrrry interesting. I have asked myself and expressed opinions on this
    for decades.

    While working with Basil Rathbone I found him charming, and accessible. In down time I told him that I was addicted to his Holmes movies and that they had caused me to look for any movie he made and had found some wonderful ones.
    He gave me a slight enigmatic smile and that was it.
    I find the piece on Basil and “Sherlock Holmes” on Broadway astute and very interesting. I find a whole area of irrationality in dear Basil Rathbone’s decisions. Lets not forget all those humiliating appearances on TV and Radio comedy shows. Quitting the successful Holmes films and radio show and album etc was irrational. Especially since he was in a position to demand more money and possibly upgrades in the shows budget. His leaving his good friend Nigel and many others “hanging” was not good.

    My coach Helena Sorrell, former head of talent at 20th, told me “Ouida destroyed Basil”.

    I wonder if Basil’s war experiences may have left him with PTSD.

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    • the countess says

      Did she elaborate on that remake,or just say “Ouida destroyed Basil”. And go on?

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        • Yes, I am out here and open to questions. It is interesting no one has mentioned …I may have missed … that the first thing Basil did after leaving the Sherlock hit films was to do a hit Broadway play “The Heiress” This was Basil last success and was before the play “Sherlock Holmes”. I am still furious he wasn’t cast in the lead in the “The Heiress” film instead of Ralph Richardson who was a bore.. I am sure Basil was very disappointed to say the least..

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          • the countess says

            Thank you. Yes The Heiress would have been WAY better with Basil insted.Love Montgomery. Oliva miscast .IMHO Shes too pretty. verytime we watched it and that was every time it was one. We all agreed Take Montgomery..Even if what he wants is your money.Can sure have a grand time spending it with Mr. Dishy Clift. “The Czarina” too Doug Jr. was good but wonder why they didnt ask Basil. He was the one made it famous on Broadway. Oh back to my question did the lady elaborate?

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    • GRETCHEN says

      Hi, David! 🙂

      Yes, Basil DEFINITELY suffered with PTSD…you can read my (many) previous comments related to that issue all over this site.

      I don’t believe that Ouida was the “one” who destroyed Basil—more-so that Basil destroyed HIMSELF. The combination of his “survivor’s-guilt”, lack of self-esteem and enthusiasm to succeed, depression, and codependent personality-disorder (all caused by the stress and trauma he’d experienced during the war), led him to make BAD personal choices throughout the rest of his life. He chose to marry someone with narcissistic personality-disorder, and he chose to work himself to death making humiliating low-grade films to pay for her selfish overspending, so he and his family wouldn’t starve……he didn’t HAVE to choose this! NO ONE who had a normally-functioning mind would. I’m sure that if he hadn’t gone to war, he’d have lived MUCH happier, healthier, and LONGER on this Earth.

      The fact that Basil not only lost his little brother in battle during the war, but that he’d been forced to KILL a young enemy soldier while on a dangerous mission, probably deadened a part of him forever—he couldn’t forgive himself, knowing HE was responsible for taking another family’s son away from them, and causing them grief—just as he and his OWN family had been so devastatingly-affected by Johnny’s senseless, unnecessary death. (And, Basil was such a sensitive person, he got physically ILL just thinking about all the innocent boys going off to die in a meaningless war…even BEFORE he’d gone, himself!) I know it MUST have haunted him for life, although he may not have spoken much about it with others……he possibly downplayed the whole ordeal to make people think he was “OK”, when he obviously was NOT, because he didn’t want his issues to be a bother to anyone.

      I personally know the kinds of behaviors that PTSD can cause in a person, because my dad was in the American infantry at the European Front in WWII for 6 months, and his dad was in the German infantry at the Western Front in WWI for 4 YEARS. They both displayed signs of MAJOR depression, and had argumentative personalities and other disruptive problems, until they died. Basil’s odd decisions and strange, confusing career-changes were likely due to this disorder—a sort-of unconscious type of “self-sabotage”. PTSD is basically an EXTREMELY DEEP form of depression. The affected person doesn’t care to do the things they used to love with as much interest as before, and cannot find the motivating “drive” to achieve and excel. They feel a lowered sense of self-worth, and don’t think they “deserve” what others have. There is a kind of “short-circuit” in the person’s brain because of the terrible shock of the traumatic event they lived through, and they aren’t the same as before—their life-choices and personality just don’t seem right, and are seen as somewhat “off” compared to those without the affliction. They are difficult to figure-out, because of their mood-swings and inability to make simple or even rational decisions. They want to escape, and “check-out” of life, because they are overwhelmed by it.

      I’m SO sad for Basil…… 😦
      But, at least he’s finally happy, NOW. 🙂

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  6. I believe Rathbone really thought that the play was good. Others (Adrian Conan Doyle, for example) also thought it was good. And the reviews from the Boston performances were good. Perhaps it appealed to Sherlock Holmes fans, but not so much to the general public. I look forward to reading the play!

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  7. BASIL says

    According to a Sherlock book I just happen to own, he missed the money Sherlock bought him and decided to go back to him even though he didn’t want to or something…
    He left because he felt there were no other roles. Or maybe he WAS just un successful at that time and NEEDED the money. We shall never know! (>_<)

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    • Ellen Foley says

      He certainly didn’t seem to be offered quality projects after he left H’wood.And a big spender to support!She should’ve gone back to “screenwriting” to earn her keep.

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      • the countess says

        Weedy wrote for silent movies. Dont get me wrong..there are ALOT of realy realy good silent movies.But for the most part the wrighting seams to be ment to move the plot along.”Out side of the sheiks ten… cameldrive’s sat picking there noses” and the like.[not a actual quote of course.Dont stone me I love the sheik. Silent films were totaly gone by 1950..mabey Weedy’s wrighting style just had’nt kept up with the times so to speek.

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      • Ellen Foley says

        Marcia’s review on Oct 2015 “Voyage To Prehistoric Planet” tells ,in a way,how he fought for every dime-complaint to SAG about missing OT and pay $3,000/day for small part must’ve paid a few bills,except maybe Queen Ouida!

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  8. Ellen Foley says

    Hope you are doing well,now Summer’s segued into coming Fall.Always pleasure to get your insights into this puzzling riddle who was the Baz.Can’t believe that play could become the supposed stinker when moving from Boston to Broadway.Someone jumped the gun in her rush to renewed glory of former writing credits?Or were critics lying in wait to sabotage Baz’s confidence.Shame to have such money tied up and incure more debt.Maybe someone had illusions of a success like The Heiress was.We’ll never know.

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    • the countess says

      Saddly critics are ALWAYS lying in wait to critasize thats there job, and most seem to enjoy the blood letting.Some of them even only admit to likeing something as though some one was holding a gun to there head with a cocked triger.
      We know his acting was good when was it ever NOT good.Who had the link to Varity would there be wrightups for it there? the Boston papers had to have a review.Can we find that? Boston is a biger town not east Bumfart it must have been reviewed.Was there a sudden rewright?Did Weedy wright it all or was Basil given a hand in the wrighting?Who shoud know better how S.H. talks then Basil?Questions that will probly never get answered.But I’d like to know.

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