MAGAZINE ARTICLES, The Swan (1923), THEATRE
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“Basil Rathbone Eulogizes the American Actress” – 1923

This article first appeared in THE BILLBOARD, November 1923. Just a few weeks later Rathbone would be taken to a party by Clifton Webb, where he would meet unemployed screenwriter “Ouida Bergere” (as she called herself). Click on pdf button to download a copy of the original article

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Basil Rathbone Eulogizes the American Actress

The Billboard, November 24 1923

When our dramatic critic, in his review of “The Swan” defined Mr Basil Rathbone as “the leading man par excellence with the looks, bearing and acting capacity which should go with the genius” we decided that we had a clue worth following in our search for interesting personalities. But getting a seat for a performance of “The Swan” was like getting poor Humpty up a again. It was only due to the cancellation of a third balcony box reservation that we succeeded in viewing that ideal couple, the fair LeGallienne(sic) and the stalwart Rathbone. We gazed so long from our dizzy heights thru the lenses of an opera glass that we became dizzy and were obliged to seek the wings backstage for a closeup(sic) of Mr Rathbone.

We found him surrounded by a bevy of femininity and reporters. Closing our eyes to everyone’s claim of prior presence we began harping on Mr Rathbone’s name in varying keys until one of them registered in that gentleman’s ear. He bowed deeply to signify that his attention was ours, but he submitted to an interview about as gracefully as a caged Bengal tiger, gliding hither and thither until we would have given our meagre kingdom for a pair of roller skates that would have enabled our five feet five to keep pace with the long sweeping six feet plus Rathbone glides.

Finally we asked him for his impressions of America, whereupon his little goat, enraged by the triteness of the question, almost broke from the leash of good breeding (??) and chased us from the theatre. After pulling up the reins on the little beast Mr Rathbone graciously promised that he would write his impressions of America and deliver them at The Billboard office the next morning.

We didn’t believe he would write them; and he didn’t. Instead he called in person to register his opinion that the question was silly and he didn’t know hat it was all about anyway.

Signalling the keeper of the gate to thrown a cordon around the building so that our magnificent quarry might not escape we coaxed him to a seat where he would have a full view of the passing Broadway show. (It’s a trick that usually works – the psychological appeal to vision). The passing show immediately caught his eye and interest and he forgot all about the SILLY question and that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

“There,” he exclaimed, “that is what I think of America – hurry, hurry, hurry! Wonderful city, instinct with vitality! It vitalizes me, too. I f I had my way I should tour back and forth across America, gathering vitality from New York, ozone in the majestic Rockies, inspiration from the great desert, and California, gosh how I love California! I’d settle down in California to rest, if I COULD rest. But I could never be faithful to one place long. My temperament is too restless. I believe constant change is as necessary to the person of imagination as color and form variety are to nature and art. To rest mans to rust –mentally.”

“What do you think of our actor and actresses?” we asked.

“I think your actresses are far superior to your actors. Your actresses are amazingly beautiful, intellectual, imaginative and versatile. And how beautifully gowned they are. Speaking of this comparison of men and women of the profession, it applies to America generally. I feel that this is a woman’s country. Woman is by far the dominating force. While the male of the species hurries hurries hurries in his for money and more money, the woman plays, and plays intellectually. And how intelligently she dresses! Why, it is amazing how many beautifully gowned women there are in New York. Beautifully women and beautifully gowned! One feels like stopping to stare and admire, and would if it were not rude.

After thanking Mr Rathbone on behalf of the women of America, we asked him what he thought of American theatre.

“The theatre in America is as much of an institution as the railroads. It is necessary to your people’s progress an existence., for they LOVE it. They don’t go to the theatre in quest of relaxation as so many aver, but because they LOVE it and because it stimulates them. It’s the great panacea that keeps your men from becoming mere working automatons!”

How brilliant this young English actor is! And how handsome! He reminds one of Lou Tellergen in a way – the same classic head and profile, made more dominant and vital by a darkness of coloring suggesting Norman ancestry.

As to history, Mr Rathbone was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal, Africa, June 13 1892. After graduating from Repton College he chose a business career with the Globe Insurance Company. But business held no charm for his restless temperament. He decided that it made him unhappy to live in a state of gray monotony, concentrating constantly on one thing. So he sought the stage, finding in its ever-changing aspect the versatility of pursuit his……

UPDATE: The rest of the text has been found and sent in by reader Nanette B. Much thanks to her for that great bit of sleuthing. And here it is. No new revelations, sadly.

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68 Comments

  1. Annabel Lee says

    I was reading about Vincent yesterday. I see what people mean about Coral Browne being like Ouida. Apparently she was jealous of Vincent’s children and he found it hard to see them after he married her.

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    • Unfortunately, this kind of thing seems to run rampant with jealous stepmothers. I speak from experience. 😦 “Fortunately” for Vincent’s children, since Coral passed first, they were able to reconnect with him toward the end. Victoria spoke (at the STL Vincentennial in 2011) about her circle of friends visiting him & lifting his spirits often in his last years. It may sound awful in a way (wishing for someone to go first), but I’m really happy to know that, because a lot of children (like Basil’s) don’t get that chance.

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  2. GRETCHEN says

    This is in memory of one of Basil’s dearest friends……

    😦 R.I.P. 😦
    Vincent Leonard Price, Jr.
    May 27, 1911-October 25, 1993

    20 years ago today,
    God’s gentle Hand
    Took you away…

    Precious creature,
    Now I see;
    You’re in His Kingdom—
    Happily! 🙂

    Missing you, with love.
    Your pal, Gretch

    (Note: It’s still the 25th where I live, but the time/date-stamp is 8 hrs. ahead.)

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    • Ellen Foley says

      Watched Vinnie’s Star of Month all Oct on TCM.House Of Wax led off on Thurs,his 1st foray into horror genre,had choice between that movie & We’re No Angels on B’way w/Jose Ferrer.Guess he kinda regretted not doing play,but IMHO,he made right choice and legions of grateful fans.Forgot to program Tower Of London to compare w/1939 version.Watched Geo Sanders in Village Of The Damned,could so see Baz in that role,but wife was a very young woman.

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      • Ellen Foley says

        Tonight is last TCM Star of Month salute to Vinnie Price-Pit & Pendulum starts it off today.Some of his films were also On Demand until Nov

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    • Nanette B. says

      It’s a good thing that there are people of all age groups on this blog. That way you get a good perspective on events/facts/hypotheses from those that actually remember these people the first time around in film and those that have come afterwards with a good knowledge and interest in film history. Bravo and let the games go on!

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  3. The last paragraph of the article states, “After graduating from Repton College he chose a business career with the Globe Insurance Company.” According to Basil’s autobiography, that was not his choice of career. He wanted to be an actor, but his father insisted that he work for the insurance company for one year before embarking on that foolish acting career. I guess he hoped that Basil would like selling insurance and stick with that more sensible profession. Thank God Basil left insurance and became an actor!

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    • BASIL says

      Tell me about it! If I didn’t know about Basil, I wouldn’t be listening to the music I do, have some of the friends I have…… It’s a long story! xD

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      • GRETCHEN says

        The SAD thing is, his dad ended-up being “right” about Basil not making much money as an actor…oh, well. At least he chose a career that made him HAPPY, and gave him a passion for life—unlike getting stuck married to the “old crab”, I mean Ouida! 😉

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          • Cinegeek says

            That’s right. He was on something like $5,000 a WEEK when he was making the Universal Sherlock series. That would be a pretty good income today. In those days it was a fortune.

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            • GRETCHEN says

              Well, I already KNOW that! 🙂

              Charlie Chaplin was making $20,000 a WEEK in the silent-era! That would be something like MILLIONS in today’s money!! 😮

              Sure, Basil “earned a BIG sum on paper”, but NEVER saw any of it……if it weren’t for HER, he wouldn’t have ended-up in poverty. So, whether he made “a LOT of money” for his films or not, it’s irrelevant to the fact that he STILL didn’t have anything to SHOW for it! 😦

              That’s what my above comment was addressing. 😉

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              • Ellen Foley says

                It’s awful interesting how many business managers/agents manage to make off with lots of actors earnings until someone looks into things,how they think they made that actor/performer,are entitled,but I put the spending Mrs R in same category as thieving agents,bankers that bankrupt/impoverish talented people,just IMHO.Still,if she was there w/honeypot on Kit Cornell tour,why not at his side on movie sets,unless she was too busy on Rodeo Dr or wherever you toss money away bck in 1930s & 40s.The rest of the moviegoing public fought for their next mouthful and OR had a seemingly unlimited supply of cash,except when BR’s checks disappeared while touring w/Kit & company.I’m sure she didn’t buy drinks all around with those 2 paychecks.

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                • the countess says

                  she didnt buy drinks for anyone on that tour rember she invited people to lunch and made them pic up her check and theres.

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                  • Ellen Foley says

                    I would’ve gladly paid anyone to throw cow patty on OR for all she did to BR,stepping on one is too good for her,or red paint on her furs.I know she was a wronged wife cuz he cheated,but to the extent she got back at him.I think she was in NYC before his bond tour for psych eval,don’t know if ECT was used then,but she should’ve been lobotomized,but then look what it did to Rosemary Kennedy.Someone like RK could’ve used a man like Baz,sensitive,caring,and he got the Queen of Sheba.Doubt OR ever picked up a check in her life,it might cause her to split the seams.Either that,or someone’d clobber her over the head.

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                • Ellen Foley says

                  Caged Bengal tiger,so how did he live as a caged male stud with Mrs Fitzmaurice for 41 years.Biting his nails,being driven around the bend by her spending habit,smoking,drinking,and as I read somewhere having the company of a Oscar Levant-type telling people how he spent a thrilling day listening to BR talk of the state of his bowels.Well,Oscar,if you didn’t want to hear about it,leave,just like if OR didn’t like his affairs,she coul’ve left anytime and take her cats and bird and fly out on her electric broom.Sorry,couldn’t resist shot at Oscar Levant,heard he was a real freeloader.We know who prob caused BR’s intestinal issues,drumroll,the Mrs,always thought her full of what he couldn’t pass (GI waste).And that was a happy marriage?

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                  • the countess says

                    um did it ever ocour to anyone but me..that Basil being the highly polight man he was..might have chosen just such a subject to make the Levant type GO AWAY! But ever so polightly…”Oh i dont want to go over there he always bores me.”.SCORE one for Basil.

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          • Interesting – Glenn Miller was my introduction to Big Band too. Wide appeal! 🙂 My little sister corresponded with Artie Shaw a few times before he died, which was so cool (jealous. She works for TCM now – super-jealous). I’m probably more into early ’30s Duke Ellington & Cab Calloway now, but Miller will always hold a special place in my heart – what a sound! Sounds like we are in (mostly) good company on this blog!

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        • MikuFan says

          Yeah, but I actually listened to that stuff before I liked Baz! >w<
          Basil got me really into Sherlock stuff, and I came across an anime called Sherlock Hound, which I got totally hooked on. Then somebody made a Sherlock Hound video using some music from another anime called Sailor Moon, which I became obsessed with (almost). THEN (Yup! There's more!) I found a cover of the Sailor Moon theme tune. Which got me into the singer..which is…..this…

          and….that got me into heaps more anime and manga stuff. Then I found out there was a manga club at my school….and I got a heap of awesome friends from there!
          So I have Basil to thank for a lot! ^_^

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            • MikuFan says

              A lot of people don’t know what Manga is, don’t worry! 😄
              I bought some Sailor Moon trading stickers into school once and somebody thought they were pokemon o_o’

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              • GRETCHEN says

                I used to watch old reruns of “Speed Racer” in the ’80s, and “Sailor Moon” in the ’90s…and I like to draw Manga and Anime style characters, TOO!! 🙂

                P.S.—34 isn’t “old”……

                I’m 38; and I LOVE watching Sesame Street and cartoon-shows/films, collect “Disney”, “My Little Pony”, “Littlest Pet Shop” and “Hello Kitty” stuff, have TONS of stuffed-animals, go trick-or-treating on Halloween (in costume), enjoy coloring and drawing with my marker-pens, and dress like a tween—I also LOOK the same as I did when I was 12, so nobody thinks I’m WEIRD for liking all this “kids’ stuff”! 😉

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                • Margaret G says

                  Hush this nonsense all of you. I am 64 and about to become officially a Senior next year. Neither 34 nor 38 is old!

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                  • Ma Baker says

                    I think most people nowadays see old age as starting around seventy. It is just ridiculous to tall the average 65 year old of today “old”. I’m 39 by the way 🙂

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                    • Harriet Rufus Brown says

                      I’m 30 and I agree with you that I’d call 70+ old or older.

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                    • GRETCHEN says

                      I KNOW……I wouldn’t have called Basil old, either. 🙂

                      (He was sexually SUPER-HOT, and more active/healthy physically in his 70’s than most video-game-playing-couch-potatoes in their 20’s, nowadays…and, he could kick their BUTTS!)

                      When someone becomes SO unhappy with life that they “give-up” on living, it is THEN that they become “old”……and, that can happen at ANY age.

                      Like

                    • I only jest about being “old” at 34. It’s only a number, and it’s all about how you feel and act! My significant other is quite a bit older than I am, and I never think of him as old. I don’t think of my parents that way either. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they aren’t 30-something anymore – that they had three kids when they were my age!! *shudder* (Childfree, by choice, here.) I hope I rock when I’m in my 60s & 70s.

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                • MikuFan says

                  Do you still watch any anime? >w<
                  I keep trying to draw manga Basil but he…..he always fails terribly.

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                • the countess says

                  God I luv Speed Racer….Go Speed Racer Go..sence I was a child and it wasnt in reruns.Not telling my age just call me Dorian Grey

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    • Nanette B. says

      I’ve sent Neve the second page of the Billboard article for all to see. Love your website by the way!

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  4. Comments are apparently on the fritz again! It’s an intermittent problem, but be warned, you might get a message saying “comment could not be posted” after submitting, and even if you didn’t your comment might not get through. I don’t know why, but presumably it will fix itself eventually.

    If you’re saying anything lengthy I’d advise you to make a copy of it before hitting “post comment”.

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    • LARRY CLIFTON says

      ALL THIS DESCRIBES THE FASCINATING ARTIST AND MAN THAT WAS RATHBONE–WITH THAT ‘TOUCH OF GENIUS’ THAT WAS UNIQUE TO ONE OF THE TRULY SINGULAR TALENTS EVER TO GRACE THE THEATRE AND HOLLYWOOD. AND HIS DECLINE WAS MUCH LIKE BARRYMORE’S BUT FOR DIFFERENT REASONS THAT WE ALL KNOW. WHEN I, AS A TEEN, MET HIM, HE STILL HAD THAT GRACE AND ZEAL, 2 YEARS OR SO BEFORE HIS DEATH. THE TRAGEDY AND UNFAIRNESS HE SUFFERED WERE THERE, TOO. THE BLOG IS GREAT. KEEP UP THE FINE WORK.

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      • GRETCHEN says

        Hi, Larry! 🙂

        PLEEEEASE tell us more details about your meeting with Basil, which you mentioned in-part some time ago…we’d LOVE to hear the rest of this story! 🙂

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  5. rosebette says

    A man with an eye for the ladies. Interesting that he says he would like to relax in California, yet when that came to pass, relaxing is hardly what he did!

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  6. the countess says

    just a thought Neve try the NPL to see if they keep back edtions of Billboard. I doubt or Dist Lib. does. But if they keep it you ought to be able to get page 2 that way.I got Basil’s death anoucment from the times that way.I realy ought to see if I can get the Akron Becon Journal to see if they had a wright up on him with pics, when he was in Akron in the 60’s. I’ll try to keep it in mind next time I’m at the dist. lib.

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  7. Jenkins says

    My first impression: this is a young man on the verge of a stellar career. Next step, Hollywood, leading man stardom. He had the looks , he had the indefinable thing called movie presence. What happened?

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    • the countess says

      Ditto! as a “woman of America” I would love to be able to thank him in person. Neve your in New York do you go around Beautifuly gowned all the time? We have to keep up apperences here. I only go beautifuly gowned to balls.Do you suppose Weedy ever read that? I wonder if her clothes horesishness[ is that a real word Countess? if it’s not i just invented it!] came from a fear of not being able to keep her claws in a hubby who apperaties a nicely dressesd woman?

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      • I never go out the house without my best gown. In fact I’m sitting on the couch right now in full evening dress and tiara. 🙂

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          • GRETCHEN says

            In L.A. and N.Y.C. (and even around here where I live, in Northern California), a LOT of women (and teen/tween girls) are ALWAYS attempting to dress (and ACT) like movie-stars, or fashion-models; with their expensive “designer-brand” clothes, purses and shoes……what’s up with THAT?? 😮

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            • Oh God yes. The Wannabees. Judging people on the price of their handbag and the labels on their clothes. I was sent to a school on the Upper East Side and girls like that ran the joint. If you turned up in thrift store jeans then God help you.

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              • the countess says

                my high was in farm co.[we had cow patty bingo there] and the cliques STILL tryed to be o so chic.I was too busy forking horse manuer,and putting up hay and all those farm chores to fret about style.

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  8. Margaret G says

    “Restless spirit”. I can’t help wondering if this intense nervous energy people describe was an aspect of his PTSD? (Also I have a suspicion the “five feet five” interviewer may have been cute, don’t you? 🙂

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    • Hot Chick says

      I had the same thought process as soon as I read he turned up at her office next day. Bad boy Basil. I wonder if he got some 🙂

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  9. BASIL says

    Oh I see, so us Brits aren’t pretty enough then are we? Really Basil, be kinder to your British fangirls. ;_;

    Like

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