dogs, general biography, Relationships, Uncategorized
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Basil’s Best Friend

moritz1

Basil and Moritz

August 26 is National Dog Day! Basil Rathbone would have loved that, as he was a dog lover. His favorite dog was a black German Shepherd named Moritz. Basil devoted several pages in his autobiography to this beloved dog. He also wrote an article about Moritz, which was published in the December 1936 issue of Hollywood magazine. I’m reprinting this loving tribute here, for your reading pleasure.

He Was My Friend
by Basil Rathbone

This is a tribute to the memory of Moritz von Niklotsburg, who was a gentleman. He was graceful, loyal and an individualist. Today he must be enjoying the progress he has earned in the great scheme of things as they are, and have been, and always will be. For what wrongs he committed, he suffered. For what good he did, he was rewarded. He lived and died with his great pride intact. And for the time he was with us, he gave us such devotion that his passing left a streak of bleakness across our days.

Moritz was my very dear friend, my close companion, the silent sharer of my hopes, disappointments and triumphs.

A finer dog never lived.

I was touring in the play, The Swan, when we met. I’m afraid my wife and I aided and abetted a fugitive from justice when we acquired him. Moritz had killed a sheep and was to be tried for murder. His distracted master, a close friend of mine, wanted him to be “lost,” Understanding and remorseful, Moritz indicated his liking for my wife and me. And I took to him immediately. My wife bought him for my Christmas present and Moritz was then literally lost to his former master.

From the first, Moritz seemed to realize that we had saved his lifecertainly his life belonged to us.

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His Constant Companion

Companions of all kinds I have hadbut none like Moritz. He traveled with methrough long tourssleeping at the foot of my bed, accompanying me to the theatre. He would lie quietly in my dressing room before and after every performance.

During each performance he would sit in the wings, prick up his ears whenever I spoke on the stage. Between acts, he would sit outside my door. When the final curtain descended, he would listen to the applause, rise, stretch himself, arch his back as he greeted me, and scamper to the dressing room in eager anticipation of our “after the show” walk and supper. For eight years he never missed a performancenor did his behavior vary.

He had his own adventures, of course. In San Francisco one of them frightened us all. Walking in the hills, Moritz suddenly disappeared. We called and called. We searched everywhere. Finally, tired and worried, we came upon him lying in a canyon. Foam oozed from his mouth. Horrified, I rushed toward him.

A few paces before reaching him, I was impelled to stop. An indescribable odor stopped me as completely as though a wall had arisen before me. Moritz had bandied words with a skunk and his adversary had spat full into his aristocratic face! After a while, the humiliation almost unbearable, he followed us home. Keeping his distance with chagrin and understanding. We did nothing to remind him of the incident, except that whenever grave disciplinary measures were needed, we looked at him and said firmly, “Oh, you skunk!”

In 1927, I left our home at Great Neck one Monday morning for a hurried play conference with the late Hartley Manners. I returned on Wednesday evening to find Moritz alone, awaiting me at the station. What a welcome he gave me! As long as I live, that welcome will remain one of the most beautiful of my memories.

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Basil, Ouida, and Moritz

A Dog Who Loved Music

During the days I had been away, my faithful friend had refused both food and drink and lay disconsolate through the hours of my absence. With the great, inexplicable intuition of his kind, he had suddenly arisen in intense excitement, pawed demandingly at the door, and raced from the houseto arrive, panting, at the station as my train came in!
He made friends with my friends. He was included in our invitations. Cosmo Hamilton, Mr. and Mrs. Julius Paul Meyers, John Charles Thomas always invited him with usalways treated him as a person.

He loved music. Motionless, intent, he would sit beneath the piano, listening to the playing of Harold Bauer, Harold Samuel, Alfred Blumer and Victor Wittgenstein. Great favorites of his were Felix Salmond and the London String Quartet. His treasured friend was Fritz Kreisler, who understood him and loved him.

We had an apartment in 1928 that Moritz loved dearlyor rather he loved the kitchen of the apartment. There was one solitary mouse in this kitchen that Moritz would wait whole days and nights for. At maddening intervals the mouse would appear and would face Moritz temptingly. Moritz on these occasions, seemed paralyzed with excitement. He wouldn’t or couldn’t move.

Eventually the mouse would scamper across the kitchen. A big black paw would miss him by a yard. Moritz would rise, hunt wildly and then sit down again, with incredible patience to await again the ever elusive visitor. Anywhere, at any time, all one had to say was, “Where’s the mousie,” and Moritz would dash for home and kitchen! He never caught the mouse, but he had a glorious time thinking about it! So did the mouse!!

He was a strong, enthusiastic swimmer. Courageous, too. While he enjoyed a swim in the pool—his real enthusiasm was the ocean. There he would conquer the waves or take a beating from them. His vigor demanded the stimulation of that elemental contest. He was beauty in action, then. And when he ran for exercise, he had tremendous speed—hair flying—eyes alight with the thrill of motion—the precision of his gait was lovely to see.

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Twilight Comes to Moritz

Heartbreaking, that what it was, when that joyous activity was crushed by an infection in one of his legs. A stubborn infection for which we decided to have an operation performed. With pain clouding the brightness of his great eyes, but resignation in his every movement, he suffered himself to be lifted upon the operating table, calmly stretched the offending leg toward the veterinarian, and turned his head toward the wall.

For two hours the dangerous and painful surgery went on—and Moritz did not flinch. For two months afterward he lay in the Park veterinary. His life despaired of time and again, the great fighting heart of him refused to be defeated. Tenderly nursed by “Miss O’D,” head nurse, and expertly treated by Dr. Cohen, his valiant resistance won, and we sailed for England.

There the laws of the country separated us for sic months. The English Rabies Law requires quarantine for that length of time. He was given as are all dogs thus held, expert care. I made the trip from London to South Croydon three times a week. Again, his understanding was as clear as though words were his medium of expression, and in December he was home again. Once more he slept beside my bed. Once more we walked and played together. But not for long. His leg began troubling him again. Gone were his days of action. He was very lame when we returned to New York the following October.

moritz2There was nothing to be done for him. It was with heavy hearts that we watched him limp beside us as we took our walks more slowly to accommodate his pain-filled stride. He begged to go on tour when I left for the coast with Katherine Cornell’s Repertory Company. Tiring as I knew the tour would be—I also knew Moritz’ days were numbered, and agreed with him that we should spend that time together. He suffered without complaint. As a matter of fact, good actor that he was, he would often try to put on a show of strength for us. Pathetic performances which he could never finish—pathetic, silent pleas against what he knew was inevitable.

It was his last tour.

On to Another Land

I went on alone in the fall, leaving Moritz to the gentle ministrations of “Miss O’D.” Two days later, “Miss O’D” called me in New Haven and told me to come at once. I took an early morning train from Providence to New York and spent nearly three hours with my beloved friend. Then rushed back to me performance.

I did not see him again. He died in his sleep that night.
We buried him with honor. No more poignant grief could have attended the passing of any friend I’ve ever had. We buried him beneath an old tree on a hillside he had loved to roam. His casket was lined with silk and all about his last resting place were flowers from his friends. Those friends were legion. Fit reward for him who had been so true a friend himself.

He lived beautifully. Gave beautifully of loyalty and devotion. His memory gives us beauty even now.

Come winter time and summer time,
Come sweet and cleansing rain,
Come spring time and the autumn,
Both sun and moon shall wane.
Come seed time and flowering,
And harvesting the grain,
The Earth will cease and time grow old,
But we shall meet again.

‘Twas not for naught we walked the fields,
The sidewalks and the lanes;
Sharing our hopes, our fears, our doubts,
Beliefs, our joys and pains.
And though I, with human weakness,
Have not always understood,
You, with your dog devotion,
Blindly believed me good.

Now you will sleep a little while,
And dream in peace, please God
Then one day I shall follow you
And sleep, too, beneath the sod—
To rise with you and walk again,
With a vague sense of remembering
That we had loved in other lives,
Before this new ascending.

To download this article, click here: HeWasMyFriend

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20 Comments

  1. Oh wow-I already adored BR and knew that he was a dog-lover (like me! I don’t care what kind, from mangy strays to pedigreed pups whose owners “got tired” of their latest “accessory” when it proved to have daily needs like food, water, love, and attention :D),but any man who could write of his beloved canine companion with such insight and depth of feeling for his canine friend, well, I KNOW that man is just alright. BR, a class act who appreciated the worth of man’s best friend, as they truly are.

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  2. Ellen G says

    Loving tribute to man’s best friend.Just getting off track here,anyone know,seeing I only recently saw this on a George Macready site as I didn’t realize that he & his wife were also part of that Kit Cornell tour,and George was good friends with our friend Vinnie Price,was George also someone Ouida had it in for,like Willie Bruce and others?Seems like George probably got a lot of villainous roles,like George Sanders,after Baz returned to Broadway.Wonder if Ouida was jealous of Moritz?

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    • Judy D. says

      Ouida: A few weeks ago I got an ad for a book on Universal Studios on Amazon and naturally wanted to check what it had to say about BR. Naturally now I can’t find out what book it was–there are two possibilities on Amazon, The Universal Story: The Complete History… by Clive Hirshhorn, orig.and updated edit’s., and Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror, by Michael Mallory & Stephen Sommers. Unlike a few weeks ago there is no way to get into either book and read about BR, so going on memory, there was an interview by an actress in the movie being filmed (must have been Son of Frankenstein). She had earlier been in the company run by Eva LeGalleon, BR’s old pal. She said BR and the other stars would get together during breaks and boast about their lovelife. They may have been deliberately trying to make her uncomfortable. She said BR told a story about him and Marlene Dietrich that “sickened” her. Gawd forbid the author would offer us the story. Then we have the great photo of them on wet pavement, him with a towel around his waist. So then there’s Ouida’s quite interesting “How to Be a Social Success,” Photoplay March 1942 (see Great Baz website to download), with her very fannish comments about Dietrich. (PR goo inserted by the studio??) Oh, and in the group photo MD is standing just in front of BR, and if you have my sort of mind you could say it looks as if her right hand is in his left pants pocket!!!! Or is that blurry bump a dress decoration…shucks, probably is. This site is so much fun–poor Baz would hate it!

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      • marciajessen says

        Rose Hobart had this to say about her Tower of London costars: “All of those English actors were terrible womanizers and they were always telling stories about their conquests. I remember Rathbone telling me one story about Marlene [Dietrich] which really made me kind of sick.” (quoted in Universal Horrors, by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas, McFarland & Co. Inc., 2007, page 206). This quote may also have appeared in the book you were looking at, Judy.

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        • Judy D. says

          That’s it!! It goes on with another comment in which Hobart got back at all of them…not sure whether you want me to quote it here, though it’s an old, old joke. Up to you because you probably know what it was! Though Hobart may have been friendly enough with LeGalleon to have it in for BR and the rest of them, who knows.

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    • Ellen G says

      Reading “Heartthrob:A Hundred Years Of Beautiful Men” by Donald Reuter,Baz has a photo and mention that he was reported to be a “beast” in bed!

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      • marciajessen says

        Wow! I have that book, and I never noticed that comment about him being a beast in bed! The photo caption is in such a tiny font that I had to take off my glasses to read it. I was too distracted by the gorgeous photo of Baz.

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        • Judy D. says

          Years ago (1980s-90s?) there was a fun magazine called “Scarlet Street,” which ran articles about the old movies of the noir or horror type. I subscribed because they often mentioned BR and interviewed in length Gale Sondergaard and one of the blondes in the Holmes films, I think Hillary Brooke (who was married to an Army guy and said Nigel flirted with her so much that one day she brought her husband on the set, which straightened him out). Anyway, one of the articles did make the comment that BR was known as “a monster in bed.” Which, along with the anonymous memoirs of that love affair, probably eliminates him from the final cutting comment of Rose Hobart.

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  3. Judy D. says

    Great story. What a big heart Baz had for dogs, especially the fabulous Moritz. I had forgotten some of the details of this story, and my Nancy Drew mind is circling around one item. Now, I have no doubt that dogs are super-sensitive to their world, but how could even the most prescient dog know of BR’s trip home via the LIRR? So I checked out Great Neck on Google and found that it is an expensive area on the Manhattan end of Long Island, well endowed with coverage by the LIRR, probably similar to those days of fewer cars. So I suppose the Rathbone household, through the influence of Ouida becoming all atwitter at a message from Baz that he was finally on his way back home, caused Moritz to pick up on signals by staff of preparation for his return (and perhaps he had accompanied Baz to and from the train station on many occasions), and so he shot out of the house and reasoned that that’s where BR would be found. This probably makes scientific sense on what we know about dogs today (sure wouldn’t apply to my rather Watsonian beast). So OK, the story could be true, they do meet at the train.
    BUT–why was no one else there to greet him after several days’ absence? No Weedie in a long sleek chauffeured limo? Did he walk home? How far was this Great Neck estate from the train, and was it the one that Weeds owned (or her then husband) and took him to when they first met? Loads of clews here for more info about him.
    BTW, thanks for having so many of the early magazine articles available on the site–full of interesting bits of info. He says his sister went back to South Africa to live after the war, for instance. How about an analysis of just how the studios controlled such articles? Hope you’ll post more stuff.

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    • marciajessen says

      Oh, I’ll certainly post more articles! But I have no idea how the studios controlled such articles, so I can’t offer any analysis. Can you? You could do a guest post on The Baz! (That is, send it to me and I post on your behalf, with your by-line.) Send to gisbourne@basilrathbone.net.

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      • Judy D. says

        Thanks! I did a bit of googling and found really comprehensive articles from Virginia Quarterly Review. The first has photo illustrations but the text in them is mostly unreadable. Within that is a click to an article called The Rules of the Game: A Century of Hollywood Publicity–no photos but the whole history of H’wood publicity. (Think of Ouida’s articles and her nice comments about hubby’s pal Dietrich while reading this!) To find all this go to http://www.vqronline.org/articles/rules-game, or http://www.vqronline.org/criticism/those-glorious-fan-magazines. Or, more easily, google 1930s fan magazines! I’m afraid all this may apply to those nice BR interviews…..

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      • Judy D. says

        Thanks for the offer to do some research! I did send something as a post (had no idea how to forward a Google article) but it seems I keep getting mysteriously Unsubscribed, not for the first time.
        Anyhow, here are two great sites I found under Google (searched 1930s fan magazines): From Virginia Quarterly Review is http://www.vqronline.org/criticism/those-glorious-fan-magazines, a very thorough article dated 1/31/13 covering 1910-1970 or more. It was inside another article, same author, that had photos of old articles but were difficult to read.
        Then there is this gem: mediahistoryproject.org/fanmagazines/. A dream come true: a media history digital library covering movies, radio, TV. You can click onto, say, Photoplay and get a list of all years available and click the year you want, or you can search for a person and choose chron or reverse-chron (Ouida as well as BR–loads of entries). I was only in this paradise for a few minutes and am not sure how you get readable copies (several choices), but am sure if you haven’t long ago found this site, you’ll have a great time figuring it out and downloading stuff.
        As for the first source, the author goes into how controlled the magazines were by studios and p.r. types, and also how studios could force an actor to appear in inferior films. So am afraid the articles by BR and OR may have been heavily edited, if they were even interviewed. And it explains why OR in her article about entertaining (!) had such nice things to say about BR’s pal Dietrich–required by the studio, no doubt. Well, we certainly know how he genuinely felt about Moritz!
        Let’s see if this posts this time! Drat technology. At least now I know what the heck an avatar is!

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        • marciajessen says

          Thanks for the information Judy! You wrote: “I did send something as a post.” Where did you send it? I didn’t receive any e-mail from you.

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          • Judy D. says

            I sent it via Comments on WordPress but apparently they had cut me out of the herd once again. So I had to sign on again. I didn’t send it directly to your email because the Google main article was full of photos and other things that would have made for a very messy document, if it even did actually reach you. Anyway, for years I was hoping that some organization would start a collection of those old fan magazines but figured the topic was too unimportant. Now the scholarly types see the value of this history of movies/radio/tv/publicity and have taken it seriously enough to study and collect. Lucky us!! I never followed movie stars but did have a rabid interest in an extremely famous radio/TV pioneer, whom I managed to meet at age 18. His career (Trump reminds me of him a lot) turned into a case history on the value of keeping one’s foot out of one’s mouth around the press and letting the network and the PR guys do the talking!

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            • marciajessen says

              Oh, I see. Well, sorry I can’t explain the quirks of WordPress. At least the links work fine! Thanks again!

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            • Sorry your comment was in moderation! I don’t know why it was because one of the other mods changed the settings and all comments should display automatically now!

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  4. GRETCHEN says

    SO heartwarming & heartbreaking at the same time!
    And what a great POET Basil was.

    This got me crying like nothing else……..I miss MY special animal friends just as much.

    Moritz likely came to be with his friend during Basil’s OWN passing decades later, and I’m sure his spirit guided Basil to Heaven thereafter. Now, reunited—they’re playing, running, swimming, lying in the grass dreaming amongst the wildflowers, reading one another’s thoughts—and walking side by side, once more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • marciajessen says

      I have to admit that I cried, too — and I don’t even like dogs! I’m a crazy cat lady!

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