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Remembering Basil Rathbone

Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

July 21 is of course the anniversary of Basil Rathbone’s death 50 years ago. On July 22, 1967, the New York Times announced, “Basil Rathbone, the suave Shakespearean actor who won motion-picture fame in the early nineteen-forties as the detective Sherlock Holmes–and regretted the identification the rest of his life–died of a heart attack yesterday. The tall, impeccably mannered actor, who was 75 years old, was found dead on the floor of his study at his home, 135 Central Park West by his daughter, Cynthia. She said her father had suffered a heart seizure several years ago, but had appeared to be in good health.”

Here’s the New York Times article about the funeral service, published July 26, 1967:

RATHBONE RITES ATTENDED BY 350
Cornelia Otis Skinner Reads Actor’s Favorite Poems

About 350 people attended a funeral service for Basil Rathbone, the actor, yesterday morning at St. James’ Episcopal Church, 865 Madison Avenue.

The Rev. Dr. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, the rector, in a prayer spoke of Mr. Rathbone’s “singular gifts of person and personality; verve and enthusiasm in his dedication to good theater; imagination and vision in the roles he played; warmth and kindness in personal relationships; devotion to his church, his home and his ideals.”

Cornelia Otis Skinner, friend of the Rathbones

Cornelia Otis Skinner, a family friend, gave an appreciation address.

“Basil Rathbone was a warm and witty gentleman in the true sense of the word,” she said.

She read one of Mr. Rathbone’s favorite poems — Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” — which he had often read to his wife of 41 years, the former Ouida Bergere. Miss Skinner also read Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier,” as requested by the actor in his will. The poem begins:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal’d;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam.

Cynthia Rathbone with her father in 1954

Rodion, Ouida, and Basil, 1930s

Among the congregation at the service were the actor’s widow; his daughter, Cynthia; a son, Rodion, by his previous marriage to Ethel Marian Forman; his widow’s niece, Mrs. David Huxley, and Cyril Ritchard, the actor, a close friend.

Ouida and Basil Rathbone in 1960

Burial was in Ferncliffe Mausoleum, Hartsdale, N.Y.

Imagine that you were attending the funeral service for Basil Rathbone, and that you had the opportunity to speak about what he meant to you. What would you say? Feel free to put your thoughts about Basil in the comments section below.

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3 Comments

  1. GRETCHEN says

    A (BELATED) MESSAGE
    TO SOMEONE VERY SPECIAL:

    Even after 50 YEARS,
    I miss the person I never knew….
    The friend I wish I’d had.

    GOODBYE—
    SWEET BOY,
    PRECIOUS SOUL,
    DEAREST
    BASIL. 😥

    You are treasured,
    You are LOVED.

    Always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JamesA says

    Mr. Rathbone, we remember you with joy for your great acting, as well as some sadness for the difficulty you had over your greatest role. 50 years and many other very talented actors later, to most of us there is no one who can play the Great Detective like you. Like his creator Doyle, you felt like he kept you from more serious work; if only you knew how immortal you were to become because of him ! Your other work remains for posterity, but to millions of us you will always be Sherlock Holmes, and we will always thrill at the sound of your voice saying ” the game’s afoot !”.
    Requiescat in pace. +

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jill A. Zahner says

    You were a leading man in a character actor’s body, and no one paying attention could have missed that. You pulled off the dichotomy with elan and intelligence…yes, even with humorous resignation. You possessed both romantic lead and colorful supporting character talent, equally gifted in comedy and drama, making you a force worth reckoning. Here we are 50 years later and you still linger in our consciousness as a talent of enormous presence. How I wish you were a maturing actor today, when so many fascinating parts would have been open to you. Parts you would have made your own. Utterly.

    Liked by 2 people

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