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, 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.
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.
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.