BIOGRAPHY, general biography, Uncategorized
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Basil Rathbone: Treasure Hunter

I stumbled upon a bit of intriguing information. The February 5, 1930 issue of Variety reports: “Basil Rathbone is an Englishman, a companion of the Prince of Wales when treasure hunts engaged the younger set of London. He stays in London during the season, crossing to France with his set at the socially correct time, not a day too soon, not a day too late.”

Treasure hunts in London? What is the season for treasure hunting? What is the socially correct time to cross to France? Who was the Prince of Wales? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others.

In 1930, the Prince of Wales was Edward, the eldest son of King George V. Edward had a reputation as a celebrity playboy and for having affairs with married women. He was two years younger than Basil.

The Prince of Wales, 1919

We’ve all heard about this Edward. He became king of England in 1936. Later that same year, he abdicated the throne to his younger brother Albert in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced woman. Albert, the father of Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II), then became King George VI.

Prince Edward

So Basil and Edward were friends and hung out together, treasure hunting in London. What’s that all about? “Treasure” in this case is not pirate’s booty. The treasure hunts were more like what we know as scavenger hunts. One of the ways that young, pleasure-seeking socialites of London entertained themselves during the 1920s was by treasure hunting. But how did Basil Rathbone fit in with these people? Basil wasn’t part of the wealthy social class who didn’t have to work for a living. It must have been a temporary diversion for him.

The “pleasure seeking” certainly makes sense. Basil was devastated after the war, having lost his brother and his mother. His marriage to Marian fell apart. He admitted to feeling lost and having no ambition. I can imagine Basil participating in such pleasure seeking activities.

The Variety blurb stated, “He stays in London during the season …” During the season for what? What is the season? Could it be the summer season? Note that the sentence is in the present tense, suggesting that Basil was making regular trips to London. That is puzzling because Basil was very busy in the last half of the 1920s.  (The blurb was published in early 1930.) When did he have time to travel to London for “pleasure seeking”?
In 1929, Basil was busy in Hollywood.
For most of 1928, Basil was touring with The Command to Love.
In June of 1927, Basil was appearing in Julius Caesar. In July and August, he and his wife Ouida rented a home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
It’s possible he made regular trips to London earlier in the 1920s.

Basil and Ouida about to sail to London in the 1930s

The last part of the blurb states that Basil crosses to France “with his set at the socially correct time.” I have no answers. Who is “his set”? Other actors? What is the socially correct time to cross to France? Why did they cross to France? Thoughts, anyone?

By the way, the treasure hunts are still going on!
https://www.treasure-hunt-people.co.uk/mayfair-treasure-hunt.htm

 

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7 Comments

  1. Linda Sandahl says

    I have to disagree with the above. “The Season” refers to the social season. This would run from April through August. Important public and social events would take place in London during this time. Debutantes were presented at Court in June. During the fall and winter months members of High Society would retire to their country estates, as the weather would make London pretty uncomfortable (and dark; anyone who has been in London in February knows that it’s no time for parties).

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  2. R. Singh Devi says

    Once again, thanks for the research. It does seem that Ouida’s social aspirations have gotten a little out of hand! Firstly trans-Atlantic travel By ship and certainly by aeroplane was very rare at the time and probably out of Rathbone’s financial reach. Let’s not forget that Ouida had written a favourable article about Il Duce long before her marriage to Basil and was probably interested in the creepy Prince David as Prince of Wales. So, why not promote Basil’s career into David’s set? So many film actors had dubious publicity profiles. Hope Basil got a laugh out of this story. And let’s forget his cutting disapproval of Edward VII’s abdication. 2 questions: did Basil ever meet any of Ouida’s relatives, aside from her “niece”, Ouida B.? Does anyone know of his friendship with Elisa Landi? Rani.

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    • ticotico2 says

      Thank, Rani. The first nonstop transatlantic flight, I heard the other day, was by Lindbergh and I believe they said in 1927. Early days of mail delivery by air in this country were full of stories of storms, crashes, and insanely brave pilots. I doubt Baz would venture aboard a plane even to cross the country if he could avoid it, never mind cross the Atlantic, and a ship (there’s at least one pic around of Baz & Ou on a ship) would take–how long? How many huge trunks of Weed’s clothes and furs? Room in them for all four Marx Brothers, no doubt. I hear it takes a modern booze cruise 36 hours just to get from Boston to Bermuda. The wording of the Variety thing is just SO Ouida.
      Who on earth is Elisa Randi? Another Eva LeGalleon?
      By the way, TCM played “Crime and Punishment” the other night. I was hoping to hear the correct pronunciation (Hollywood style anyway) of Rodion, but this movie Americanizes his name to Rodney, and streamlines the plot considerably. Very good movie, and Peter Lorre was surprisingly just right as Raskolnikov. Still left to wonder why Baz named his son Rodion.

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      • Rani Singh Devi says

        Thanks ticotico2! I agree that the “season” refers to the social season. Elisa Landi was a rather famous actress in the 1930s who claimed to be related to Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She specialised in exotic European roles and later became a writer. There is a rather amusing story about about her and Basil Rathbone from her time in Hollywood. And, yes the implication is suggestive of yet another romantic adventure. Also, apologies for the mistake about Edward VII; I meant Edward VIII who was Prince David when he was Prince of Wales. His brother was Prince Edward and was the Duke of Kent.

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  3. ticotico2 says

    Veddddy interesting! I suspect Ouida is the author of this rather outlandish piece of uppercrust fantasy, in her role of overpromoting her husband. I don’t think Prince Edward and his antisemitism was Bazzz’s cup of tea at all, and you say he was pretty busy during the “season” mentioned, too busy for the long expensive trip such a venture would necessitate. This thing sounds exactly like something Ouida the P.R. “expert” would dream up!!

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  4. William Clark says

    ‘The Season’ means ‘the theatrical season’, when new productions open and rise or fall on the strengths of their reputations.

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