BIOGRAPHY, FAMILY HISTORY, general biography, Relationships
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Basil and Rodion

In the 1930s, when Basil Rathbone was very much in demand as an actor, few people were aware that he had grown son living in England. Silver Screen magazine published an article informing the public of this “secret son”:

Hollywood took another surprise jolt when it learned that the very fine English actor, Basil Rathbone, had a “secret son.”
At nineteen, Basil was swept into an impetuous World War marriage, and later, a son was born in London, whom he named Rodion. After his romance crashed, he set forth to win fame as an actor, while the boy remained in London with his mother. Coming to America, Basil remarried, and few knew of this early chapter in his life.

There have been a few brief meetings between father and son and last summer it was planned that Rodion should journey to Hollywood for a real visit. Then occurred one of those ironical incidents that frequently punctuate the life of the screen player; before his son arrived, Basil was called to London for an important film engagement and the two passed each other en route, with out even a chance of a “Hello!”

The tall, distinguished Rodion arrived and immediately conquered Hollywood, all on his own. The high point of his visit being that he developed a terrific crush on pretty Olivia de Havilland, calling her the Ideal Girl of the World, and having no eyes for other screen charmers. Now, having been graduated from Cambridge this spring, Rodion is coming to Hollywood for a lengthy stay and his father is exuberantly excited about it.

Said Rathbone, “The boy followed my father’s footsteps rather than mine in his education, by becoming an electrical engineer, but the acting profession intrigues him tremendously and he may try his luck on the screen. I would be very proud were he to become an actor and shall encourage him, but the final decision will be his. One must choose his own career if he is to be happy in it. Whatever comes from this visit, I shall have the great joy of his companionship and, at last, my son will be a reality. This is something I’ve dreamed about for many years.”

“Secret Families” (Silver Screen, June 1937)

Note that the second line in the above article says that Basil was 19 when he married. Another magazine article says that he married when he was “a youth of twenty.” The implication seems to be that because he was young and impetuous he made a mistake and married when he shouldn’t have. In fact, Basil married Marion in 1914, so he was 22. He was young, yes, but he wasn’t a teenager. He was old enough to know what he was doing.

Basil’s dream of having the joy of Rodion’s companionship came true. Rodion lived with Basil and Ouida in their home on Los Feliz Blvd. For a while, all was good in the Rathbone home. Rodion even acted in a couple of films with his famous father: The Dawn Patrol (1938) and Tower of London (1939). Rodion used the name John Rodion while working on those films.

This is what Basil told Photoplay magazine:

Let me tell you of Ouida’s latest gift to me.I think it is the finest thing I have ever known. She has brought me back my son, Rodion. He is the son of my first wife. He is here now, living with us, working in the technical department at Warner Brothers, and loving it. Ouida did it alone. Unknown to me, she made friends with Marian, my former wife. She wrote my boy in England and made friends with him too. She brought us together again, and now my happiness is complete. And I owe this, as I owe everything, to her.

“Love Life of a Villain” (Photoplay, August 1938)

Knowing what we know about Ouida’s narcissistic personality, this unselfish act seems very unlikely. Yet, these are Basil’s words. So, the story is either true, or one that Basil was making up for the reporter. Regardless, Rodion was living with Basil and Ouida, and Basil was overjoyed. The household included two English servants—Nellie, the maid, and Ambrose, the butler—and a Swedish chef.

And lots of dogs, of course. Rodion helped Basil walk his six dogs.

Dick Pine, a reporter for Screenland magazine, visited Basil at his home one weekend. After walking in Griffith Park with Basil, Rodion, and the six dogs, Pine sat down to dinner with Basil, Rodion and Ouida. “They love each other, these three,” observed Pine (“The Host of Hollywood,” Screenland, July 1938).

Late in 1937, Rodion met Caroline Fisher, a drama student, on a motion picture set. Over the course of the winter they fell in love and made plans to get married in the spring of 1938.

Ouida Rathbone, who had a reputation as a successful party-giver, stepped in and staged a grand Hollywood wedding reception for Rodion and Caroline. The reception was in the garden of the Rathbone home. When Basil and his wife entertained, it was very much of an event. Scores of screen celebrities attended the nuptial ceremony.

Photoplay reported that of all the gala Hollywood parties planned and executed by Ouida Rathbone, the Rathbone wedding reception was one of the most brilliant events!

According to Rodion’s son, his parents didn’t feel that their wedding day was their special day. The reception was all about the Hollywood movie stars. The photographers were busy taking pictures of the celebrities. Gary Cooper even chided one photographer, “Why are you photographing me? I’m not the groom!”

The young couple felt somewhat ignored as Ouida did her thing. In Ouida’s mind, this party was her great gift to them, and Rodion and Caroline owed gratitude to her. Given how Rodion and Caroline felt about the event, they did not express adequate gratitude to Ouida. “Words were spoken,” said Rodion.

Basil naturally came to Ouida’s defense. We may think of Ouida as a narcissistic spendthrift, but Basil worshiped her and he was loyal to her. In “Love Life of a Villain” he said, “Without her I would be nothing; with her I can be everything. Without her I would be miserable. With her I am the happiest man in the world. … Everything I have achieved – everything I may be today or hope for tomorrow – I owe to my wife, Ouida.”

So it’s no surprise that Basil would take Ouida’s side in a family dispute. Rodion told his children that Basil had said at their falling out, “I never want to see you again.” Rodion took him at his word. He made an exception once when Basil was touring in the play J.B. and appeared in a town near where he and his family lived. Rodion took his daughters Heloise and Dounia back stage to meet Basil. He was very gracious and glad to meet them.

Years later, when Basil wrote his autobiography, he barely mentioned his son. He acknowledged that he had a son, and that he divorced his first wife, and that’s all. And that’s sad.

Basil and Rodion in happier times on the set of Dawn Patrol

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8 Comments

  1. Ellie Foley says

    The movie “They Shall Not Grow Old” about WWI and those who gave all is out now,and in thinking of the above post and Baz’s definite PTSD,I want to see it,and if not in theaters,on dvd,as I wonder if young John Rathbone might be included in the film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ticobasiljd says

      Sounds like something to watch for! In mid-2016 I was able to find a copy of the book “Famous 1914-1918” by Richard Van Emden and Victor Piuk, Pen & Sword Military Books, on Amazon. This includes a chapter each on B.R. and Nigel Bruce, both of whom served, and where Nigel was severely injured. It (pub. 2008 and 2009 in South Yorkshire) was unavailable for a long time, and if Amazon still has it, you might enjoy it. This site mentioned it a few times when it was unavailable.

      Like

  2. rockhyraxx says

    (Hmm third try to post this comment, hopefully everything will work this time!)
    Thank you for this great article and the amazing research! How horribly sad this situation must have been for both! Maybe there were already some tensions, as Basil said in IAOOC, both Ouida and he might have been hard to live with, and the wedding was just the last straw. I am sure Ouida had positive sides as well (for example some of her party decorations were pretty creative, I think) but she also sounds to me like somebody rather eccentric and like somebody, who enjoys giving the orders more than cooperate (a personality that some people might like, others not). I don’t think she wanted to do anything bad with this party; she just did not listen to Rodions wishes. Maybe she also thought she would know better, what is good for them.
    Anyway it is just super sad how this whole situation ended, and I am so sorry for them both! Just thought about what Madame X about Basil not sleeping for a month, when Rodion went to WWII. This must have been extra horrible knowing he did not reconcile with his son! Poor little Baz and poor Rodion!
    (Great to see a new post! Keep up this amazing job!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ellie Foley says

    All responses incredibly insightful.Thanks to Marcia for a very interesting post.Doubt the Basils Rathbone fell out over trivial matter,as is evident from past posts.Ouida’s meddling caused a huge divide,and never thought Basil himself wouldn’t at least try to continue to see his own son in some way-but whatever tiffs his wife had with others,he was bling to her responsibility for offending others.Think these photos show how handsome Rodion was.Agree,the wedding reception should only have been about Caroline & Rod,and Baz should’ve said something.Kudos to Gary Cooper for telling photog it wasn’t about the guests.Prior post stating about Baz buying the home for newleyweds & his interfering wife decorating it seems more the cause of the fight between father & son.How sad if Rod’s kids didn’t get to know their grandfather well,esp since Baz’s health was at issue starting in late 1950s with a possible stroke.Ouida sounds like some present day asserions of Camilla Parker-Bowles and her drunken allegations causing problems for the Royals.Maybe Ouida should’ve met up with Edward VIII before Wallis.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ticobasiljd says

    Thanks so much for this post! At last we find out a lot more about Rodion and the relevant events. Basil in his book exercised a bit too much of that British reticence of his generation, and obviously felt that private details were not the public’s business. These days anything goes, if you want to sell a book. And the readers are far more sophisticated and understanding about people’s foibles. Basil should have known what he was doing at 22?? Yikes, if I told you what I was doing at that age and well beyond–needing the wrong men, having a floor-level self image…..I got this far not by smartening up all that much–just living past my sell-by date–but am a survivor, as aren’t we all. If Bazzz had been born 20-30 years older and been a star, I am sure his book, and maybe his life, would have been very different. Likely he was a serious sufferer of WW1 PTSD, unrecognized and untreated, and maybe Ouida was at least able to understand his issues and support him in dark hours. We may never know, but we all know of weird and unexplainable relationships.
    Love this site–this man fascinates me, though he never got to perform in the best movies. Thanks for all your research.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Brown says

    It’s just sad that a family broke up over something so trivial. His son and son’s family paid a high price for the son’s parents’ major egos.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carolyn says

    Sounds like once she got the bit in her teeth, there was no stopping Ouida—she must have been overwhelmingly controlling. Yuk.

    Liked by 1 person

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