I have finished reading The Curse of Sherlock Holmes: The Basil Rathbone Story, written by David Clayton, and — Wow! What a wonderful biography of the Great Baz! Well-written and well-researched, this book is a “must-have” in every Rathbone fan’s collection.
Clayton’s book is a engrossing narrative that follows Basil Rathbone from his birthplace in South Africa, to England, to New York City, and Hollywood.
Clayton provides the full sweep of Basil Rathbone’s life chronologically, covering his professional career as well as personal relationships.
From the Prologue:
“Intrigue, drama, tragedy, mystery, romance and a sprinkling of the macabre: Rathbone was many things to many people. … War hero, son, brother, actor, husband, father, lover … Basil Rathbone was all of these and more, yet the role he would eventually become synonymous with would also become his nemesis.”
Does the book reveal anything new? Maybe not to the faithful followers of this blog. We already know so much about Basil. But the general public will discover much about the life of an extraordinary man.
Does the book reveal the identity of Madame X? No, but it does present a complete and compelling picture of Basil Rathbone.
Nothing in the book surprised me, but affirmed what I knew and felt about my favorite actor. I was reading stories that I knew, but the stories contained details that I didn’t know or didn’t remember. These fascinating details made the biography interesting to read even though I already know the story of Basil Rathbone’s life.
In addition to relating the events of Rathbone’s life, Clayton also quotes from interviews with Rathbone, which reveal what Basil was thinking and feeling at the time.
What about the title? Sherlock Holmes was the role that made Basil Rathbone famous. How was that a curse? David Clayton explains how Rathbone, because of his magnificent performance as Sherlock Holmes, became so identified with the detective that casting directors couldn’t see Rathbone as an actor who could play other roles. Rathbone was frustrated that no one seemed to care about his history as a Shakespearean actor. He knew he was capable of so much more!
Clayton writes, “The problem was Rathbone was instantly recognisable — he looked in real life exactly as he did in the Holmes movies. Unless he went out in disguise or avoided public places, he was stuck with Sherlock Holmes for life. Yes, it had given him great wealth and made him even more famous around the world, but he took no comfort from it. … At 54, he was still in his prime and desperate to explore new avenues.” (p. 151)
A great reading experience, The Curse of Sherlock Holmes captures who Basil Rathbone was. This insightful portrait will not disappoint!
The hardback book is available now in the UK; it will be released in the USA in November. And it is available now on Kindle in both the UK and USA!
Book (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elementary-Life-Basil-Rathbone/dp/0752494465/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1597889153&sr=8-1
Kindle (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elementary-Basil-Rathbone-David-Clayton-ebook/dp/B00Z4ME7MG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1597889153&sr=8-1
Kindle (USA): https://www.amazon.com/Curse-Sherlock-Holmes-Basil-Rathbone-ebook/dp/B08DG6PJ7Z/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=B08DG6PJ7Z&qid=1597888852&sr=8-1
I know that you do not understand Russian, and I do not really understand English, but I still want to get acquainted. I have a humorous ship account about various screen versions of Sherlock on Instagram, in Russian – https://www.instagram.com/sherlokiada/ and in English – https://www.instagram.com/sherlockiada/ (but there are only clips) – I also have a YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYNf3dW1wqeojyko1ZDlvrw/videos?view_as=subscriber. In 2018, I read the whole story of Madame X here and she impressed me so much that I came up with fanfiction. Fanfiction about how Nigel and Basil love each other all their lives, but with elements of a real biography, letters, quotes from Rathbone, featuring Madame X, Ouida, Cynthia, Bunny and others. A fanfiction in which Bez overcomes suicidal behavior and learns to love himself. Now half is ready – 6 chapters out of 12, and I go to this site for inspiration.
One thought I had as I read it–the chapter on Madame X and the excerpt from Nigel Bruce’s unpublished autobiography (why on earth hasn’t it been published!!)–the quote gives me the impression, unless taking it out of context, that Nigel may have felt that Baz was being exploited by Madame X. All this love at first sight stuff here and there in the book. He certainly didn’t seem to look too deeply into the women who interested him–take Ouida for instance!! Anyone have the same thought?
Here’s a new BR comment from the 9/7/20 New Yorker, pg. 81, in Anthony Lane’s review of new movie “The Personal History of David Copperfield.” (“Mad About the Boy” is Lane’s title; aren’t we all, B.R. anyway.) Skipped along to see if he would mention B.R., as Lane described the various adaptations. Finally he mentions a recurring fantasy where he imagines Dickens’ mystified and then delighted observance of various film adaptations of his novels, Lane finishing with “the matchless Murdstone of Basil Rathbone, in ‘David Copperfield’ (1935), whose hatchet face all but cleaves the screen as he prepares to thrash David like a dog. Dickens, an incurable actor, would no doubt thrill to the troupe of players who throng that splendid film….”
Here’s another mention of B.R. that may be a bit farfetched, but surely is him. The excellent P.G. Wodehouse, no less, seems to be referring to him in “The Rise of Minna Nordstrom,” reprinted in “The Weekend Wodehouse,” 1940; story undated but the copyrights for the various stories included run from 1916 -1939, and this story concerns moviemaking in the early days and a publicity stunt involving a man in a gorilla suit, a girl finding surprising leverage to become a star, plus several studio heads desperately trying to find illegal liquor for a prohibition-era party.
So the cops show up just as the they find the liquor supply. Tipped off by the girl. And it seems the patrolmen still smarted from having auditioned for and been rejected by a studio.
“Me,” said the second patrolman, eyeing Mr. Schnellenhamer [studio head] sourly, “they had the nerve to beef at my left profile. Lookut, boys,” he said, turning, “can you see anything wrong with that profile?”
His companions studied him closely. The sergeant raised a hand and peered between his fingers with his head tilted back and his eyes half closed.
“Not a thing,” he said.
“Why, Basil, it’s a lovely profile,” said the first patrolman.
(Half a page follows of complaints from the patrolmen about being told by the studio that they didn’t have sex appeal or “the voice ain’t right.”)
“I wouldn’t work for the Colossal-Exquisite now,” said the second patrolman with a petulant twitch of his shoulder, “not if they wanted me to play Romeo opposite Jean Harlow.”
Hope you enjoyed. Wodehouse is always a delight.
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It was a good read, I read it in one go in six and a half hours! There isn’t really anything particularly new in it, except for a few statements from some of Rodion Rathbone’s descendants which say fairly predictable things. There are some good photographs I hadn’t seen before though. A nice dedication to Marcia too!
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The dedication was a nice surprise!
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I didn’t realize there was a decent bio out — I’ll have to read it. 🙂
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