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A Profile of Basil and Ouida in 1938

Today I’m sharing an article that I found in the March 21, 1938 edition of The Daily Mirror.


by Molly Castle

If I want to find the Basil Rathbones home around tea time (and tea at any time is enough of a rarity in Hollywood to be worth going after), I always choose a Monday.

Because on Monday there is no racing at Santa Anita. And at the races is just where I would look for Basil and Ouida Rathbone as many days a week as work doesn’t interfere.

The Rathbones are quite unusual in Hollywood, where they do say it is the custom to change your wife as often as you change your clothes. When they arrive at a party you will hear the natives exclaim, “Here comes Basil Rathbone with that same wife.”

They’ve been married twelve years, and to hear Basil talk you’d think he’d only met her a week ago and was still surprised to find anyone so exceptional.

“Ouida could be a success at anything she set out to do,” he boasts. And in her day she has set out on quite a number of expeditions successfully.

She used to write, produce and act in silent pictures under the name of Ouida Bergere. She can design a house with any architect. And has, in fact done so. It is Georgian in theory, modern Californian in practice, and they, the Rathbones, have already bought a piece of oak-spattered parkland on which to build.

Interior decorators melt back into the scenery when they note what she has done to her house.

Furthermore—and this is a matter for great admiration in Hollywood as well as points east—she can always pick the winners at the races.

As to the decoration—what she has done to the house they have rented will probably surprise the owner. But the surprise will be pleasant.

Basil, Ouida, and Rodion. Note the mirror framing the fireplace mantel.

She has painted the red tile floor Dutch blue, creating a shot effect. She has framed the mantel in deep blue mirror, put other mirrors above the French windows, hung the curtains almost from the ceiling to give height to the sitting room. There is also a dashing screen of her design.

I wondered—but was too polite to ask—whether Mrs. R. had arranged the great vases of flowers herself.

It seemed to me that no one but a “little man,” charging so much per week per vase, could have caused such an improbably, impersonal perfection.

Right now she is chalking up a new mark to her credit; it was she who put Stokowski on to the lovers’ paradise, where he may—if rumours prove correct—be honeymooning with Greta Garbo.

Ravello, Italy

“It is a heavenly place,” is how she described it. “There’s an ancient villa built on a mountain top overlooking Amalfi Bay. In the morning you can see the fishermen setting out on their day’s cruse. You can see the Isle of Capri in the distance. At night you can sit on the terrace and see the glow of Vesuvius in the sky.

“Ravello, when I was there in 1924, was completely away from the world. It was ten miles beyond Amalfi and you couldn’t reach it in a car. You had to walk up a long flight of steps to reach the village, or be carried up in a little chair.

“The village was a few peasants’ homes, a tiny inn and a church. Up beyond it, on the crest of the hill overlooking the sea, was the villa.

“The villa isn’t very large, but it is a charming old place with the loveliest garden you ever saw. And the flowers grow right down the hillside to a sea so blue and clear that you can see coral growing at the bottom.”

If you are expecting to see your former favourite matinee idol back on the London stage, give up the idea.

Rathbone on The Circle, 1939

Basil intends to make movies and radio his career. He’s not under contract to any studio, preferring to free lance and have a say-so in the parts he plays. Has never regretted this except when the part of the Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, for which he’d been tested, was handed out to Eddie Robinson. Not because Eddie was the type. He wasn’t, as Warner Brothers frankly admitted. But—he was on the pay roll and there was no other picture on the schedule which would suit him.

Of all work, Basil prefers radio where, if you can’t exactly see yourself as others see you, you can be yourself as you want to be and not as the producer and the director and the cameraman and the sound engineer and the cutter would have you appear.

But movies are all right up to a point if you are choosy about your parts, he says.

*  *  *
(end of article)

The Bel Air home, supposedly designed by Ouida

What? She’s an architect? This is the first I’ve heard of that! The writer is claiming that Ouida designed the house that the Rathbones built in Bel Air. I wonder if it’s true.

“She can always pick the winners at the races.” Hahahahahaha! Right. That’s why she ended up broke.

The statement that “Of all work, Basil prefers radio” is interesting. Elsewhere, Rathbone has said that he loved acting on stage more than acting in motion pictures or on television. He was quoted in The New York Times (January 23, 1932) as saying, “I like the legitimate theatre much more than the movies and believe it offers the intelligent actor a far superior opportunity both financially and as a medium for his art.” And when fans asked about Sherlock Holmes, Rathbone opined, “I’ve played 52 Shakespearean roles and all people remember is Sherlock Holmes.” That was later, of course. Perhaps, in 1938 he did prefer doing radio.  

1 Comment

  1. ticobasiljd says

    Thanks so much for finding and giving us this fluffy little article!! The whole business of studio-supported writers and magazines is apparent here. Ouida an interior decorator?? In a word, ICK. Rodion and his wife hated what she did to their house.
    Just read some of my past posts (what a dirt-digger am I) and I really should dig up some more stuff, now that all my clippings are in envelopes by subject. Mebbe a winter project. Yeah, Ouida picking the winners at Santa Anita?? No way!!! The whole premise of this very sorry way of using these magnificent horses is their pure (hopefully legal and humane, yeah, right….) unpredictability.

    Liked by 1 person

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