Author: marciajessen

New Book: The Curse of Sherlock Holmes

At last we Rathbone fans have a new book about our hero to read! David Clayton’s book The Curse of Sherlock Holmes: The Basil Rathbone Story has just been released in the U.K., and is scheduled to be released in the U.S.A. through Trafalgar/IPG Book distributors November 2020.  I haven’t seen the book yet (my copy is on its way), but I’ll post an update after I’ve read the book. Here is the press release: The first definitive biography of Basil Rathbone, from the trenches of WWI to Hollywood fame New biography The Curse of Sherlock Holmes is the first complete account of one of Britain’s most loved actors. Though Basil Rathbone had a long and distinguished acting career, it was as Sherlock Holmes that he achieved worldwide fame. Appearing in fourteen Holmes films, Rathbone made the role his own, and every actor who has since played the ingenious detective has been compared to him — almost always failing to live up to Rathbone’s legacy. He continued his career in Hollywood, appearing in numerous roles, …

A Soldier Recalls Serving with Rathbone

On July 21, 1967, the great Basil Rathbone died. When a man named William Roberts learned of Rathbone’s death, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Liverpool Echo. It was published in the July 24 edition of the newspaper. Mr. Roberts wrote: To the Editor of the Echo Sir, —I had some little association with the late Basil Rathbone when he served with the Liverpool Scottish in the first world war. At that time I was the N.C.O. in charge of the 55 division theatre—then called “The Roses Theatre Co”—and for some little time he was attached to that unit. His charm of manner and unfailing cheerful disposition made it a pleasure to have him in our little band of barn-stormers. As a Shakespearean actor he was a delight to see and listen to and at all times. His audience of weary mud-stained troops, were assured of a finished performance. He was a great actor and his passing has robbed the stage and screen of one of its greatest stalwarts and as one …

Rathbone’s Flower Bill

I came across an interesting news item that was printed in the July 10, 1933 edition of the Liverpool Echo. Apparently, Basil Rathbone ordered a lot of flowers for someone and neglected to pay for them! It reads: BASIL RATHBONE TO PAY £5 A MONTH A judgment summons by Moyses Stevens, Ltd., florists, Victoria-street, London, against Basil Rathbone, the actor, was heard in the Chancery Division, today. It was stated for the creditors that the debt was £77 19s 9d in respect of flowers supplied between September and January last. The debtor, it was added, earned a minimum of £20 a week. Basil Rathbone, in the witness-box, offered to pay £1 a month, and told the judge he was paying his first wife £700 a year alimony, free of income tax. He had no contract at present. His last film was “Loyalties,” made in March and April, and for his part in which he received £450. Mr. Justice Luxmoore made an order for £5 a month, the first payment to be made on August 1, …

A 1914 Letter from Basil Rathbone

While doing some research on Basil Rathbone I came across this gem that was published in The Liverpool Daily Post on April 8, 1914. It’s a detailed letter written by Basil to his father. When he wrote the letter, Basil was in El Paso, Texas, touring North America with Frank Benson’s Shakespeare Company. Basil was 21 years old and unmarried. What a wonderful snapshot of this moment in Basil Rathbone’s life! Just two years later, he would be in the army, fighting in the First World War. The portion of the letter that was published begins just below this map showing the locations of El Paso and Juarez, which are mentioned in the letter. Never in my life have I spent such days of wonder! These last three days in El Paso have been, in certain ways, the most wonderful in my life. I think the sight that struck me most in San Antonio was that of all these fine broad-chested, tanned-faced, healthy, strong Mexicans, working all over the town in their particularly picturesque blue …

Molnar’s play “The Swan”

In 1923 Basil Rathbone starred with Eva LeGallienne in the hit play The Swan. Basil played Dr. Nicholas Agi and Eva played Princess Alexandra. You can read the entire play if you’d like to; it can be found on archive.org. But I decided to present an abridged version here, in case you want to know what the play is about, but you don’t want to read the entire play. You can download the entire play here: https://archive.org/details/fashionsformena00glazgoog/page/n168/mode/2up (The book on archive.org contains two plays by Molnar. The Swan begins on page 169.) The Swan (Abridged version) A Romantic Comedy in Three Acts by Ferenc Molnar (translated by Melville Baker) Main Characters: Princess Beatrice Symphorosa, her sister Hyacinth, her brother Alexandra, her daughter George, her son Arsene, another son Dr. Nicholas Agi Prince Albert Princess Maria Dominica Count Luetzen Colonel Wunderlich ACT I The story starts on a summer morning in a pavilion in the garden of the Princess Beatrice’s castle. The pavilion serves as a classroom for the young princes. George and Arsene. Dr. Agi …

Short Films and Documentaries

Basil Rathbone made a number of feature-length films — 81, if we include Crazy House, in which Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce had a 15-second cameo appearance. You can see that here: But what do we know about Rathbone’s short films and documentaries? He made quite of few of those also. Rathbone earliest appearance in a short film (as far as I know) was also a brief cameo. Screen Snapshots #9 (1936) makes a camera tour of the grandstands at the Santa Anita race track during a special running. Those on view include Joe E. Brown, Arthur Treacher, Basil Rathbone, Ann Sothern, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Tom Mix, Donald Wood, Douglas Fairbanks and Jack Oakie.  (10 min.) Screen Snapshots was a series of short films (usually about 10 minutes long) produced by Ralph Staub (Columbia Pictures) between 1930 and 1958. Like newsreels and cartoons, they were shown in theaters before the main feature. Rathbone appeared in several of these Screen Snapshots, including: Screen Snapshots, series 18, #10 (1939). This short film shows about …

Bad Men and Good Acting

In the 1930s Basil Rathbone played a series of villain roles so well that he was in danger of forever being typecast as a villain, and never being offered other roles. Film historian William K. Everson has called Rathbone “the best all-around villain the movies ever had.” In 1938 Bosley Crowther of the New York Times interviewed Basil Rathbone and asked him about playing villains. Rathbone admitted that villainy does not come to him naturally; it has been thrust upon him. He does not relish a reputation for villainy, but neither would he choose a bed of saccharine heroics. He continued: “The only thing for which I have affection is acting. I want to play people who think—characters in whom there is some conflict. And, beyond that, I don’t care whether they classify as hero or villain. The only thing I dread is being typed. Oh, yes—I know that the motion picture business has been built on type casting. And, in one way, you can’t blame the producers for working an actor or actress over …

Basil Rathbone: Union Man!

Throughout his career, Basil Rathbone was active in the Actor’s Equity Association, the union that represents the interests of stage actors. The Actor’s Equity Association is governed by its own members through an elected Council. In 1948 Rathbone was elected Vice President of the association’s Council. The following year he was elected to serve as recording secretary. Today’s post, however, concerns an exchange of letters between actor Frederick Kerr and Basil Rathbone in 1922. At the time, both actors were appearing on the Broadway stage in The Czarina: Kerr as the Chancellor and Rathbone as Count Alexei Czerny. The letters were published in the New York Times. Mr. Kerr’s letter appears first: I wonder if the opinion of an old actor, who in the course of his long career has been everything from a utility man at Wallack’s Theatre to manager of London theatres, and who is now chiefly occupied in playing elderly statesman, would have any weight in regard to the perpetual quarrel which is going on between actors and managers both in England …

What the Fans Think of Basil

As popular as Basil was, I’m sure he received an enormous number of fan letters. The following letters are just a few of those that were published in fan magazines: BASIL NO BAD MAN It seems to me Hollywood is making a mistake in continually casting Basil Rathbone as a screen menace. The fact that he is such a good actor is certainly no reason for typing him. Although he has played every role from Pilate to a modern butler, his characters have all been black-souled scoundrels. On the stage he played Romeo and Robert Browning, but when he went to Hollywood he was cast as the stony-hearted Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield. And then, when Romeo and Juliet was filmed, was Mr. Rathbone cast in the role he so well portrayed on the stage? No indeed! He was cast as Tybalt, the villain of course. Since Mr. Rathbone is really so attractive looking, and has such a charming manner and engaging voice, it is a shame that he isn’t given a role worthy of …

Birthday Cake for Basil

One loyal follower of The Baz got very creative and baked a birthday cake in memory of Basil Rathbone—and his dogs! As Rockhyraxx described it, “The cake is frosted in vanilla buttercream and in the left corner there are from left to right Judy, Moritza, Toni, Bunty, Cullum, Leo (who turned out way to dark) and Happy made out of fondant and in upper right corner there is a gramophone and a lot of notes flying around to symbolise music.” And here are the photos of this special creation: This looks delicious! Basil would be pleased with this cake! Thanks for sharing the photos!