All posts filed under: BIOGRAPHY

A Year in the Life of Basil Rathbone — 1930

1930 was a busy year for Basil Rathbone. Let’s take a closer look at where he was and what he was doing. Where did he live? What was he doing? What did he earn? Rathbone spent most of the 1920s performing in plays, and when he wasn’t touring with a play, he lived in New York City. In 1929 MGM signed Rathbone to make The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. His performance was so good that MGM offered Rathbone a contract to make more pictures. In his autobiography, Rathbone wrote: The original contract that my agent had presented to me Ouida had torn up, and herself had visited MGM’s top representative in New York, Mr. Robert Rubin. Before she had finished with him he had doubled my weekly salary! … Ouida had a very strong argument. She didn’t want to go to Hollywood–she could hardly be said to have been in love with her previous experiences out on the coast, and she threatened not to go with me if I accepted the contract as offered! … …

Writer and Wife

Today I want to share an article written about Ouida Bergere about a year before she met Basil Rathbone, in 1922. She was married to George Fitzmaurice at that time. Barrett C. Kiesling wrote the article below, which was printed in the St. Petersburg Times, October 22, 1922. Writer and Wife A few years ago a clever woman writer and a rising motion picture director were finding their professional cooperation so complete and perfect–that they decided to make it permanent. Since their marriage the joining of two talents has proven extraordinarily successful, carrying them both to a point among the real leaders of their professions. Such couple then, are Mr. and Mrs. George Fitzmaurice (Ouida Bergere) responsible, respectively for the direction and scenario of George Fitzmaurce productions for Paramount. But here, this is a story primarily about Mrs. Fitzmaurice, a woman who has given the lie to the old tradition that artists should never mate. “For seven years Mr. Fitzmaurice and I have been working together,” says Miss Bergere, as she is professionally known. “And it …

Remembering Basil Rathbone

July 21 is of course the anniversary of Basil Rathbone’s death 50 years ago. On July 22, 1967, the New York Times announced, “Basil Rathbone, the suave Shakespearean actor who won motion-picture fame in the early nineteen-forties as the detective Sherlock Holmes–and regretted the identification the rest of his life–died of a heart attack yesterday. The tall, impeccably mannered actor, who was 75 years old, was found dead on the floor of his study at his home, 135 Central Park West by his daughter, Cynthia. She said her father had suffered a heart seizure several years ago, but had appeared to be in good health.” Here’s the New York Times article about the funeral service, published July 26, 1967: RATHBONE RITES ATTENDED BY 350 Cornelia Otis Skinner Reads Actor’s Favorite Poems About 350 people attended a funeral service for Basil Rathbone, the actor, yesterday morning at St. James’ Episcopal Church, 865 Madison Avenue. The Rev. Dr. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, the rector, in a prayer spoke of Mr. Rathbone’s “singular gifts of person and personality; verve …

Spring Cleaning

In March 1940 Hollywood magazine did an article about spring cleaning at the Rathbone house (“How to Do Spring-Cleaning,” pp. 26-27, 44-45). Kay Proctor, the author of the article, paid a visit to Basil Rathbone, whom she described as “one of my favorite people.” She added, “and I like his tea and toasted crumpets.” It’s an amusing article, and perhaps it will inspire you to do some spring cleaning, too! In a merry frame of mind I whanged the iron knocker of his home which sits on a hill overlooking the sixth hole of a swank golf club. Something lean and tall opened the door. I knew at once it wasn’t the butler (I catch on quick that way!) because it wore a white cap which said “Simpson’s Paints Are Better Paints” in red letters on the visor. Moreover, it was wearing a striped English four-in-hand, the latest style Mexican huraches, a pale tan shirt, and white denim overalls which hit its legs amidship knee and ankle. A harassed look around the eyes and a …

Rathbone the Poet

When I was in Boston a few years ago, I visited the Howard Gottlieb Archive Center at Boston University. It houses a collection of Basil Rathbone papers. To my great delight, I discovered some poetry written by Basil Rathbone. Did you know he was a poet? Here is one of Rathbone’s poems: I looked at myself in the mirror, and my life passed by like a sliver of light through a closing door, that would open again, once more … once more and then … no more! I had known the face for many a year, the face of the man who was standing there, and he looked at me with eyes that said, “You will soon be dead … you will soon be dead”! “The sooner the better,” I grimly replied, “If I look like you with your egg-shaped head I would sooner be dead”! Then he smiled at me from the mirror’s surface and I seemed to sense his evil purpose. So I smashed the mirror in many pieces Hoping thereby to prolongue …

Remembering Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson was a world-famous African-American contralto who performed in concerts between 1925 and 1965. One of her fans was Basil Rathbone. Twice in 1939, she appeared with him on the radio show The Circle (February 14 and March 12). In spite of her fame, Anderson had to deal with prejudice and discrimination as she toured the USA. She was often refused service in hotels and restaurants because she was African American. One such example of discrimination occurred in 1939, when Marian Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, tried to arrange a concert for her at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. The owners of the hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), refused permission for Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall because they had a policy of allowing only white performers. In response to this act of discrimination by the DAR, Basil Rathbone sent a telegram to Sol Hurok. It reads: “As a resident alien I have no voice but as an artist I keenly protest the discrimination shown against Miss Marion Anderson one of the …

Party with the Rathbones!

This is the season of Christmas parties and, of course, New Year’s Eve parties. Thinking about parties reminds me of the Hollywood parties hosted by Ouida and Basil Rathbone. Ouida was in fact known as “The Hostess of Hollywood.” Here’s a magazine article about one such party that took place in April 1930: Starry Masquerade by Grace Kingsley Read about the Party that Had all Hollywood Talking! “I’ll just bet that man over there, dressed as an army cadet, is Irving Thalberg!” exclaimed Patsy the Party Hound in an inspired tone. “But who can the other one, dressed the same way, be? It just can’t be Norma Shearer!” But it was! Billy Haines, that terror of social functions in Hollywood, went over and pinched Irving on the arm, and said, “Oh, excuse me! I thought it was Norma!” Then Norma laughed an embarrassed and astonished little laugh, and we knew her. “But isn’t it just too gorgeous!” exclaimed Patsy, catching her breath at the beauty of it as we looked around. Basil Rathbone and his …

The Horror of War

November 11 is Veterans Day in the USA and Armistice Day in the United Kingdom. It’s an appropriate time to look again at Rathbone’s military service. The most terrifying experience Basil Rathbone lived through was The Great War, now known as World War I. He served his country in the 2/10 Liverpool Scottish battalion and was awarded a Military Cross for bravery. Rathbone downplayed his heroic actions, though, and would have preferred to stay out of the war. He wished that there would be no war. In late 1939 (with World War II soon approaching), a journalist from Modern Screen magazine interviewed Basil Rathbone for an article called “Horror Men Talk about Horror” (published in the January 1940 issue). Here is an excerpt from that article: I began with Basil Rathbone. I said, “What constitutes real horror to you?” “War!” screamed Rathbone, instantly. And I mean he screamed the word at me, horribly, so that its echoes hung around the room we sat in. “Going into an attack, paralyzed with fear, knowing that if we had …

Basil’s Best Friend

August 26 is National Dog Day! Basil Rathbone would have loved that, as he was a dog lover. His favorite dog was a black German Shepherd named Moritz. Basil devoted several pages in his autobiography to this beloved dog. He also wrote an article about Moritz, which was published in the December 1936 issue of Hollywood magazine. I’m reprinting this loving tribute here, for your reading pleasure. He Was My Friend by Basil Rathbone This is a tribute to the memory of Moritz von Niklotsburg, who was a gentleman. He was graceful, loyal and an individualist. Today he must be enjoying the progress he has earned in the great scheme of things as they are, and have been, and always will be. For what wrongs he committed, he suffered. For what good he did, he was rewarded. He lived and died with his great pride intact. And for the time he was with us, he gave us such devotion that his passing left a streak of bleakness across our days. Moritz was my very dear …