All posts filed under: general biography

Rathbone: Handsome Villain

On June 2, 1940, the Milwaukee Journal published an article by Edith Dietz called “Handsome Villain: The Story of an Actor Who Resents Hollywood’s Assembly Line.” Dietz wrote: Basil Rathbone’s sinister looks are confined to the screen. In reality he is handsome in a tanned, sultry way, his face lighted by brilliant hazel eyes and a warm, glowing smile. He is tall, broad shouldered, of an athletic build, but he likes to slouch and relax. He wears his gray and brown sports clothes easily, smartly, effortlessly. At the moment he is enraptured with “Rebecca.” “Perhaps I’m prejudiced,” he admitted, sheepishly. “You see, Daphne du Maurier, who wrote the novel, flattered my vanity when she was a young girl of 14. I was appearing with her father, Gerald du Maurier, in her grandfather’s play, ‘Peter Ibbetson.’ She adored everything her grandfather had written and I was for the run of the play, at least, her hero. She was a lovely young girl and I was just at the age when a bit of worship did me …

Secrets of a Hollywood Hostess

Readers of this blog seem to enjoy reading about Basil’s second wife Ouida, so I am sharing here an article published in Silver Screen, August 1939. The author of the article, Leon Surmelian, seems to have been smitten or besotted by Ouida. His description of her oozes with admiration. I hope you enjoy reading these “Secrets of a Hollywood Hostess”: It is generally admitted that the No. 1 Hollywood hostess is Mrs. Basil Rathbone. This brilliant wife of a brilliant actor has a genius for spectacular and original parties. Whether it’s a formal dinner-dance, a wedding or a garden fete, a party by her is well nigh a work of art by the sheer beauty of its conception and setting. She was a writer on the Paramount scenario staff for seven years and has worked in New York as a scenic designer and interior decorator, and her flair for the dramatic has stood her in good stead as a hostess. She is a little titian-haired woman with high cheekbones, and is vital, electric and straightforward, …

Basil Rathbone: Treasure Hunter

I stumbled upon a bit of intriguing information. The February 5, 1930 issue of Variety reports: “Basil Rathbone is an Englishman, a companion of the Prince of Wales when treasure hunts engaged the younger set of London. He stays in London during the season, crossing to France with his set at the socially correct time, not a day too soon, not a day too late.” Treasure hunts in London? What is the season for treasure hunting? What is the socially correct time to cross to France? Who was the Prince of Wales? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. In 1930, the Prince of Wales was Edward, the eldest son of King George V. Edward had a reputation as a celebrity playboy and for having affairs with married women. He was two years younger than Basil. We’ve all heard about this Edward. He became king of England in 1936. Later that same year, he abdicated the throne to his younger brother Albert in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced woman. Albert, the …

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! … …

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 …

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 …