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The Violent Deaths of Basil Rathbone

Yes, you read that right — “deaths.” I’m not writing about the actual death of Basil Rathbone, but rather the many deaths of his characters on film and on the stage. On film, Basil met a violent death 23 times! He was run through by a sword in five films and fatally shot by a gun in six films. His deaths in the other twelve films occurred as a result of poison, stabbing, suffocating, falling, and a few other unfortunate incidents. We will take a closer look at these below. Here is the final duel in Captain Blood (1935), in which Errol Flynn skewers Levasseur (Rathbone): Errol Flynn also dispatched Rathbone (as Sir Guy of Gisbourne) in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): In the 1935 film Romeo and Juliet, Rathbone played Tybalt, one of Juliet’s relatives. After Tybalt killed Mercutio in a duel, Romeo (Leslie Howard) challenged Tybalt to a duel and killed him: And then there is that wonderful duel in The Mark of Zorro (1940), where foppish Don Diego (Tyrone Power) reveals …

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Rathbone fans! I apologize for not having an exciting new blog post ready to start the new year. Rest assured that I am on the lookout for interesting items about Basil Rathbone to post on this blog. I appreciate your patience. What kinds of posts would you like to see? Please use the Comments section below to share your thoughts about future posts. I also welcome guest posts! If there’s some aspect of Basil Rathbone’s life that you’d like to explore, please do! Contact me about posting it on The Baz: gisbourne@basilrathbone.net.  

A Subsidized Theater

I found an interesting article in the September 9, 1936 edition of The Era. Written by Margery Rowland, it’s called “The Salvation of the Stage,” and features lengthy quotes from our favorite actor, Basil Rathbone. She writes that Rathbone displays enthusiasm and love for the theater. Here, then, are Rathbone’s comments on the subject of a subsidized theater: There are two ways in which the theatre can be saved. By “saved” I don’t mean financially prosperous. I mean reestablished as a rich and fine art that has almost the prestige and significance of a religion. And one of the ways is the return of the patron. The theatre isn’t a broad popular entertainment on the people’s own level. It shouldn’t be—it won’t be in the future. We’re moving forward to the time when it will take its place side by side with the arts of music and painting at their highest. It is not becoming more popular. It is becoming more select, more exclusive. It won’t be of and among the general public. It will …

Basil’s Photo Album

Many years ago, someone offered a photo album for sale on the auction site eBay. It was Basil Rathbone’s personal photo album, full of photos that he had taken. I wanted it badly, but the price was too steep for me. All I could do was download the images that accompanied the listing. Unfortunately, the images — snapshots of album pages — are not very large, and the individual photos are unclear. Nevertheless, I am sharing the images with you in this post. Maybe the person who bought the photo album will see this post, take pity on us, and send better images of the album photos! In this first image, we see seven (7) photos. (Click on the thumbnail below to see the largest version I have. The larger photo will open in a new window.) The photo at the top is labeled “Lands Cricket Ground.” “Lands” isn’t clear, but I think that’s what it says. But where is this cricket ground? This photo appears to be three separate snapshots carefully arranged in the …

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, …

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!