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Sullivan on Rathbone

I am old enough to remember a television variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan, who typically announced, “We’ve got a really big shew tonight!” Many of his shows were really big — The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show February 9, 1964. Prior to becoming a television show host, Ed Sullivan was a reporter and syndicated columnist for The New York Daily News and The Chicago Tribune. And in 1938 he wrote a lovely article about Basil Rathbone, which I share with you here. Cad No Longer, Rathbone Gets Sympathetic Role by Ed Sullivan Basil Rathbone, as a result of his intelligent, purposeful, and talented portrayal in “If I Were King,” has won a pardon from the rogues’ gallery of Hollywood. Hollywood’s rogues’ gallery is that sinister collection of villains and menaces who go from one reel to another spreading ruin and chaos, upsetting the marriage plans of heroine and hero and in general behaving caddishly. Mr. Rathbone has been a rogue ever since he came west of the Rockies to emote for the cinema. …

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 …

The Show Goes On

Tomorrow is Basil Rathbone’s birthday, so of course I’ve been thinking about him. I came across an amusing article telling about how Basil Rathbone was being mistaken for other celebrities while he was vacationing in New York City in 1938. Here is a link to the article: TheShowGoesOn_Hollywood_Dec1938 One of the celebrities he was mistaken for was Philip Merrivale. Basil was understandably baffled. He didn’t think he looked anything like Philip. Neither do I! Another celebrity doppelganger was Ian Keith. What were the people thinking? Basil and Ian look nothing alike! The confusion continues today. A photo recently found on eBay was identified as Basil Rathbone. I don’t know who the man is, but he is not Basil: And this photo of another actor who actually did resemble Basil was discussed earlier on this blog (see the post  https://thegreatbaz.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/sunday-pic-16/ ): Here, of course, is the real deal: I’ll end this post with this lovely description of Basil (from the article mentioned above): “Quite effortlessly, quite unself-consciously, he gives an impression of great sophistication and great …

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 …

Basil Films That Never Were

My previous post, Films Rathbone Almost Made, explores films that studios either produced or at least planned to produce. This post concerns five films which existed only in the mind of one Russell Ferguson, who wrote an article called “Bruce at Bombcutta.” This article was published in the October 1938 edition of World Film News. Ferguson imagined five historical epics that were never made, each one a colossal production. In each one Basil Rathbone plays the villain and dies at the end! Plymouth Hoe Bannockburn The Black Hole of Calcutta The Relief of Lucknow The Fall of Rome Plymouth Hoe Criticism: A magnificent spectacle: should do well in the suburbs and provinces. The story: Queen Elizabeth (Edna May Oliver) is in love with Francis Drake (Gary Cooper) who prefers her maid of honour (Olivia de Havilland). She is a very proud queen, so the young people have to keep their love a secret. But the Earl of Leicester (Basil Rathbone) has ambitions to marry the Queen, and tells her of Gary’s love for Olivia. The Queen banishes …

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 …

Was Basil Rathbone a Diva?

Sometime in 2015 a handwritten letter from Basil Rathbone to Sam Goldwyn was offered on eBay. I didn’t have the money to bid on it, but I saved the pictures of the letter from the auction listing. This letter is fascinating for what it reveals about Basil. Here’s the text of the letter and the pictures: Grand Hotel Dunapalota Budapest Dec. 2, 1936 Dear Sam, I would not for the world have you misunderstand why I have not signed the contract with you. There is so much to talk about, which even in a letter cannot be fully covered & I want to talk to you before doing anything as drastic as signing a 4 year contract. To you Sam, it is just another contract along with other artists engaged to you. To me it is the one & only contract & it has so many “ifs” to it. I have been very happy freelancing & to me freedom is almost irreplaceable. Five years ago I was under contract to MGM & I was miserable. …

Basil’s Citrine Ring

Hat tip to a fan named Rani, who told me about a recent episode of Antiques Roadshow on PBS. On this episode, which aired June 27, 2016, Berj Zavian (from Cluster Jewelry in New York) appraised a ring with yellow diamonds, rubies, and a large citrine. According to the owner of the ring (who didn’t even know who Basil was!) Basil Rathbone gave the ring to his wife Ouida . Watch a 30-second clip from the show: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365784160/ http://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365784160 I tried to embed the video clip on this page, but it’s not working. Sorry! Here’s a transcript of the video clip: APPRAISER: Did you know Basil Rathbone? GUEST: Uh, no, I did not. APPRAISER: Well, he was Sherlock Holmes in the old B movies, and he was quite a prolific collector of good jewelry. GUEST: Really? APPRAISER: This is yellow diamonds with rubies and a citrine. Who did he give it to? GUEST: Uh, his wife, Ouida Bergere. APPRAISER: That’s the ring that she was wearing. It’s roughly 1945. A ring like this could easily bring from …