As of 2013, forty-six years after his death, there has yet to be a definitive study published of Rathbone’s life. Given his prominence as an iconic Sherlock Holmes and perhaps the most memorable swashbuckling villain if all time, this is hard to explain, and we are trying our best to help rectify it. If you are a fan of Rathbone’s then read about the Biography Project and consider giving it your support.
The good news is that since this blog began in June 2012 no less than three separate authors have contacted me expressing an interest in writing such a study. I’ll keep you updated about developments.
In the meantime, here’s a list of currently available resources.
The best online resource for all aspects of Rathbone’s life and work is BASILRATHBONE.NET.There you’ll find a complete listing of his work on stage, screen, radio and TV; reviews and plot summaries of many of these appearances; a brief biography and much much more.
And of course we also have a growing focus on Rathbone’s biography.
As to other sources, weeelll, caveat lector.Wikipedia’s Rathbone page is, as so often with Wiki, of only passing and limited value. That page seems to have been the source of a claim that Rathbone was knighted (he wasn’t), which was all over the web last year. There might be some new nonsense up there by now, so visit at you peril.
His IMDB bio is ok, but neither very detailed nor free from error. He’s described as “British Army fencing champion”, which I think is just one of those internet fancies that get born out of nowhere. It also repeats -or maybe it was the source of – that bizarrely detailed but totally fictitious claim Rathbone was “knighted in 1949 by King George VI as a knight bachelor, and then in 1961 he was made a KBE–Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire–by Queen Elizabeth II.” Why anyone has bothered to invent this carefully modulated lie, I don’t know. But there it is. IMDB allows anyone registered to modify the pages. I’ve been trying, though it can take a while. If anyone else wants to sign in and have a go, please do. It’s time some of the much recycled old myths were done away.
Britannica.com has a brief biography. At least it doesn’t allege he was a knight or a fencing champ.
Spartacus Educational carries a brief but fairly accurate biography that focuses largely on his war experiences.
TCM’s Rathbone biography is on the whole much better than Wiki or IMDB, but not completely free of myth or error. It describes Ouida Rathbone as “Spanish born” (yeah, if Spain is in Arkansas), and their union as “an ideal match.” Again, if anyone wants to set about making the necessary corrections, do feel free.
The two best print sources are Michael B. Druxman’s “Basil Rathbone, His Life & His Films.” Factual and accurate, but only giving a brief outline of Rathbone’s life, being mainly a filmography…
The second is Rathbone’s own autobiography In & Out of Character.. This is, at least allegedly, the author’s own voice, but it’s a far from exhaustive life history and leaves out more than it includes. A must-read for fans of his wife Ouida though, who is celebrated in the pages as a multi-faceted genius…