A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... BASIL RATHBONE (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)


         Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???.... while you’re reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! Here he is folks, Mummy decided to add a special extra helping of WHO'Z DAT Deliciousness to the schedule...BASIL RATHBONE!!! (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)

        For me, this fellow is the gold...NAY!..The PLATINUM standard for Hollywood royalty! (Ironically, he was knighted by George VI, and received even further elevations from Elizabeth II). Equally known for playing both heroic and villainous roles in some of the most iconic movies of the Cinema Golden Age, Basil Rathbone epitomized suave sophistication, brains, craftiness, and class. His face alone was one of the greatest pieces of cinema sculpture, and the camera adored him....you could light those bones a thousand different ways, and all of them were art! On the rare occasion when he would laugh without a villainous glint in his eyes, you could see all sorts of warmth and charm beneath that lacquered perfection, and indeed there are many stories about Rathbone and his wife being famous party givers to crowds of friends and admirers!

         Born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in South Africa, (June 13, 1892), he rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and later went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films. He was twice nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, both for his role of Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (1936) and for his role of King Louis XI in "If I Were King" (1938), losing out both times to Walter Brennan. His most famous role, however, was eccentrically heroic—that of Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946 and in a radio series done with his great friend Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. His later career included Broadway and television work; he received a Tony Award in 1948 as Best Actor for his performance as the unyielding Dr. Austin Sloper in the original production of THE HEIRESS, which featured Wendy Hiller as his timid, spinster daughter.                

         Rathbone was married twice; first to actress Ethel Marion Foreman in 1914. They had one son, Rodion Rathbone (1915–1996), who had a brief Hollywood career under the name John Rodion. The couple divorced in 1926. In 1924 he was involved in a brief relationship with Eva Le Gallienne. In 1927, he married writer Ouida Bergère; the couple adopted a daughter, Cynthia Rathbone (1939–1969). During Rathbone's Hollywood career, Ouida Rathbone, who was also her husband's business manager, developed a reputation for hosting elaborate expensive parties in their home, with many prominent and influential people on the guest lists. This trend inspired a joke in The Ghost Breakers (1940), a film in which Rathbone does not appear: During a tremendous thunderstorm in New York City, Bob Hope observed that "Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party". Although his later career may have vexed him on some level appearing in two spoofs of his earlier swashbuckling villains: CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) opposite Bob Hope and THE COURT JESTER (1956) with Danny Kaye, he also appeared in major films, including the Humphrey Bogart comedy WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955) and John Ford’s political drama THE LAST HURRAH (1958). The 1950s and 60s saw Rathbone performing on radio and television in various Christmas specials, variety shows, and even on game shows where he was very popular for his wit and polish. But he also was reduced to campy horror films and pastiches like THE BLACK SLEEP (1956), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964) the only film to feature the "Big Four" of American International Pictures' horror films: Price, Rathbone, Karloff and Peter Lorre, QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966, with comic Harvey Lembeck joking, "That guy looks like Sherlock Holmes"), HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine), and his last film, a low-budget, Mexican horror film called AUTOPSY OF A GHOST (1968).

       Although his later career began to be made up of lower budget monster movies and spoofs of his own distinctive reputation as either a mad scientist or a British detective, Rathbone's immortality as a great invention of the Hollywood imagination will never dim! Basil Rathbone has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for films, at 6549 Hollywood Boulevard; one for radio, at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard; and one for television, at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. British actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell once described Rathbone as "two profiles pasted together", and later stated in the same autobiography, that she thought of him as "a folded umbrella taking elocution lessons." Rathbone died suddenly of a heart attack in New York City in 1967 at age 75. He is interred in a crypt in the Shrine of Memories Mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. For his many fans around the world, he continues to be luminescent, enigmatic, iconic.... a Star!!! 

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