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

BASIL RATHBONE Collage.jpg

         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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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... GEORGE ZUCCO (January 11, 1886 – May 27, 1960)

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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??? And while you’re considering it, I’ve decided to spend the whole month of October (one of my very favorite months!) celebrating the folks that make Hallowe’en so special for me by their work in scary movies (some of my very favorite movies!!)

Well our next guest has always come off as a man of superior brains and intellect. Every role he played was one of cunning and craft. Let me introduce you to George Zucco (January 11, 1886 – May 27, 1960). Born in Manchester, Lancashire, England, George Desylla Zucco’s mother, Marian (née Rintoul), ran a dressmaking business; she was a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. His father, George De Sylla Zucco, was a Greek merchant.

Young George debuted on the Canadian stage in 1908. He and his wife Frances toured the American vaudeville circuit during the 1910s, their satirical sketch about suffragettes earning them renown. He returned to Great Britain and served as a lieutenant in the British Army’s West Yorkshire Regiment during World War I. He saw action and was wounded in his right arm by gunfire. Subsequent surgery partially handicapped the use of two fingers and a thumb. However, having honed his theatrical talents, he proceeded to enter the London stage scene and was rewarded with a developing career that made him a leading man as the 1920s progressed and made his film debut in 1931, playing Eugène Godefroy Cavaignac in THE DREYFUS CASE an early British re-telling of the Dreyfus Affair with Cedric Hardwicke. What followed were thirteen B-grade movies through 1935, until THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (1936) with Roland Young and Ralph Richardson. Zucco then returned to America and Broadway by late 1935 to play Disraeli opposite Helen Hayes in the original play VICTORIA REGINA which ran from December 1935 to June 1936. After that came a Hollywood contract and his first American picture, SINNER TAKE ALL (1936). Zucco had a sharp hawk nose, magnetic dark eyes, and an arching brow that fit well with authoritative and intimidating characters. That same year, he was in the second installment of the "Thin Man" series with William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jimmy Stewart,  followed by a series of supporting roles in nine films in 1937, usually type-cast as a doctor or English aristocrat. There were good supporting roles in "A" films, but he was also taking on darker characters. This was evident in CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU (1938) and more so with ARREST BULLDOG DRUMMOND (1939). In the latter, he played Rolf Alferson, alias the criminal mastermind "The Stinger," who could administer a poisonous sting from a needle at the tip of his cane. It was a typical pop movie in the pulp mystery/horror genre with the usual sort of ending, but it started him on the road as a Hollywood arch villain. That same year, he was cast as Professor Moriarty, the brilliant archenemy of the world's most famous detective in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) opposite Basil Rathbone in the title role and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

During the 1940s, he took every role he was offered, landing himself in B-films and Universal horror films, including THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MAD MONSTER (1942), THE MAD GHOUL (1943), DEAD MEN WALK (1943), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS (1948).  Although some of these were made by the relatively major Universal Pictures, Zucco began grinding out outlandish horror stuff for the infamously “bottom-of-the-barrel” Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC). It would be incorrect to say he sold out completely to the horror genre though, even if horror buffs have made him their own. He was reunited with Basil Rathbone in another Sherlock Holmes adventure, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (1943), this time playing not Moriarty, but a Nazi spy. His distinctive presence, talent, and class also got him cast in higher end films on occasion with big stars such as CAPTAIN OF CASTILE (1947) with Tyrone Power, THE PIRATE with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland (1948), JOAN OF ARC (1948) with Ingrid Bergman, and MADAM BOVARY (1949) with Jennifer Jones. Zucco even managed to make appearances in two Fred Astaire musicals, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949) and LET’S DANCE (1950). He retired due to illness, after playing a bit part in DAVID AND BATHSHEBA in 1951. Kenneth Anger, in his 1988 book Hollywood Babylon II, claimed that Zucco died in a madhouse, convinced that he was being haunted by H.P. Lovecraft’s creation Cthulhu, and that Zucco's wife and adult daughter committed suicide in response to the loss. However, in reality, Zucco spent his final years in quiet dignity in the Monterey Sanitarium, an assisted-living facility and died from pneumonia in 1960, aged 74. His only daughter, 29-year old Frances Zucco, was an award-winning equestrian and minor actress; she died exactly 20 months to the day after her father from throat cancer on March 14, 1962. His widow Stella Francis whom he had married in 1930, died from natural causes in 1999 (aged 99). Quiet-spoken off stage, he had always been an avid dog lover who owned several German Shepherds. Because of his consistency as an actor and his professionalism at all times, his nickname on the set of Universal Studios was "One-Take Zucco". After his death, George Zucco was cremated and his ashes are now interred at the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

[Want to read other fun and funny stories here on SybilSez.com? Just enter any topic that pops into your head in the "search" window on the upper right! Who knows what might come up?...and feel free to share them with your friends!]