Michael B. Druxman. Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films. Duncan, Ok.: Bear Manor Media, 2011 (originally published in 1975).
Basil Rathbone, an actor, was liked by all he knew. Interviews find no one stating they disliked him. Rathborn was itially typecast as a “heavy” after his role of a sadistic character in “David Copperfield”. Rathbone could portray a wider range of characters, yet was often cast as a dark character. He was then typecast as Sherlock Holmes, his most famous role.
Rathbone portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 14 movies, a radio series, in TV, and on stage. Fans called him “Mr. Holmes”. Rathbone never received another major role after his role as Holmes.
Rathbone was noted for his kindness to others. There are many remembered instances of his quietly doing favors for people without being asked. Despite Rathbone’s series of portraying serious characters, he was personally had a strong sense of humor.
Rathbone started in the entertainment field on the British stage. He served in World War I where he received a medal for crossing to the German lines to gather intelligence. He claimed he pretended to be a tree and “I have not since been called upon to play a tree.”
Rathbone had numerous movie roles. His first role was in “The Fruitful Vine” in 1921. He then appeared on Broadway while continuing staring in more movies. His first American movie was “Trouping with Ellen” in 1924.
Rathbone appeared in the play “La Prisonniere” that concerned lesbianism. It ran for 17 weeks until a few weeks before city elections. New York officials arrested Rathbone for offending public morals for starring in a play about lesbians. The charges were dropped but the play was closed.
Rathbone received the lead role in several talking movies. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for “Romeo and Juliet”. He was nominated again for a Best Supporting Actor Award for “If I Were a King”. He lost both times to Walter Brennan.
Rathbone starred in a movie version of William Gillette’s play “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” with co-star Nigel Bruce. Rathbone went on to do other movies. NBC decided to have a “Sherlock Holmes” radio series. Rathborn and Nigel Bruce voiced their movie roles. The radio series moved to the Mutual network with Rathbone and Bruce staying with the series. They did 275 episodes over seven years. Rathbone once misspoke the line “horde of bees” as “board of whores”.
In 1929, as war broke out in Europe, Rathbone become President of the British War Relief’s Los Angeles chapter. He regularly entertained troops in the Los Angeles area.
In 1942, Universal paid $300,000 to Conan Doyle’s estate for the movie rights to 22 of Doyle’s writings on his Sherlock Holmes character. Universal initially was going to produce a number of low budget Sherlock Holmes movies. MGM agreed to loan Rathbone to reprise his Holmes role. Nigel Bruce and Mary Gordon who was on the Sherlock Holmes radio series, were also signed. Dennis Hoey was added as a semi-regular character beginning with the second Universal Holmes movie The series was updated with Holms facing Nazis. Each movie was filmed in 12 to 13 days for $300,000. 12 movies were produced in five years.
Rathbone was counter-cast as a Gestapo villain in “Above Suspicious”, which was released in 1943.
Universal increased in quality in three Holmes pictures released in 1944. Yet Rathbone was tiring of portraying Holmes. Rathbone also considered Holmes an egotist who was wrong to be so critical of Watson. Rathbone refused to renew his 1946 contracts with Mutual and Universal/MGM. He went back to theater work.
Rathbone was active in Actors Equity. He served as its Third Vice President and then as Recording Secretary.
Rathbone did theater work and several TV plays for American and Canadian television. Rathbone did a Sherlock Holmes play on Broadway that closed after three performances. Rathbone returned to film work. His last notable role was in “The Last Hurrah”. He made recordings where he read classical stories. He also did readings on NBC’s “Monitor” radio show.
In 1967, Rathbone was in the movie “Hillbillys in a Haunted House”, It was his last film as he died a month afterwards. His estate was valued at between $10,000 and $20,000.