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Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone

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Also Known As: Philip St John Basil Rathbone Died: July 21, 1967
Born: June 13, 1892 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: South Africa Profession: actor, insurance salesman

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Tall and lean, with an interesting, angular face and a remarkable authoritative voice that lent considerably gravity to the most poetic of sentiments and the vilest of evil, Basil Rathbone's ability to excel at heroism and villainy kept him in demand for much of his career. The South African native had his start on the stage and thanks to acclaim from Broadway work like "The Swan" (1923-24), he soon graduated to motion pictures. He was an excellent choice to play period villains in films like "David Copperfield" (1935), "Captain Blood" (1935), and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), and Rathbone proved so effective, typecasting seemed inevitable. However, he staved off such a career fate with his indelible portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes. From "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1939) through "Dressed to Kill" (1946) and seven seasons on radio, Rathbone did a superb job of communicating Holmes' unmatchable intelligence and sleuthing mastery. Rathbone eventually tired of the role and returned to the stage, which offered him a richer venue for his talents than acting as foils for comedians like Bob Hope and Danny Kaye and the rote villainy of low-budget...

Tall and lean, with an interesting, angular face and a remarkable authoritative voice that lent considerably gravity to the most poetic of sentiments and the vilest of evil, Basil Rathbone's ability to excel at heroism and villainy kept him in demand for much of his career. The South African native had his start on the stage and thanks to acclaim from Broadway work like "The Swan" (1923-24), he soon graduated to motion pictures. He was an excellent choice to play period villains in films like "David Copperfield" (1935), "Captain Blood" (1935), and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), and Rathbone proved so effective, typecasting seemed inevitable. However, he staved off such a career fate with his indelible portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes. From "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1939) through "Dressed to Kill" (1946) and seven seasons on radio, Rathbone did a superb job of communicating Holmes' unmatchable intelligence and sleuthing mastery. Rathbone eventually tired of the role and returned to the stage, which offered him a richer venue for his talents than acting as foils for comedians like Bob Hope and Danny Kaye and the rote villainy of low-budget horrors like "The Black Sleep" (1956). At the height of his craft, Rathbone performed with a degree of vividness and sincerity that was a hallmark of the finest classically-trained actors and his interpretation of Holmes was considered the definitive take on the literary icon.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Great Mouse Detective, The (1986) Voice Of Sherlock Holmes
2.
3.
 The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) Reginald Ripper
4.
 Queen of Blood (1966) Dr. Farraday
5.
 Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) Professor Hartman
6.
 The Comedy of Terrors (1963) John F. Black
7.
 The Magic Sword (1962) Lodac
8.
 Two Before Zero (1962)
9.
 Tales of Terror (1962) Carmichael
10.
 Adventures into Space (1958) Narrator
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Sent to London to receive his education
:
Briefly worked in business before embarking on acting career
:
Accepted into a touring company; began training for the stage
:
Served in the London Scottish Regiment and later the Liverpool Scottish Regiment (achieving rank of lieutenant) during WWI
:
Following WWI, joined the Shakespeare company at Stratford-upon-Avon that was founded by his cousin
1921:
Film acting debut in the British-produced "The Fruitful Vine"
:
Invited to appear on Broadway; moved to NYC and acted in several shows, most notably "The Swan" (1923) opposite Eva Le Gallienne
1924:
First notable feature film credit, "Trouping with Ellen"
1929:
First films for several years and talkie debut, "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney", as Norma Shearer's leading man
:
Acted opposite Katharine Cornell on Broadway and on tour
1935:
Returned to films after several years: enjoyed landmark villain roles as Mr. Murdstone in George Cukor's "David Copperfield", as Karenin in Clarence Brown's "Anna Karenina" and as Errol Flynn's dueling adversary in Michael Curtiz's "Captain Blood"
1936:
Supported Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard as Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet"; nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar
1936:
Had featured role in the Technicolor film "The Garden of Allah"
1938:
Cast as the villain Sir Guy of Gisbourne in "The Adventures of Robin Hood", featuring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
1938:
Garnered second Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for "If I Were King"
1939:
First played Sherlock Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"
1939:
Had title role in "Son of Frankenstein"
1939:
Cast as Richard III in "The Tower of London"
1940:
Again displayed his dueling abilities opposite Tyrone Power in "The Mask of Zorro"
1944:
Once again displayed his flair for scoundrels as the ill-fated Lord Rockingham in "Frenchman's Creek"
1946:
Last Sherlock Holmes films, "Dressed to Kill" and "Terror By Night"
1947:
Returned to Broadway to play Mr. Sloper in "The Heiress"; received Tony Award
:
Toured on and off in the 1950s in one-man show "An Evening with Basil Rathbone"
1954:
First film in eight years, "Casanova's Big Night", starring Bob Hope; played Hope's valet
1956:
Appeared as Scrooge in the NBC production "The Stingiest Man in Town"
1957:
Acted alongside Julie Harris and Boris Karloff in the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "The Lark" (NBC)
1958:
Gave an effective performance as Spencer Tracy's political enemy in "The Last Hurrah"
1967:
Last film, "Hillbillys in a Haunted House"
1986:
Voice used as Sherlock Holmes in the animated children's film, "The Great Mouse Detective"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Repton College: -

Notes

"Two profiles pasted together." --Dorothy Parker describing Rathbone

"Basil Rathbone was the best all around villain the movies ever had ... adept at any kind of role, including romantic drama and comedy ... at his best in villainy (including modern wife-killers and Nazis) and was absolutely unmatched at playing swaggering scoundrels of other days, where his rich delivery of full-blooded dialogue, while attired in doublets or court finery, made him truly a sight to behold -- and listen to." --From "The Bad Guys" by William K. Everson

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Ethel Marian Forman. Actor. Married in October 1914; separated after WWI; divorced c. 1924.
wife:
Ouida Bergere. Actor, manager, writer. Born in 1886; met Rathbone c. 1923; died of complications of a broken hip in 1974.

Family close complete family listing

cousin:
Sir Frank Benson. Founder of the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Festival and one of the founders of British Actors Equity.
son:
Rodion Rathbone. Born in 1915.

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