Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Born Today June 13: Basil Rathbone


British cinema sensation Philip St. John Basil Rathbone was born on this date in Johannesburg, South Africa.  He was born to British parents: his mother a violinist and his father a mining engineer--a member of the Liverpool Rathbone family.  When he was just three years old, the family was forced to flee the country for Great Britain because his father had been accused his father Edgar was accused by the Boers of being a spy. In England, Rathbone attended Repton school, which was located in Derbyshire from the year 1906 to 1910.  Though, despite his father's wishes that he take up a traditional career--and he did work for a time in the insurance industry--he was too enamored of the stage to keep to that plan long.  He made his stage debut in July of 1911 in Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew.  The production was undertaken by the company of his cousin Frank Benson.  The company of contracted to tour the U.S. performing various works by Shakespeare in 1912 and Basil Rathbone went with them.  Upon his return to Britain, he acted in both the Savoy and the Shaftesbury Theater, again Shakespeare plays.  After this he again toured with Benson's company, this time in the U.K.  At the outbreak of World War I, he was called up as a private to serve in London Scottish Regiment of the Army in 1915.  In 1916, after completing basic training, he received a commission with ranking of lieutenant.  He served as an intelligence officer, not at first seeing much action, but after his younger brother was killed in action, he undertook very dangerous and delicate recon excursions to map enemy positions.  He eventually attained the ranking of Captain.  He returned to the stage in 1919 in Straford-upon-Avon and then at the Queen's Theater in London.  By 1920, he was back at the Savoy.  Rathbone made his first film appearance in 1921 with Innocent, produced by the UK company Stoll.  He quickly followed that with another Stoll film The Fruitful Vine (1921).  He made two more silent films in England (The School For ScandalThe Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots--both in 1923), before leaving for the United States.  By October of 1923, he was appearing on the stage in New York; almost immediately he became a Broadway sensation.  By 1925, he was once again touring in the U.S.  He appeared in his first film states-side in 1924 with Trouping With Ellen.  He made two more silent films in U.S. (The Masked Bride (1925) & The Great Deception (1926)) before making his first sound film in 1929--The Last Of Mrs. Cheyney, a Norma Shearer dramady.  Though, he started to become more recognizable in films during the 1930's, playing in a variety of genres from swashbucklers to horror, he also continued his stage career as well.  He returned to the UK in the early 1930's for this express purpose.  What he is by far and away remembered most for is his role in a series of Sherlock Holmes films the first of which was The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1939, with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.  He also did some voice over work during his lifetime, famously voicing the Policeman and providing the narration in the "Mr. Toad" section of The Adventures Of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).  Rathbone made his television debut that same year on the series The Ford Theatre Hour in the episode "On Borrowed Time".  From then, he was seen frequently in guest appearances on television throughout the 1950's.  The last film that he appeared in during his lifetime was the horror/comedy spoof Hillbillys In A Haunted House, released in May 1967.  The last film that he appeared in was released after his death; Autopsia de un fantasma, a Mexican horror/comedy monster film was released in November 1968.  Rathbone died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 75 on the 21st of July 1967 in New York.  He is interred in a crypt in the Shrine of Memories mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery with is located in Hartsdale, New York (Judy Garland was, up until early 2017, interred near by, before being moved to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in CA).  As a point of trivia: Rathbone was a cousin of Major Henry Rathbone, who was present at the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln; Major Rathbone was seriously wounded in the attack in a vain attempt to stop John Wilkes Booth.  Basil Rathbone was twice nominated for an Oscar.  

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