Basil Rathbone


How Rathbone came to the role of Sherlock Holmes is a matter of some debate. One story tells of a chance meeting between the actor and Darryl F Zanuck (head of 20th Century-Fox) at a cocktail party in 1939. The movie studio chief supposedly remarked to the actor that he would make a perfect Holmes. Another version, also at a party, gives the writer Gene Markey credit for suggesting to another guest, Zanuck, that Rathbone would be ideal as Holmes should the studio follow up Zanuck's idea of filming a Holmes story. (Markey also recommended Nigel Bruce as Watson.)

In 1939, Rathbone was cast as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first of 14 screen appearances as Conan Doyle's master detective. He also played Holmes on radio from 1939 through 1946, and in 1952 returned to the character (despite his despairing comments that Holmes had hopelessly "typed" him in films) in the Broadway flop The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which was written by his wife, Ouida Bergere. After World War 2 Rathbone moved to New York with his beloved wife Ouida where he hoped to return to the stage. Famous for giving some of Hollywood's most elegant and elaborate parties, Rathbone left the West Coast in 1947 to return to Broadway in Washington Square.

He made a movie comeback in 1954, essaying saturnine character roles in such films as We're No Angels (1955), The Court Jester (1956), and The Last Hurrah (1958). Alas, like many Hollywood veterans, Rathbone often found the pickings lean in the 1960s, compelling him to accept roles in such inconsequential quickies as The Comedy of Terrors (1964) and Hillbillies in the Haunted House (1967). He could take consolation in the fact that these negligible films enabled him to finance projects that he truly cared about, such as his college lecture tours and his Caedmon Record transcriptions of the works of Shakespeare.

Rathbone is by many considered the ultimate Sherlock Holmes actor. He was an English actor who became the most beloved and recognized portrayer of the Master Detective. With the possible exception of William Gillette before him, and Jeremy Brett after him, no actor has been more identified with the Great Detective. He died on July 21, 1967 of a heart attack.

'Never regret anything you have done with a sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart'

‘In and out of character’

Suggested films to see:
If I were king (1939)
Romeo and Juliet (1937)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)


Main Actors                           Page 1



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