BASIL RATHBONE Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Philip St. John Basil Rathbone                                                     
Born: 13 June 1892 Johannesburg, South African Republic                                   
Died: 21 July 1967 New York City, New York                                               
Basil Rathbone MC, (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967), was a British actor most             
famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and of suave villains in such                 
swashbuckler films as The Mark of Zorro, Captain Blood, and The Adventures of             
Robin Hood.                                                                               
He was born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in Johannesburg, South Africa, to             
English parents Edgar Philip Rathbone and Anna Barbara née George, of the               
Liverpool Rathbone family. A younger sister and brother, Beatrice and John,               
constituted the rest of the family. The Rathbones fled to England when Basil was         
three years old, after his father was accused by the Boers of being a British             
spy near the onset of the Second Boer War.                                               
Basil was educated at Repton School and was engaged with the Liverpool and Globe         
Insurance Companies. In 1916, he enlisted for the duration of The Great War,             
joining the London Scottish Regiment as a Private, serving alongside Claude               
Rains, Herbert Marshall and Ronald Colman. He later transferred with a                   
commission as a Lieutenant to the Liverpool Scottish. In September 1918, he was           
awarded the Military Cross.                                                               
On April 22, 1911, he made his first appearance on stage at the Theatre Royal,           
Ipswich, as Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew, with Sir Frank Benson's No. 2           
Company, under the direction of Henry Herbert. In October 1912, he went to               
America with Benson's company, playing such parts as Paris in Romeo and Juliet,           
Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Silvius in As You Like It. Returning           
to England, he made his first appearance in London at the Savoy Theatre on July           
9, 1914, as Finch in The Sin of David. That December, he appeared at the                 
Shaftesbury Theatre as the Dauphin in Henry V. During 1915, he toured with               
Benson and appeared with him at London's Court Theatre in December as Lysander           
in A Midsummer Night's Dream.                                                             
During the Summer Festival of 1919, he appeared at Stratford-upon-Avon with the           
New Shakespeare Company playing Romeo, Cassius, Ferdinand in The Tempest, and             
Florizel in The Winter's Tale; in October he was at London's Queen's Theatre as           
the Aide-de-Camp in Napoleon, and in February 1920, he was at the Savoy Theatre           
in the title role in Peter Ibbetson with huge success.                                   
During the 1920s, Rathbone appeared regularly in Shakespearean and other roles           
on the English stage. He began to travel and appeared at the Cort Theatre, New           
York in October 1923, and toured in the United States in 1925, appearing in San           
Francisco in May and the Lyceum Theatre, New York in October. He was in the US           
again in 1927 and 1930, and in 1931 when he appeared on stage with Ethel                 
Barrymore. He continued his stage career in England, returning to the US late in         
1934 where he appeared with Katharine Cornell in several plays.                           
He commenced his film career in 1925 in The Masked Bride, appeared in a few               
silent movies, and played the detective Philo Vance in the 1930 movie The Bishop         
Murder Case, based on the best-selling novel. Like George Sanders and Vincent             
Price after him, Rathbone made a name for himself in the 1930s by playing suave           
villains in costume dramas and swashbucklers, including David Copperfield (1935)         
as the cruel stepfather Mr. Murdstone; Anna Karenina (1935) as her distant               
husband, Karenin; The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) portraying Pontius Pilate;             
Captain Blood (1935); A Tale of Two Cities (1935), as the Marquis St. Evremonde;         
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) playing his best remembered villain, Sir Guy         
of Gisbourne; The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938); and The Mark of Zorro (1940)           
as Captain Esteban Pasquale. He also appeared in several early horror films:             
Tower of London (1939) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), portraying the dedicated           
surgeon Baron Wolf Frankenstein, son of the monster's creator.                           
He was admired for his athletic cinema swordsmanship (he listed fencing among             
his favourite recreations). He fought and lost to Errol Flynn in a duel on the           
beach in Captain Blood and in an elaborate fight sequence in The Adventures of           
Robin Hood. He was involved in noteworthy sword fights in Tower of London; The           
Mark of Zorro and The Court Jester (1956). Despite his real-life skill, Rathbone         
only won once onscreen, in Romeo and Juliet (1936). Rathbone earned Academy               
Award nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performances as             
Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (1936), and as King Louis XI in If I Were King (1938).         
In The Dawn Patrol (1938), he played one of his few heroic roles in the 1930s,           
as a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) squadron commander brought to the brink of a               
nervous breakdown by the strain and guilt of sending his battle-weary pilots off         
to near-certain death in the skies of 1915 France. Errol Flynn, Rathbone's               
perennial foe, starred in the film as his successor when Rathbone's character is         
According to Hollywood legend, Rathbone was Margaret Mitchell's first choice to           
play Rhett Butler in the film version of her novel Gone with the Wind. The               
reliability of this story may be suspect, however, as on another occasion,               
Mitchell chose Groucho Marx for the role, apparently in jest.                             
Despite his film success, Rathbone always insisted that he wished to be                   
remembered for his stage career. He said that his favorite role was that of