Johannesburg, South Africa
Claim to Fame
Terror by Night
Place of Death
New York City, New York, USA
Cause of Death
Profile Bio Text
He was born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in Johannesburg, South Africa, a son of British parents: Edgar Philip Rathbone and Anna Barbara George. His younger sister and brother were Beatrice Rathbone and John Rathbone. The Rathbones fled to England when Basil was three years of age after his father was accused by Boers of being a British spy near the onset of the Second Boer War. He was educated at Repton School and served in the Liverpool Scottish in the First World War.
Rathbone was married to actress Marion Foreman (married 1914 - divorced 1926), was involved briefly with actress Eva Le Gallienne during his first marriage and was married to writer Ouida Bergere (married 1927 - his death 1967).
He and Foreman had one son, Rodion Rathbone, and he and Bergere had one adopted daughter, Cynthia Rathbone.
He died of a heart attack, aged 75, at his home in New York City. He is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.
Unlike some of his British actor contemporaries in Hollywood and New York, Rathbone never renounced his British citizenship.
During the 1920s, Rathbone appeared in Shakespearean roles on the British stage. He was in a few silent movies, and played detective Philo Vance in the 1929 movie The Bishop Murder Case.
Rathbone became famous for playing suave villains in many swashbucklers of the 1930s, including David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), Captain Blood (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Tower of London (1939 film) (1939), and The Mark of Zorro (1940). Allegedly, he was Margaret Mitchell`s first choice to play Rhett Butler in the great film version of her novel Gone With The Wind (although, when interviewed around the time of casting, she chose Groucho Marx!). He was most notable for his starring roles in fourteen Sherlock Holmes movies. To many fans, Basil Rathbone was born to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle`s famous London detective. He also starred as Holmes with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson in an old-time radio mystery series, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939 - 1946), and did numerous other radio broadcasts.
He was admired for his athletic cinema swordsmanship, particularly in the duel on the beach in Captain Blood and as Sir Guy of Guisborne in the long fight scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Other noteworthy sword fights appear in The Mark of Zorro and The Court Jester (1956). The latter duplicates a scene in the former where Tyrone Power slices a candle in two and leaves it burning.
Basil Rathbone earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (1936), and another nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance of King Louis XI in If I Were King (1938).
It was in 1939 that Rathbone first starred as Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Unfortunately, the many sequels, e.g. The Spider Woman, typecast him (he gained the nickname `Razzle Bathrobe`) and he was unable to break out of the stereotype, except in certain spoofs of his earlier swashbuckling villains in such movies as Casanova`s Big Night (1954) and The Court Jester (1956).
Rathbone also acted on Broadway numerous times. In 1948, he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in Play for his performance of the unyielding Dr. Austin Sloper in the original production of The Heiress (played by Sir Ralph Richardson in the film version, which won Olivia de Havilland one of her two Oscars).
Through the 1950s and 1960s, he continued to appear in several dignified anthology programs on television.
He is also known for his readings of the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe, which are collected together with readings by Vincent Price. Especially powerful and striking is his reading of Poe`s "The Raven".
Basil Rathbone has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; one for motion pictures; one for radio; and one for television .
Repton School, Repton, Derby, England (1910)
Full Name at Birth
Philip St. John Basil Rathbone
Actor/Actress, Soundtrack, Other Crew
Has Detailed Data (New)
Edgar Philip Rathbone
Anna Barbara née George
Claude Rains, Ronald Colman, Cedric Hardwicke, Herbert Marshall, Nigel Bruce, Vincent Price
Cynthia Rathbone (adopted daughter)
Has Detailed Data (Music)
Philip St. John Basil Rathbone, MC (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967) was a South African-born English actor. He rose to prominence in the UK as a Shakespearean stage actor and went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers and, occasionally, horror films.