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Basil, Basil, How I Love Basil!


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I see that Basil's final film, the Mexican horror comedy, Autopsia de un Fantasma, is currently on You Tube. It's a beautiful sharp image, too, but, unfortunately, you can't hear Rathbone's voice because someone has dubbed him in Spanish.

 

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I briefly zipped through it a bit. At one point there's a closeup of Basil in the above costume as he holds a skull in his hand and starts to spout "To Be Or Not To Be" (or, at least, his Spanish dubber does).

 

It seems a very cruel irony that a man who had an acting career of such great promise as a Shakespearean actor would end that career 40 years later with this sorry comedy charade.

He is looking a lot like Señor Wences in that shot.

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In his 1934 stage R&J, in which Rathbone played Romeo, he kills Tybalt (Orson Welles) after Welles kills Mercutio (Brian Aherne).

 

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Basil as Romeo in a 1913 stage production. He would have been about 21 at this time. This would have been a couple of years before his life was so severely impacted by the deaths of his mother and brother.

 

This is a shot of a wavy haired Basil as Romeo in the 1934 stage production, with Katherine Cornell as his Juliet. He looks pretty good there, I must say.

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Or Basil along with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

I was cooking when I first saw this thread, so of course I thought of the herb (spice?). Anyway Tom, what a great, heartfelt writeup.

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Yves Montand was a full Italian,ivo Livi,he got his stage name because his mother always called him while he was downstairs Monta, Monta for his lunch.I see the similarity with Zappa in a way,Rathbone was South African by birth,i do not know he had any Italian in his genealogy.

Lookswise, Rathbone always reminded me of the great Mexican actor/singer Jorge Negrete, down to the thin moustache, who was one of the stalwart staples of the Mexican Cine de la epoca de oro, or golden era. Except that Negrete almost always played the romantic hero.

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I was cooking when I first saw this thread, so of course I thought of the herb (spice?). Anyway Tom, what a great, heartfelt writeup.

Thanks a lot, Arturo. I appreciate it, even if the thread wasn't as spicey as you thought it would be.

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Basil Rathbone wrote the following in his autobiography about the experience of working with Jack Barrymore in Romeo and Juliet:

 

After I dressed in my costume a studio car picked me up and took me to the back lot where a beautiful replica of Verona had been built. The location was crowded with principals and extras. The first scene was to be a big one, my meeting as Tybalt with Jack as Mercutio, a scene that would lead to our duel and Mercutio's death.

 

We waited all morning, but no Jack. Reports were circulated that Jack was not feeling well and Brydon (his makeup artist) was having some trouble making him up. Brydon told me later that Jack had refused to get off the sofa and that he, Brydon, had had to shave and make him up and put on his hairpieces with Jack remaining in a recumbent position.

 

Several assisitants had then engaged in dressing him and at last, about 12pm, a studio car containing Jack and his dresser drove onto the lot. Jack looked breath takingly beautiful as he got out of the car and walked over to the director, Mr. George Cukor. To Cukor Jack said in a rasping whisper, "Sorry, old boy, lost me voice . . . can't speak a bloody word."

 

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There were immediate and urgent consultations held by Mr. Cukor and his production staff and it was decided to jump the dialogue and do it another day. The scene we would shoot would be the duel itself. Cameras were set, sound was ready, principals and extras were in place when Barrymore suddenly drew his sword with a tremendous flourish and hit Leslie Howard (Romeo) a violent and accidental blow on the head. In a matter of seconds an enormous pigeon's egg appeared on Leslie's head and we were all dismissed for the day!

 

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There was another occasion when we were shooting the scene following Romeo's meeting with Juliet at the Capulet Ball. Romeo has just scaled the wall into the Capulet garden when Mercutio and Benvolio and their attendants enter the scene calling for Romeo. There being no sight or sound of Romeo, Mercutio plays at conjuring him up, and during his conjuration speech there is a line, "He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not."

 

I was not working this day and had come to the studio, as had many others, to hear Barrymore's rendition of this amusing comedy scene. It was just his "cup of tea." It was about 10:30am when I arrived and there was an atmosphere of dejection on the set. Things were obviously not going well. I took one look at Jack and immediately understood what was the predicament. There was that wild look in his eyes that boded no good for a successful day's work. Cukor walked over to Barrymore. "All right, Jack, let's try again. Shall we?"

 

Barrymore rose majestically if a little unsteadily. "Why not, my friend," he replied. "And this take it shall be Mr. William Shakespeare, eh?" There followed that extraordinary sound he would make, which was a mixture of a sudden violent laugh filtered by an asthmatic wheeze. "What say you my little pigeon? Dear George how I love you!" and he kissed Cukor on both cheeks.

 

Everything was in readiness for the next take, about No. 6 by this time.

 

"All right, camera!" called George.

 

Barrymore and Reginald Denny (Benvolio), with attendants, made their entrance and the scene went smoothly enough until the line, "He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not;" as he approached this line Barrymore took a deep breath, flexing his eyebrows and bulging his eyes. Then he said, "He heareth, he stirreth not." Long pause, then, with much relish, "He pisseth not!"

 

George groaned, "Jack, please."

 

"Strange how me heritage encumbereth my speech," was Jack's reply. "Dear Mr. Shakespeare, I beg you hear me yet. I am but an improvident actor (pronounced actor-r-r) and yet I would beg you to consider an undeniable fact, I have improved upon your text. 'He moveth not' is not so pertinent to the occasion as 'he pisseth not.'"

 

And so it went until nearly lunchtime. Thalberg was sent for and came onto the set. Very gently he pleaded with Jack to speak the line as it was written.

 

"Very well," rejoined Jack, "just once I will say it that thou mayest see how it stinketh." And he did, and that's the only take they got from him that day and of course the one that appears in the picture. Jack was furious at the trick played upon him and vowed bloody vengeance on all who had so vilely betrayed him!

 

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In his 1934 stage R&J, in which Rathbone played Romeo, he kills Tybalt (Orson Welles) after Welles kills Mercutio (Brian Aherne).

Man-o-man that would have been something to see.

I wonder how many people who did see it are still alive today?

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Of the various undercover disguises adopted by Basil Rathbone in the Sherlock Holmes films his personal favourite was the one in which he played a Cockney music hall entertainer in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I can well understand why. Aside from his being highly amusing in the part, I find it almost impossible to recognize Rathbone. (I wonder if his voice was dubbed; if not, he's damn good. Heck, he's damn good here even if his voice was dubbed).

 

Enjoy:

 

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I'll vote "not dubbed" simply because of the expense although ADVENTURES was a "high dollar" production, I think, so maybe... and the long camera angles would certainly make that more easily done although Basil HAD to have this kind of experience in his repertoire.  But voice or no, his agility and dance-rhythms are top notch.

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I'll vote "not dubbed" simply because of the expense although ADVENTURES was a "high dollar" production, I think, so maybe... and the long camera angles would certainly make that more easily done although Basil HAD to have this kind of experience in his repertoire.  But voice or no, his agility and dance-rhythms are top notch.

Isn't Baz quite wonderful in that little musical number? It's a real pleasure to see that he had this little opportunity. Perhaps, too, playing this exuberant character appealed to the "ham" in Rathbone. Man, he looks like he's having fun!

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I'll vote "not dubbed" simply because of the expense although ADVENTURES was a "high dollar" production, I think, so maybe... and the long camera angles would certainly make that more easily done although Basil HAD to have this kind of experience in his repertoire.  But voice or no, his agility and dance-rhythms are top notch.

I assume it was his voice. Most British artists of his era had some musical training, and there would be no point to that scene if he did not want to sing -- he could have been disguised as another guest rather than as the entertainment.

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I assume it was his voice. Most British artists of his era had some musical training, and there would be no point to that scene if he did not want to sing -- he could have been disguised as another guest rather than as the entertainment.

If it was Rathbone's voice (and I'm not saying it wasn't) he disguised it beautifully.

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...there would be no point to that scene if he did not want to sing -- he could have been disguised as another guest rather than as the entertainment.

 

I think Swithin's argument solidifies my vote.

 

As a teenager, I found reading the various Sherlock books too, ahem, uncompelling ("borrring") and, in my 30s, all that vast, additional wisdom didn't yield superior reading results, either.  So I don't know if Basil was compelled by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate to sing and dance "because the book did it."  Heaven knows ALL Hollywood productions oh-so-faithfully obey every written book!  cough cough, gag gag

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As a teenager, I found reading the various Sherlock books too, ahem, uncompelling ("borrring") and, in my 30s, all that vast, additional wisdom didn't yield superior reading results, either.  So I don't know if Basil was compelled by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate to sing and dance "because the book did it."  Heaven knows ALL Hollywood productions oh-so-faithfully obey every written book!  cough cough, gag gag

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a largely original work, possibly influenced to a degree by a William Gillette play on Holmes. It has nothing to do with any Conan Doyle book or short story.

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f35049c585e4e3736016d1c7cd9e964a1_zpsjgt

 

Basil as Romeo in a 1913 stage production. He would have been about 21 at this time. This would have been a couple of years before his life was so severely impacted by the deaths of his mother and brother.

 

This is a shot of a wavy haired Basil as Romeo in the 1934 stage production, with Katherine Cornell as his Juliet. He looks pretty good there, I must say.

a1f13b98b9744b63b1e1dab78bf2d41b1_zpsook

 

Thanks for sharing these photos, TomJH.

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Basil Rathbone wrote the following in his autobiography about his admiration for Danny Kaye:

 

In The Court Jester we had to fight a duel together with saber. I don't care much for saber but had had instructions in this weapon in my long association with all manner of swords. Our instructor was Ralph Faulkner, a very well known swordsman on the Coast who had specialized in saber. After a couple of weeks of instruction Danny Kaye could completely outfight me! Even granting the difference in our ages, Danny's reflexes were incredibly fast, and nothing had to be shown or explained to him a second time.

 

I was talking to him once about this, and he told me (in effect) that his mind worked like a camera that took perfect pictures, and that he had a very keen sense of mime that could immediately translate the still picture into physical movement. Hear or see anything just once and he could imitate it without the slightest effort.

 

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Danny when his character is hypnotized into believing he is the world's greatest swordsman

 

 

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Danny "unhypnotized," about how to handle a sword

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How could anyone not love Basil? I thank you for posting that quote from this extraodinary actor. I can't think of a performance of his that I didn't enjoy. He could be so effective as menancing characters in films and then be the great detective we all love. Truly one of the greats. Just reading that excerpt from his autobiography tells us that in all likelihood Rathbone was a generous and lovely man.

 

I love the film THE COURT JESTER and I'm a fan of Danny Kaye's. He was also an extraodinary man with so many talents and a humanitarian. Love 'em both :)

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How could anyone not love Basil? I thank you for posting that quote from this extraodinary actor. I can't think of a performance of his that I didn't enjoy. He could be so effective as menancing characters in films and then be the great detective we all love. Truly one of the greats. Just reading that excerpt from his autobiography tells us that in all likelihood Rathbone was a generous and lovely man.

 

I love the film THE COURT JESTER and I'm a fan of Danny Kaye's. He was also an extraodinary man with so many talents and a humanitarian. Love 'em both :)

Thanks, lav. I'm glad to see that you, too, are a fan of the Baz.

 

I don't know if you had the opportunity to read it but earlier in this thread there is a lengthy article about Rathbone posted by nakano (May 19th), and it gives a very nice rundown on his career, as well as insights into his character. He had a more tragic life that most of us realize.

 

By the way, there are a few Rathbone websites and one of the best, I think, is here:

 

http://www.basilrathbone.net/library/

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Thanks, lav. I'm glad to see that you, too, are a fan of the Baz.

 

I don't know if you had the opportunity to read it but earlier in this thread there is a lengthy article about Rathbone posted by nakano (May 19th), and it gives a very nice rundown on his career, as well as insights into his character. He had a more tragic life that most of us realize.

 

By the way, there are a few Rathbone websites and one of the best, I think, is here:

 

http://www.basilrathbone.net/library/

Thanks Tom.  I will check out the site and the post you mentioned :)

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Basil Rathbone wrote the following in his autobiography about his admiration for Danny Kaye:

 

In The Court Jester we had to fight a duel together with saber. I don't care much for saber but had had instructions in this weapon in my long association with all manner of swords. Our instructor was Ralph Faulkner, a very well known swordsman on the Coast who had specialized in saber. After a couple of weeks of instruction Danny Kaye could completely outfight me! Even granting the difference in our ages, Danny's reflexes were incredibly fast, and nothing had to be shown or explained to him a second time.

 

I was talking to him once about this, and he told me (in effect) that his mind worked like a camera that took perfect pictures, and that he had a very keen sense of mime that could immediately translate the still picture into physical movement. Hear or see anything just once and he could imitate it without the slightest effort.

 

tumblr_mht2p9PaIO1r7bhzoo3_r1_4001_zpswr

 

Danny when his character is hypnotized into believing he is the world's greatest swordsman

 

 

tumblr_mbr7vtCCvZ1rzis51o7_4001_zpsgisse

 

Danny "unhypnotized," about how to handle a sword

Basil was 63 years old and Danny Kaye was almost 20 years his junior when this film was made.  Its quite a performance for a 63 year old even considering his many years of experience at sword play. As for Kaye, it takes considerable ability to clown around and still look convincing.  Kaye of course did a lot of physical comedy , like  playing a "boxer" in THE KID FROM BROOKLYN.

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Basil was 63 years old and Danny Kaye was almost 20 years his junior when this film was made.  Its quite a performance for a 63 year old even considering his many years of experience at sword play. As for Kaye, it takes considerable ability to clown around and still look convincing.  Kaye of course did a lot of physical comedy , like  playing a "boxer" in THE KID FROM BROOKLYN.

The age difference for Rathbone with younger screen opponents was nothing new. He was 17 years older than Flynn when they duelled in Robin Hood, and 22 years Power's senior in Zorro. Still, as you pointed out, mrroberts, he was nearing what is a retirement age for many people when he picked up the saber in The Court Jester, a remarkable achievement.

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Basil Rathbone wrote in his autobiography that he first met Great Garbo at Jack Gilbert's house in 1928. They sat beside one another at lunch (where her main preoccupation was with the food, rather than conversation), afterwards playing tennis together and going for a swim.

 

Basil wrote:

 

Imagine my excitement then when cast to play opposite Miss Garbo in Anna Karenina some six years later. I had not seen her since that Sunday at Jack Gilbert's. Our reintroduction was formal and as though we had never met before. She was just as beautiful, but something had happened. Never during the entire time of the making of the picture (some eight to ten weeks) did she give the slightest indication that we had ever met before. She remained alone in her dressing room on the set when she was not working, and never talked with anyone except Miss Constance Collier, with whom it would seem she shared the secret of some disturbance that might be troubling her.

 

If her attitude had related to me alone I think I might have understood, for it could have been that her growing hatred for me (as Karenin) might have made more difficult to simulate had we become good friends. It troubled me at first, but I soon dismissed it in my tremendous admiration for her consummate ability as an actress, perhaps the greatest I have ever played with. From the first day to the last we were just Anna and Karenin to one another, and I gave one of the best performances of my life, thanks largely to the inspiration I had derived from Miss Garbo.

 

On the last day that we worked together we were seated beside one another waiting to be "called." I turned ever so slightly for a last look at that beautiful face. She sat motionless, intense, there was not so much the flicker of an eyelid. She might have been a wax figure of herself in Madame Tussaud's. Suddenly I heard myself saying desperately, but with the utmost control, "Miss Garbo, I wonder if you would grant me a very great favor. When I work with anyone I admire as much as I admire you I ask for the privilege of a signed photograph. I have one here that will help me to remember this wonderful experience in playing opposite you. Would you sign it for me?"

 

There was a moment's pause, and then without a movement, like the figure in Madame Tussaud's, she said, "I never give picture."

 

I was both confused and hurt, and try as I will I have never quite forgiven her. To me and to everyone else that I know who has met her, Miss Garbo remains an enigma. Perhaps it is that none of us really know her; but the most interesting aspect would seem to be, does Miss Garbo know herself?

 

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Rathbone's account of working with Garbo is further confirmed by Fredric March's remark about working with the actress on the same film.

 

"Working with Greta Garbo hardly constituted an introduction."

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Tom,Greta Garbo NEVER signed anything,i'am not sure if she signed her paychecks or tax return... a REAL autograph by Garbo is worth an awful lot of money,i saw anexample of it,she had a very simple signature-it could be imitated,the one i saw was an MGM contract,this paper she signed eagerly...

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Tom,Greta Garbo NEVER signed anything,i'am not sure if she signed her paychecks or tax return... a REAL autograph by Garbo is worth an awful lot of money,i saw anexample of it,she had a very simple signature-it could be imitated,the one i saw was an MGM contract,this paper she signed eagerly...

Yes, nakano, I know that Garbo's signature is extremely rare.

 

Just because she disliked signing her name, however, that hardly excuses her insensitivity to Rathbone when he made a simple request. Twenty five years after the fact he still felt a little hurt by it.

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How could anyone not love Basil? I thank you for posting that quote from this extraodinary actor. I can't think of a performance of his that I didn't enjoy. He could be so effective as menancing characters in films and then be the great detective we all love. Truly one of the greats. Just reading that excerpt from his autobiography tells us that in all likelihood Rathbone was a generous and lovely man.

 

I agree.

My 10-year-old nephew loves watching Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

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