The Women in Basil Rathbone's Life

Basil Rathbone and Rose Hobart

Basil was a passionate man. This page will look at a few of the women in Basil Rathbone's life. Of necessity, it will be limited to women that the public knows about. There may be several that we will never know about. In his autobiography, In and Out of Character, Basil candidly admitted to falling in love with several women. But he often used a nickname or pet name to protect the woman's real identity. Basil's relationship with Ouida Bergere, his second wife, is described on a separate page. Click here to read about Ouida Bergere Rathbone.

Esther

Esther was possibly Basil's first girlfriend—at least the first one about whom he wrote. "Little Esther with her amorous odor of hay—the hayloft was at the farmhouse at the bend in the road, where we met wide-eyed, expectant, fearful, as we paused in a kiss ... loving and longing ... Esther's hair caressing my face ... my hands trembling with the willful impulse to explore the divine mystery of her being."1 While Basil didn't mention how old they were, the reference to Queen Victoria's death in the previous paragraph suggests that it was near that time (1901). Basil was nine years old in 1901.

 

Cynthia

Basil met Cynthia at a Christmas party at Greenbank House (the home of his great-uncle William) in Liverpool in December 1902. He was ten years old and completely in awe of the little girl dressed as the Fairy Queen. Cynthia was wearing the Fairy Queen costume for a play the children performed at the party. Basil remembered every detail of her costume, and thought that she was the most beautiful Fairy Queen he had ever seen. "Her light brown hair framed her piquant little face, with its dark brown eyes, and a full warm mouth. Her whole being radiated an impertinent charm. I loved her as I was sure I would never love anyone else again in my life!"2 Basil learned that Cynthia lived next door to his grandmother (where he and his parents were staying for the Christmas holidays). In his mind, he made plans to see her again, to scale the garden wall, to run away together! "Somehow, everyone must be made to understand that I could not go on living without her ... I loved her so terribly!"3 Alas, it was not to be. Cynthia left with her parents for a vacation in St. Moritz the next day. "And we never spent another Christmas at his Granny's either," wrote Basil, "Granny died in the spring."4


Greenbank House

Drawing of a little girl dressed as the Fairy Queen

 

Marion

While acting with Frank Benson's Shakespeare company, Rathbone met and fell in love with a fellow performer, Ethel Marion Foreman. He wrote, "Marion Foreman had been on the stage for some time before I met her at Stratford on Avon in August 1913. She was an excellent actress with a beautiful speaking and singing voice. We were cast opposite one another in 'second leads,' such as Lorenzo and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, and Silvius and Phoebe in As You Like It. Both on and off the stage we saw much of each other for many months."5  Basil and Marion were married at the church of St. Luke Parrish of Battersea, London, on October 3, 1914. The following July their son Rodion was born.

Their wedded bliss was interrupted by Basil's enlistment in the first world war.


Basil in 1913

Stratford upon Avon

 

Marie

While serving in France during the Great War, Basil met a young beauty named Marie. His division had been taken "out of the line" (a respite from the trench fighting) and Basil and his batman were billeted in a farmhouse.6  The very first evening he was there, wrote Basil, "I met the farmer's daughter and promptly fell in love with her. There was something so gentle, wide-eyed, and sweet about her. ... She was the first pretty girl I had seen in a long time."7  Basil related how he yearned to be alone with her, but her mother and father were always there. Marie's father was suspicious of Basil. "Not that one could blame him—my intentions were definitely not honorable. ... I made violent love to Marie without once even touching her—while she would sit looking at me, smiling with those limpid eyes."8  Basil never did manage to seduce Marie--not for lack of trying, however. He had located her bedroom window and climbed a tree close by, only to discover it was the window to her parents' room! He remained rather obsessed with her, however. Weeks later, when he heard that her family's farmhouse had been heavily shelled, he borrowed his colonel's horse and rode out to see if Marie had survived. He was unable to find any trace of her, and the farmhouse had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

When Basil returned from the war, he and his wife separated. After the separation, "Marion refused to believe that we would not in due course come together again." He did not want his wife and son to suffer financially because of his decision to leave them. During this time Rathbone wrestled with a sense of guilt with regard to his son. He wrote: "Self-condemnation fought bitterly with self- justification, and there was no one to turn to and talk with about such intimate personal matters. ... my son was missing his father."9

In 1925 Marion Rathbone was granted a divorce from Basil on the grounds of infidelity. Marion's obituary gives more details about this talented woman. Alas, no photo.

 

Joyce ("Juliet")


Joyce Carey in 1931
In the summer of 1919, The New Shakespeare Company performed six of Shakespeare's plays including Romeo and Juliet. Rathbone played Romeo, and fell in love with Joyce Carey, the young actress who played Juliet. Basil wrote, "How could a still impressionable young man not fall in love with his Juliet? To me she was Juliet. And many who saw us perform maintain we more perfectly represented these star-crossed lovers than any other couple in living memory.... After the play, Juliet and I would sail away up the Avon in a punt and partake of supper under the weeping willow trees—or walk through the fields and woods of Shakespeare's country until the early hours of the morning."10 

In an article for Hollywood magazine, Basil wrote, "Joyce was nineteen at the time, I think—a lovely child whose Juliet had a piquant expectancy about it that I had never met before. We saw a great deal of each other and lived in an atmosphere of the play, walking together on moonlight nights over to Shottery where
Shakespeare had courted Ann Hathaway, or we would seek the seclusion of the willow laden river banks or the silent inspiring little streets of Stratford herself."11

The romance of Basil and Joyce continued through the fall and winter of 1919-1920. Both of them were working; he was in the play Peter Ibbetson and she was another play. They were both busy and had few opportunities to be together. Their relationship began to suffer. Rathbone wrote, "The theatre is a hard life for lovers, and harder still for those who would make a successful marriage. 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder?'—I don't think so."12

 

Kitten

Basil made no further mention of "Juliet" in his autobiography, but jumped ahead to early 1921, when he met "Kitten" at a party hosted by Ivor Novello. When he first laid eyes on the woman he dubbed "Kitten," Basil was taken aback by her startling resemblance to Marie, the French farmer's daughter. "Marie!" he blurted. She told him her name was Madge, and then suggested that they leave the party and go to her flat. Thus began a hot romance between Basil and his Kitten. He wrote that he called her that because she purred like a cat every time he kissed her. In additional to having a physical resemblance to Marie (same "downy soft eyebrows and artful blue eyes"), Kitten "had a divine sense of humor—she slept all day and was up all night"13  Basil continued to play with Kitten the rest of the year, until he sailed for New York City to star in his first play on Broadway—The Czarina.

In December 1921, Basil arrived in the United States to star in the Broadway play The Czarina. Six months later, on June 27, 1922, Basil and a lady friend checked into The Red Inn in Provincetown, Massachusetts. To the right is a photo of a Guest Register from The Red Inn, open to a page with the heading "June 27, 1922." A line about halfway down the page reads:

Mr. and Mrs. Basil Rathbone, London, England

Although Basil was still married to Marion at the time, they were separated, so it is highly unlikely that she was the "Mrs. Rathbone" who shared Basil's hotel room that night. We may never know who the mystery woman was. Most likely she was simply his girlfriend at the time, or a pretty (and willing) girl he had met.


 

 

 

June

In the fall of 1923 Basil was dating a woman named June. He didn't write much about June in his autobiography; her claim to fame is that she was Basil's date when he met Ouida in November 1923. And June was unceremoniously dumped for the vivacious redhead. (Look for more about Ouida later.)

Clifton Webb, who invited Basil and June to Ouida's party, adored June.14 Possibly she was an actress, but if she was, she and Basil were not in the same play that fall. Basil gave no description of June, other than to say she was uncomfortable riding a horse and "looked like a rag doll tied to an obstreperous donkey."15  Poor June was forgotten once Basil was smitten with Ouida!


Basil in 1923

 

Eva

The Swan opened on Broadway on October 23, 1923. The play starred Eva LeGallienne as Princess Alexandra and Basil Rathbone as the teacher, Nicholas Agi. In an interview on The Baz, Helen Sheehy (author of Eva LeGallienne: A Biography) said that Eva enjoyed working with Rathbone. She told her mother that she liked Rathbone “better than any man I have ever played with. He is entirely charming—very gentle and nice to me—and wonderful to play with (he is the first leading man I have ever had who is earnest and deeply sincere about his work—who never cheats or in any way shirks his end of things.). He likes me too—and we both hope we may do many things together in the future.” The following February, while still appearing in The Swan, Eva chose Rathbone to appear with her in The Assumption of Hannele, a play that ran for three performances. At this point in time, their relationship was professional, and Basil was dating the captivating Ouida. But when the cast of The Swan went on a national tour in the fall of 1924, Basil's relationship with Eva changed.

The half-Danish, half-English LeGallienne had been involved in a lesbian relationship with Mercedes de Acosta; heterosexual relationships were unusual for Eva. In fact, her only known male lovers are Basil Rathbone and Joseph Schildkraut.

Sheehy said that Eva “was attracted to Rathbone on every level—sexually, artistically, and spiritually. She adored his 'long aristocratic legs,’ his gentle nature, and they were both schooled in European and English theatre, loved the classics and shared artistic aspirations. . . . At one point, Le Gallienne told Mercedes that she thought of marrying Basil and having his child. Then in late October Ouida Bergere joined Basil in Chicago while they were playing The Swan there, and Le Gallienne had to compete for his time. I want to 'pry Basil away from Ouida,’ she wrote.”16

When Ouida wasn't occupying Basil's time, Eva and Basil continued their lovemaking. Their affair lasted about five or six months, until the spring of 1925. According to LeGallienne, she ended the affair when she overheard Basil bragging about sleeping with her. But according to Robert A. Schanke, another LeGallienne biographer, some of Eva's friends reported that Basil ended the relationship after Eva feared she might be pregnant (she wasn’t, in the end according to Schanke). Regardless of who ended it, Eva still had feelings for Basil. She wrote to her mother, “I still call him ‘my’ Basil, because I know that he really is. I miss him.”17

An interesting tidbit of information is that in September 1925 (at least six months after their affair ended), Basil ran into Eva at the theatre and surprised her by asking if he could visit her at home. She was puzzled, but agreed. Maddeningly, that's all that is known. Did they meet? Why did Basil want to see her? Unfortunately, we'll never know.

 

Louise

In the fall of 1924 Basil met a beautiful young woman named Louise (or Louie, as he called her). Basil was touring the USA with The Swan; Louise was working at the theatre in one of the towns on the tour. One thing led to another . . . and they ended up spending the night together. When it was time for the cast of The Swan to move on to the next town on the tour, Basil said good-bye to Louise. But he later learned that Louise was pregnant! His illegitimate daughter was born in the summer of 1925. Ever the gentleman, Basil acknowledged the child as his own. He sent Louise the following letter:

Oct 24 '25

Dear Louie, I was very glad to have your letter. William also telephoned to say he had spoken to you.

Please be reassured I have no wish to make anything more difficult for you, only when I found you were gone I was concerned to know — you and the little one were well and taken care of. Do not think you owe me any apology. Please let me know how I can be of best help. I want to do anything that is needed but I will be entirely guided by you.

I am here in NY for the present and working — heaven be praised!

With fondest regards,

Basil

Basil accepted his responsibility for the baby to the extent of sending the family money. He also visited the child on at least three occasions and told her that he would have liked to see her more often, but he wasn't able to.

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NOTES
1. Basil Rathbone, In and Out of Character: An Autobiography, p. 23
2. Rathbone, p. 27
3. Rathbone, p. 28
4. Rathbone, p. 29  Note: According to public records, Basil's grandmother died on October 14, 1905. And great-uncle William (William Rathbone VI) died March 2, 1902.
5. Rathbone, p. 16-17
6. Rathbone, p. 5
7. Rathbone, p. 6
8. Rathbone, p. 7
9. Rathbone, p. 17
10 Rathbone, p. 41-42
11 "Juliets I Have Known" by Basil Rathbone, published in Hollywood magazine (May 1936) p. 61.
12 Rathbone, p. 45
13 Rathbone, p. 46
14 Rathbone, p. 53
15 Rathbone, p. 56
16 Helen Sheehy, Eva LeGallienne: A Biography, p. 122-123. See also the interview with Helen Sheehy on The Baz
17 Sheehy, p. 133.
 

Main Sources:

Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films, by Michael B. Druxman (Hardcover: South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1975) Paperback edition: BearManor Media, 2011.
Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films Mr. Druxman's book is well-researched and well-written--a "must have" for every Basil Rathbone fan. The book traces the fascinating life of the actor and provides detailed descriptions of all of Rathbone's films, including cast, credits, critics' reviews and production notes. Out-of-print for more than thirty-five years, Michael Druxman’s book is once again available for purchase. This new reprint edition mirrors the original 1975 biography/filmography, including its more than 250 rare photographs, and also contains a new Introduction by the author. Buy it at Amazon.com.

 

   
In and Out of Character: An Autobiography, by Basil Rathbone (New York: Doubleday, hardcover, 1962). Paperback edition, 2004.

Basil Rathbone proves that he is as good a writer as he was an actor. In his autobiography Rathbone reveals many facts about his personal life, and also tells anecdotes about fellow actors and actresses he worked with. This book is currently available. Check out Amazon.com.
 

   
Eva LeGallienne: A Biography, by Helen Sheehy (Knopf, 1996). Kindle edition: 2011

The extraordinary life of one of the great actors of the 20th century is viewed in this complex biography, including her protean career and courageous and controversial private life. This is the second biography of Le Gallienne to appear in recent years, and Helen Sheehy tackles her larger-than-life subject with verve and thoroughness. Sheehy's account of Le Gallienne's life, drawn mostly from the actress's personal papers, is the perfect combination of professional triumphs and defeats and personal anecdotes. Le Gallienne's childhood is well documented here, but Sheehy refrains from covering insignificant events. She shows how Le Gallienne's parents' tempestuous marriage, which ended in bitter divorce, helped lay the foundation for many of her own adult relationships.

Buy it on Amazon.com. (Click here for the Kindle edition.)

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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2013