The Women in
Basil Rathbone's Life
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
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.
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
Drawing of a little girl dressed as
the Fairy Queen
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
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
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 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.
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.
am here in NY for the present and working — heaven be
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.
Rathbone, In and Out of Character: An Autobiography,
|2. Rathbone, p.
|3. Rathbone, p.
|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.
|6. Rathbone, p.
|7. Rathbone, p.
|8. Rathbone, p.
|9. Rathbone, p.
|10 Rathbone, p.
|11 "Juliets I
Have Known" by Basil Rathbone, published in Hollywood magazine
(May 1936) p. 61.
|12 Rathbone, p.
|13 Rathbone, p.
|14 Rathbone, p.
|15 Rathbone, p.
|16 Helen Sheehy,
Eva LeGallienne: A Biography, p. 122-123. See also the
interview with Helen Sheehy on The Baz
|17 Sheehy, p.
|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,
||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
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
Buy it on
(Click here for the