Basil Rathbone

18 Apr

This is a quote by Basil Rathbone describing Errol Flynn I thought it quite perceptive and I think describes Flynn to a tee. What do you all think?

“God gave him the most beautiful body. He’s intelligent. He can act. He arrived very fast. He arrived almost overnight. And he simply wasn’t ready, he wasn’t sufficiently well disciplined in life to know that he had to conform. Now he has made non-conformity a sort-of idiosyncrasy. It’s now almost a big bluff, because he’s thrown a very wonderful career out of the window.”

Movie Story January 1938 (?)



— daringthorpe


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  1. Maria

    April 18, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    That is so perceptive. I have always felt that while the movies etc were fun for awhile, Errol soon found himself unable to stop because of all his obligations. It is no fun to work when you HAVE to! Thanks for posting.

  2. Gentleman Tim

    April 18, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Sounds like shades of Salieri to me, with Errol being Mozart.

    (Likely blinded by jealousy of Errol’s unparalleled talents & success – and never getting to win a sword fight against him) Basil may have missed the whole point – that is, Errol’s defiant non-conformity IS what made him immortally great.

    It’s elementary my dear Rathbone, Errol was much greater and more significant than you. Take that and stick it in your pipe, Sherlock.


    • Gentleman Tim

      April 19, 2015 at 5:06 am

      Ah, yes, then there was always this to drive old Sir Guy of Rathbone crazy: Errol always got the girl, on stage and off.



      I’m a big fan of Basil Rathbone’s acting, but I believe he should not have made any statement like this. To me, it appears petty, in that it is a grossly incomplete assessment of Errol’s extraordinarily unique talents. Maybe he really was a smug know it all, as he so often played on screen.

      First of all, Errol was much more than a mere actor, he was the real deal, an athlete, adventurer, and pioneer Rathbone and the rest could never hope to be. Basil missed or rather refused to acknowledge that point. Errol’s greatest ambitions and achievements were not thespianic in nature. He was on a much greater stage and scale than any of the Hollywoodheads who endlessly aim to deny his greatness. Tinsel Town just paid his bills.

  3. zacal

    April 19, 2015 at 3:23 am

    I think it was very perceptive of Mr. Rathbone. He appreciated Errol’s star quality and talent. But Errol wanted out of Warner Bros. when everybody else wanted in. Errol risked everything on William Tell and was betrayed. That wouldn’t have happened with Warner.

  4. daringthorpe

    April 19, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Hi Tim
    I really appreciate your feedback on my post .I do agree there probably was a certain amount of” professional jealousy” on Mr Rathbone’s part but I genuinely believe that this was a very astute observation. We all know he had a soft spot for Olivia but never acted on it as far as we know.
    Human nature being what it is when someone like Errol Flynn comes along who is handsome charming and makes the most difficult things look easy there is always resentment from those who have to work at it.. I have always believed that the best actors usually are playing a version of themselves on screen so in this case Basil Rathbone will always be the villian and Errol Flynn the hero which is something I think niggled Rathbone. That old sport is where I think Rathbone is coming from, just a thought.

    • Gentleman Tim

      April 20, 2015 at 3:33 am

      Excellent points, daringthorpe. And, in my book, he made himself even more the villain by publicly disparaging the very man who gave him film immortality, Errol Flynn. If he felt compelled to publicly criticize Errol so for perceived faults, then he should have praised him properly and fully for all his incredible talents. I think he was taking bitterly jealous jabs at Errol, like Salieri against Mozart, Cobb against Ruth, Sinatra against The Beatles – refusing to recognize new and superior talent and accomplishments.

      And this had to really gall him:


      btw, daringthorpe, this was an excellent post and topic for discussion. Thank you very much for it and I apologize if I’m being too hard on old Baz. I love his acting, just not his spouting off about Errol!

  5. timerider

    April 19, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    A very human observation. Here we have to June bugs born down under as south Africa is also. Both had classical acting experience. both were 6’2″. Yes Errol just seemed to appear overnight. Basil the elder was seeing in Errol the same twin faced man that he was. Errol lived in 50 years like 2 men, one the adventurer, actor and one the family man trying to be. Basil seemed to merge his life into a longer one. Jealousy, yes but being older I think Basil did see that one part of Errol that was reckless and not the whole picture…Both were very intelligent. I loved Basil as Sherlock Holmes and his agility with the sword is legendary.. However Basil worked with Errol in many films and had to have known much about him. In the end Errol did throw it all away……..

    • daringthorpe

      April 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Yes Timerider I have to agree, The older man making the observation about the younger In most ways polar opposites brought together through a shared craft. Approaching it different ways one effortlessly the other through hard graft and applying himself to his trade. I As I have stated earlier when someone can do things easily that others have to work at it is always resented.

  6. Gentleman Tim

    April 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    It’s impossible for me to know exactly what Basil Rathbone really felt about Errol. He was probably conflicted and confused himself about the young upstart who came out of nowhere and so brighty outshined him – he who obviousy thought his track to Hollywood, slavishly through the trenches of “legitimate” (British) theater. What I believe he wrongly misses or disregards is that Flynn went through at least as much as Basil did to achieve his talents. As just one example of that, learning to act and charm oneself to survival in the jungles of New Guinea (and dangerous backstreets of Old Sydney) is, IMHO, far more difficult than getting your start with a prominent theater manager uncle, as did Basil.

    Not to take away from Basil’s immense and wonderful talents, but he was no Errol Flynn. “Dear Old Bazzz” was a company man, an industry journeyman who played a great villain and smug know-it-all. Flynn had “street cred” with fans, and infinitely more star power. … Do you know any boy who wanted to grow up to be Basil Rathbone? Or any relatively tough young man who would fear to face off with him in a bar room brawl? I don’t.

    And when Basil let loose with that what I see as petty quote above, it was when a bigger person and real friend would have had much kinder and more generous words for Errol. Here is the fuller quote and context in his 1962 autobiography, in which he can’t even bring himself to admit and honor the greatness of Captain Blood or Robin Hood, nevermind Errol Flynn (the films that really put him on the map.) I suppose at that point he still believed he was greater than Flynn. My response to that is: No Shot Sherlock.…


  7. twinarchers

    April 19, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    I think he made some valid points

  8. shangheinz

    April 19, 2015 at 7:52 pm


    Baz` biting bit actually is a very accurate account of what happened or rather what Errol did to his career. There is praise and there is pity and maybe there is also regret of a potential leading man who had to settle for second villainous best.

  9. Gentleman Tim

    April 19, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Here’s another assessment (accent on the first syllable) from Gisbourne:

    “Tyrone Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera. He could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”

    Say what, Sherlock?

    (That, IMHO, is absurd. Tyrone Power was not a better fencer than Errol Flynn, something Basil Rathbone definitely knew, but chose to falsely state. .. For example, he most certainly knew well that the great fencer Fred Cavens doubled for TP throughout The Mark of Zorro, which is the film Dear Old Bazzz is surely referring to in the above disparaging remark against Errol.)

    • shangheinz

      April 19, 2015 at 8:59 pm


      Baz was an ace fencer, but didn`t fancy that Errol skipped the ranks like a rookie who hadn`t payed his dues. Considering that Robert Donat was sceduled to play Captain Blood and James Cagney was to be Robin Hood- each of them an accomplished movie star at that time. If not for Errol, maybe Basil would have gotten the call up.

      • Gentleman Tim

        April 19, 2015 at 9:24 pm

        If so, sabreheinz, we’d surely not be talking about Basil today at all! Captain Blood revived his checkered career, and facing off as Errol’s foil in Robin Hood brought him his greatest role & fame. Who knows who would have happened to Holmes? It could have been The Case of the Missing __________ ?

        These quotes of his remind me that in Robin Hood Sir Guy seems far more obsessed with Errol than with Olivia. In fact, he really pays hardly any romantic attention whatsoever to the astonishingly attractive Maid Marian, as most Guys would, of course. This rather odd dynamic might reflect the way Sir Guy felt about Flynn off screen, as well.

  10. rswilltell

    April 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Basil Rathbone’s comments on the life and career of Errol Flynn unfortunately were right on the money and accurate. Basil Rathbone already had carved out a career as Hollywood’s top movie villain thanks to his brilliant performance in MGM’s all-star production of ‘David Copperfield’. He was a classically-trained actor from South Africa, and an expert swordsman of the top rank. Rathbone was a magnificent screen actor who distinguished every film he appeared in. Rathbone, without even trying, made the screen’s and radio’s finest Sherlock Holmes ever. Anyone who has read the great adventures by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, knows that Basil Rathbone made that literary character come to life on the silver screen. His career mistake was quitting the role in films and radio. Although he enjoyed a Broadway triumph in ‘The Heiress’ his film career never really recovered. I have found that actors in real life are the exact opposite of the characters they become famous for in films and television. Basil Rathbone made 86 films over 46 years, and was happily married to his wife Ouida for fifty years. Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power were damned lucky to play opposite him at the pinnacles of their careers. By the way, if you want to see Basil Rathbone do first-rate comedy get the DVD of the 1940 Universal film ‘The Black Cat’ where he kids his own image as Holmes while doing comedy with Broderick Crawford, Alan Ladd, Hugh Herbert, Bela Lugosi and Anne Gywnne! Ralph Schiller

    • Gentleman Tim

      April 20, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      The way I see it Ralph is that Basil Rathbone not only grossly (and out of jealousy) shortchanged Errol’s talents and accomplishments with what he said in the post and link above (and never rehabilitating it elsewhere to my knowledge), he also completely disregards how much Flynn meant to his career.

      Outrageously amplifying that very conscious personal disparagement – through harsh criticisms, faint praise, and significant omissions – he also states that none of three films he was in with Flynn were great films. As you know, that includes Captain Blood, Dawn Patrol, and The Adventures Robin Hood. This, of course, is another, more oblique attack on Flynn.

      To determine how honest and credible Sir Guy is in his Flynn-related assessments, Ralph, let me ask you:

      Do you believe any of any of the above mentioned films – Captain Blood, Dawn Patrol, or The Adventures of Robin Hood – were great?

      Do you believe Tyrone Power was a far superior fencer to Errol Flynn?

      Do you believe Sherlock overlooked or failed to mention during his criticisms of Flynn any fact about how important Errol was to his (Rathbone’s) career?

      • rswilltell

        April 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm

        Okay Tim; Yes I do agree with you that the three films Basil Rathbone did with Errol Flynn are truly great films. And if Rathbone did in fact say they were not, then yes I would say he was greatly mistaken. As far as to his opinion that Tyrone Power was a superior fencer than Errol Flynn, I cannot say personally because I am no expert on the topic. However Basil Rathbone was a swordsman and I agree with his opinion. Of all the stars in Hollywood who tried to follow in Flynn’s swashbuckling footsteps, only Tyrone Power gave him a run for his money. Power’s death in 1958 made front page headlines because he was still a box office star. Sadly Errol Flynn’s passing in 1959 was not front page news because his star had slipped badly. Anyone who says that Basil Rathbone owed his career to Errol Flynn is misinformed. Basil Rathbone was already a major character star when he first made ‘Captain Blood’ (1935). He was under contract to MGM, and had already co-starred in the movie classics ‘Kind Lady’ (1935), ‘Anna Karenina’ (1935) with Greta Garbo and Fredric March, ‘A Tale Of two Cities’ (1935) with Ronald Coleman, ‘David Copperfield’ (1935) with Freddie Bartholomew and W.C. Fields, and ‘The Last Days Of Pompeii’ (1935) playinfg Pontious Pilate at RKO. His films with Errol Flynn certainly enhanced his career and screen credits but they didn’t make Rathbone’s career. After ‘Captain Blood’ Basil Rathbone went on to make ‘Romeo And Juliet’ (1936) with Leslie Howard and John Barrymore, ‘Private Number’ (1936) at Fox with Robert Taylor and Loretta Youg, ‘If I Were King’ (1938) with Ronald Coleman, ‘The Tower Of London’ (1939) with Boris Karloff, ‘The Son Of Frankenstein’ (1939) with Krloff and Bela Lugosi followed by ‘Hound Of The Baskervilles’ (1939) and ‘The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ (1939). Oh yes, Basil Rathbone owed everything to Flynn all right. Ironically Rathbone was chosen by two great movie comedians when they parodied Errol Flynn in ‘Cassanova’s Big Night’ (1954) starring Bob Hope, and ‘The Court Jester’ (1956) starring Danny Kaye. Basil Rathbone is comically brilliant in ‘We’re No Angels’ (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart, and adds to the superb John Ford film ‘The Last Hurrah’ (1958) with Spencer Tracy. However when it came to their last films Errol Flynn trumps Basil Rathbone once again. Rathbone’s last film was a Mexican horror-comedy filmed in Spanish and never released in the USA (except in Spanish theatres), that also starred John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell, ‘Autopsy Of A Ghost’ (1968). Although Rathbone is very funny in this color film, there is no mistaking his career was on its last legs. However I will admit that ‘Cuban Rebel Girls’ (1959) makes Rathbone’s last film look like ‘Gone With The Wind’! Ralph Schiller

      • Gentleman Tim

        April 21, 2015 at 10:24 pm

        Here are my answers to the three questions above, Ralph:

        1) Rathbone was most definitely wrong in his assessment that none of the movies he made with Errol were great. (Which can be found in the link above, on page 151, paragraph 3, of his “memoir”.) He was either lying or has very poor judgment. I believe he was deliberately selling Errol short, out of petty envy.

        2) No way Tyrone Power was a far superior fencer than Errol Flynn. In fact, Power was nowhere in the league of Flynn in ANY athletic activity. That’s just more crap against Flynn from Sir Guy, who, again obviously out of bitter jealously, never bothered to mention what a supemely talented athlete Errol was.

        3) Sherlock definitely failed to give Errol any credit for how much Errol did for his career. He just couldn’t bring himself to admit it, obviously thinking he deserved more credit and praise than Errol. (Which, IMO, he did not.) Basil was a great actor, but he was no Errol Flynn. Basil was just spice on the sumptuous feast Flynn provided the world. … Besides, Ralph, “In like Rathbone” just doesn’t sound right. You’ll have to admit that! …. I hope!!

        • rswilltell

          April 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm

          Tim; I gave my response to your three indictments on Basil Rathbone, and I stand by what I wrote. I do agree with you that ‘In Like Rathbone’ or ‘In Like Basil’ doesn’t sound nearly as good as ‘In Like Flynn’. In 1965, Basil Rathbone flew to Chicago, Illinois where he actually hosted a local television series ‘The Sherlock Holmes Theatre’ on WGN-TV, a midwest TV superstation. Rathbone sat in front of a fireplace and introduced kids like me to 12 of his Sherlock Holmes films and 20 of the Charlie Chan films. I was in mystery heaven. WGN-TV had Basil Rathbone do a personal event at the studio where schoolchildren met him as he recited Shakespeare and talked about Mr. Holmes. He signed autographed photos and most of the kids were calling him Mr. Holmes. One boy got the autographed photo and said “Thank you, Sir Suy Of Grisborne!” Basil Rathbone suddenly looked up with a beaming smile and chuckled! By the way I sincerely doubt very much that he would appreciate being called BAZ! The bible on Basil Rathbone is Michael Druxman’s superb book on his film career. Is the guy at BAZ doing a book on Rathbone? By the way I enjoyed crossing swords with you Tim! Ralph Schiller

          • Gentleman Tim

            April 22, 2015 at 1:35 pm

            Thanks for all that great info on the great Basil Rathbone, Ralph, and especially your personal account of his appearances in Chicago. That’s wonderful.


            • rswilltell

              April 22, 2015 at 3:50 pm

              Tim that’s a great photo of two of Hollywood’s most beloved stars in a happy moment! Final sad swan song films for both but actors have to eat also. Ralph Schiller

  11. David DeWitt

    April 22, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    A tip o’ my hat to the respectful way this discussion was conducted! It perfectly typifies the spirit of The Errol Flynn Blog …