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"Basil ... was working somewhere under one of the numerous disguises" [BLAC] 

On June 13, 1892, Philip St. John Basil Rathbone was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He entered the world at a time when Sherlock Holmes was making a name for himself in the Strand Magazine, specifically in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." Little did he or his parents realize that he would go on to become one of the most famous portrayers of Sherlock Holmes on the screen.

He attended Repton from 1906 to 1910, and by the time he left school, he was convinced he wanted to make a life for himself in the theatre. After spending some time in local theatrical productions, he entered war service in 1916, where he continued to hone his acting skills, albeit as more of a stationary object. According to BasilRathbone.net, Rathbone told Edward R. Murrow in a 1957 interview:
 "I went to my commanding officer and I said that I thought we'd get a great deal more information from the enemy if we didn't fool around in the dark so much . . . and I asked him whether I could go out in daylight. I think he thought we were a little crazy. . . .  I said we'd go out camouflaged -- made up as trees -- with branches sticking out of our heads and arms . . . . We brought back an awful lot of information, and a few prisoners, too."

Rathbone eventually moved from England to the United States, settling in New York in 1923 and then moving on to Hollywood in 1935. His Hollywood years brought him fame in Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, where he became known as an able swordsman and a fine villain. And it was in 1938 when he joined forces with Nigel Bruce for a collaboration that lasted from 1939 to 1946 as the most enduring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to grace the screen.

Basil Rathbone by Tom Richmond

It is that collaboration that we covered in Episode 122 of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.

Rathbone left the role of Sherlock Holmes in 1946, fearful of typecasting (he was correct, of course, but too late). His wife Ouida wrote a stage play, "Sherlock Holmes," in 1953, but it closed after poor reviews and only three performances. He made a handful of middle-rate movies in the 1960s, toured in the one-man play "An Evening with Basil Rathbone," and wrote his biography In and Out of Character, which was published in 1962.

Basil Rathbone died on July 21, 1967 at the age of 75. He is interred in Ferncliff Cemetary in Hartsdale, NY.

While Holmes purists may find something to quibble about in the later 12 films of the 14-film series that Rathbone and Bruce made, it's clear that they continue to be accessible and popular. Every generation has its own Sherlock Holmes. But since the 1940s, it seems that every generation has been exposed to Rathbone's Holmes.

We're pleased to reflect on that fact today, 130 years after Rathbone was born.