Basil Rathbone Grew to Hate Sherlock Holmes

The cover story in the August 2022 issue of Nostalgia Digest goes into detail on how playing the world’s most famous detective Sherlock Holmes made Basil Rathbone a household name but greatly limited his chances to play anyone else.

Stone Wallace writes:

Sherlock Holmes was a role that Basil embraced at first, but eventually — and perhaps inevitably — his association with the character began to feel more like a straitjacket than a ticket to fame. Over the four years at Universal, the films became repetitive and formulaic; more than that, Basil began to feel that people were starting to think of him as Holmes to the exclusion of everything else.

One exclusion that particularly stung was losing the role of Sir Henry Wotten in MGM’s glossy production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. …

Basil complained that “when you become the character you portray, it’s the end of your career as an actor” and he worked hard to establish himself in different types of roles during this time. He even returned to movie villainy, playing a Gestapo chief in 1943’s Above Suspicion and Lord Rockingham in the 1944 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek (the latter, we must note, also featured Nigel Bruce, though not as Dr. Watson.

Rathbone did better escaping the shadow of Holmes in radio, starring on Lux Radio Theater, Cavalcade of America and Theater Guild on the Air.

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