On July 21st…

For generations of Sherlockian devotees around the world, Basil Rathbone was known as Sherlock Holmes. He portrayed the detective in two movies produced by Twentieth Century Fox and set in the Victorian era: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939).

These movies pulled out all the stops; Twentieth Century Fox made what Chips considers one of the top versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles. As usual, they made some puzzling minor changes and one major change in the script to attract audiences, but otherwise it is a great movie. They converted more than one sound stage to make a wonderful moor and the chase of Sir Henry Baskerville by the hound had no music sound track underneath. It was more terrifying because of that.

Rathbone and his Watson from both films, Nigel Bruce, went on to feature in twelve films produced by Universal Studios that brought the characters forward in time to fight Nazis during World War II, among other adventures. With those films, fans of a generation learned of Sherlock Holmes. The films have morphed into a television event that can still be seen today. Thank Goodness for the chance to watch and re-watch these films.

The popularity of the films was a mixed blessing for Rathbone, who felt he had become typecast by the role.

“I was so badly typed,” he once said, “that when I went back to New York I lost my own identity. On the street no one ever said ‘Good morning, Basil,’ or ‘Good morning, Mr. Rathbone.’

“They said ‘Good morning, Sherlock.’”

He continued to work in film, television, and radio in a variety of roles through the 1960s. In 1956, he published an autobiography, In and Out of Character. He passed after an apparent heart attack on July 21, 1967, survived by his wife, Ouida, their daughter, Cynthia, and his son from his previous marriage, Rodion.

Sources: A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”); Los Angeles Times; and IMDb.