Monday, April 13, 2009

Basil Rathbone - a sellout?

As I've stated earlier, Basil Rathbone by the end of his career signed up for roles in films he was not particularly proud of later. The answer is supposed to be found in his wife Ouida's expensive taste in living that exceeded their income, and made Basil take whatever roles he could get.

I am a little sceptical, though, to put the blame entirely on Ouida. I can't imagine Basil did. From the look on their devoted marriage I can't really fit egoism into that picture. What wife would force his husband to work with something he really he detested?

I think a lot can be answered with Basil's sence of humour and will to work with variable roles. And if you take a look in film history - what kind of films were popular in the 1950's and 1960's? It was not Shakespeare and melodramas that attracted the attention of the every day audience, it was horror films. And it was in horror films you could get the parts. Therefore - The Black Sleep (1954), The Magic Sword (1962), Tales of Terror (1962) and Queen of Blood (1964). The title of The Comedy of Terrors (1964) is saying plenty of the serious intentions of that film.

Basil did not only appear in doubtful horror and fantasy films in his late career. Something that is shown all through his career is the commercials. Beer commercials, cigarette commercials... you name it. No, I name it. I'll post a lot of commercial photos after this bore of an entry...

What I want to say is - how can you blame a person making a lot of money and getting free beer and cigarettes by promoting a few brands? I sure as hell would do it, and it would keep me busy between the Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes characterizations.
If you didn't see the stylish Leisy Beer commercial on TV (included it in my original Basil Rathbone post), you can watch it in YouTube here.

Chesterfield Cigarettes commercial with yours truly - Sherlock Holmes!
"Yes! it's Elementary"

Turkish long cigarettes - Rathbone smokes Fatima!

Even Sherlock Holmes fancy Gin Fizzes!

Basil Rathbone for Schaefer Beer.

Walker's DeLuxe - elegant is taste. Best of the straight bourbons!

So... what can one do commercials about, if not alcohol or tobacco? Let's see what Mr. Rathbone figured out... (just click on them to see a bigger picture)

Skippy peanut butter!

Aluminum utensils...

Calox toothpaste.

Personna precision blades - click on it and read the ad, it is wonderful!


Van Heusen Century shirts - won't wrinkle... ever!

Shredded wheat...? You don't see too many commercials on that nowadays.

Stratford pens, anyone?

And the Swing King. I want one! They look comfy...


Gloria said...

I don't think we should blame it on Rathbone's wife, for what I've read, Rathbone loved to give parties and be an host.

Also, for what I see in e-bay, all actors working in hollywood would do commercials every then and now, so I don't think that, in that sense, Rathbone was selling himself much more than others.

Curiously, the worse sellouts are done by people who pretend to be "pure". I recall Peter Ustinov commenting on Spartacus, and being judgemental about Charles laughton having sold himself to Hollywood. Of course, Laughton's work in films helped him to play in Brecht's galileo, or plays by Shaw... so one thinks that Ustinos should have been less judgemental... particularly when one peeks at his own filmography.

To put it short: Laughton directed "The Night of the Hunter"... and Ustinov? "Romanoff and Juliet"

Kate Gabrielle said...

I love the Skippy peanut butter ad & the Van Heusen Century shirts-- those before and after pictures are priceless!

Lolita said...

Haha, that was a quite ironical comparison! It's always so easy to blame others, and not contribute much yourself. Night of the Hunter is a masterpiece!
I'm glad to hear someone else that don't ridicule Rathbone for doing commercials! As you said - he was quite glad to spend money himself!

Kate Gabrielle:
Yes, they are lovely! Haha. You can't do that if you don't have a sense of humour, right?

Samuel Wilson said...

Lolita, that's a beautiful compendium of advertising art. It makes me want to break into my own collection of Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, etc. to see if I can find similar stuff. As for Rathbone's good humor and willingness to send himself up, check out his cameo in Crazy House, in which Holmes and Watson apparently dwell on the Universal lot. Bruce rushes in to tell Rathbone some awful news, but Basil tells it to him instead: "Olsen and Johnson are coming." Bruce: "But how do you know?" Rathbone: "I am Sherlock Holmes. I know everything."

Gloria said...

To be fair to Ustinov, he also directed "Billy Budd", but, on the other hand, his filmography's got a good deal of "films made to pay the bills"...

My other favourite examples of actors which have been looked down upon by snotty colleagues are James Mason (who was considered to "have wasted himself in Hollywood") and George Sanders (who was considered to hire his talents all too easily)... And yet, their roles in "A Star is Born", "Five Fingers" (Mason) or "All About Eve" (Sanders) don't look to me as "waste" at all...

Christopher said...

makes me want a beer..and a glass of Borboun..and a smoke in my Swing King..and my tooth Powder..and my shreded wheat before rushing off to the Studio in the morning....I wonder if 'olmes eats his shreaded wheat dry?..or with milk and sugar?..

Lolita said...

Samuel Wilson:
Thanks a lot! I love these old commercial ads, they are always so simple and brilliant! Very amusing. Let me know if you plan to publish any ads you find in the mentioned magazines, I would love to see them!
Haha, lovely quote! Crazy House is something I haven't had my hands on, unfortunately. I'll have to do something about it!

You're quite right. And don't forget Mason in "Lolita"! My favourite Mason character.

Haha, so the commercials worked on you? I'd like some of those Fatima cigarettes, myself. They seem classy.
I think he ate his shredded wheat with beer.

Christopher said...

Some how I can't picture Basil!..drinking BEER!(even tho we've seen him do it with our own eyes!)..He holds that Bourbon glass like a true gentleman tho..
You should definately check out the Crazy House video as well as the Hellzapoppin' vid on You Tube if you want a good laugh...Olsen and Johnson were way funnier than Abbott and Costello at Universal..

Gloria said...

LOL! Olsen and Johnson PLUS Martha Raye and Mischa Auer were a killer team!