Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Basil Rathbone!

Wednesday, June 13, will mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of the great English actor Basil Rathbone (1892-1967), and, to celebrate, here is a recording that might surprise those who know his portrayal of the villainous Sir Guy of Gisborne, opposite Errol Flynn's title role in the 1938 Warner Brothers feature The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Here Rathbone himself is Robin Hood, and a very convincing one, too:

Robin Hood (dramatic adaptation by Ralph Rose)
Basil Rathbone with supporting cast, male chorus and brass ensemble
Recorded February 13, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-583, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 87.26 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 41.74 MB)

The supporting cast includes Raymond Lawrence as a delightfully wicked Sheriff of Nottingham; Jay Novello as Will Stutley; Ramsay Hill as Friar Tuck; Tom Collins as Allan-A-Dale; John Goldsworthy as Much; Marvin Miller (perhaps the best-remembered of this group of players) as Little John; Joy Harrington as Maid Marian, the only female voice heard on this recording; and Harry Bartell (a regular on "Gunsmoke" - both on radio and TV) as the Herald.

A bonus on this recording is the delightful musical accompaniment, never intrusive but woven into the story.  The chorus, which offers songs ranging from "Greensleeves" to extracts from Sullivan's "Ivanhoe" and German's "Merrie England," is led by Tudor Williams (1896-1971), who appeared on-screen, usually as a singer, in 25 films, most notably Citizen Kane and Mrs. Miniver.   The brass choir is led by James Stagliano (1912-1976), who played French horn in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in the Hollywood studio orchestras (his film credits include Gone With the Wind), then went on to become the Boston Symphony's principal horn from 1950-1973.

Basil Rathbone became quite an asset to Columbia Records during the years of the Petrillo recording ban (1942-44), since, as an actor rather than a musician, he was not affected by the ban!  During this period he made several recordings of poetry and dramatic presentations, including "Treasure Island" and "The Murder of Lidice" which were accompanied only by a capella choruses - which also were not subject to the ban.  In the LP era he made numerous recordings for Caedmon, including his famous Sherlock Holmes portrayals.


  1. Bryan - This post brings back some wonderful memories for me. When I was a kid back in the 1950's, a friend of mine had a copy of this recording on a 10-inch LP that we both enjoyed very much. You mention that Basil Rathbone also made a recording of Treasure Island. I've never heard that one, but I had a copy of a Decca Recording of Treasure Island (three 12-inch 78s) with Thomas Mitchell that I would dearly love to hear once again. Any chance of your posting that one?

    1. Sorry I don't have that one. On the other hand I just found out that Kiddie Records Weekly (in my links at right) has the Rathbone "Treasure Island" for download.

  2. Fascinating stuff, Bryan. Many thanks.