OLD NEWS: Ex-Little Rock daughter Ms. Basil Rathbone ‘really hated’ 1920s Hollywood parties


News clips about Eula May Branch Burgess Fitzmaurice Rathbone aka Ouida Bergere.


Our old news about Ouida Bergere Rathbone (18??-1974) began with a girl from Little Rock named Eula May Branch whose acting ambitions led to a sizable career writing silent films. But she was best remembered — or, mostly remembered — for the high-profile Hollywood parties she threw with husband Basil Rathbone.

This column is my third on Ouida Rathbone. For the first two parts, see arkansasonline.com/418eula and arkansasonline.com/425may.

Today we have a bit of his own grown-up voice – thanks to the magical power of the printed word to induce auditory illusions. On May 24, 1936, the Arkansas Gazette Sunday magazine published an interview of her by Hollywood gossip columnist Paul Harrison. (More on him below.)

Harrison argued that “Talkie-town” had surpassed its money debut. There were bookstores. Cigar producers talked about “cinema”. Grand opera performed at the Hollywood Bowl. Mainland celebrities mingled in the lounges. “Put them all together and they spell culture,” Harrison wrote.

The following are excerpts from the interview – these are not my words.


For intellectual, artistic, and titular distinction, there are no parties like those of the Basil Rathbones. Ouida Bergere Rathbone is a petite, red-haired, dynamic cosmopolitan with a considerable track record behind her and outspoken, spirited ideas for the future. They entertain more internationally renowned celebrities and titled visitors than any other couple in Hollywood.

Ouida Bergère knows her Hollywood quite well. For seven years she headed the Paramount Scenario department; writes stories, adapts them, helps direct, even cuts the film. When the specialization entered film production and producers, supervisors, and cutters began to meddle in her ideas, she quit. He went to New York and designed theater sets, and married actor Rathbone.

[Celia here: Other accounts describe their meeting very differently, but never mind.]

Let peppery Mrs. Rathbone tell you what happened in Hollywood:

“I came here in 1918 and always hated it. People thought I was an unreasonable snob, but I really hated it. I hated the palm trees, the weather, tennis, the Pacific Ocean and its beaches covered in tar I avoided the sun I never wore pants or shorts.

“There was no theater, no opera, no music, art or literature. The only interest in literature was to speculate that certain stories could be twisted enough to be made into movies .

“I would go to party after party, and they were all exactly the same. The women were always dressed to kill, and the men had such little respect for them that they refused to dress up and wore anything – even golf clothes.

“There was always a buffet dinner with the same things to eat. You squeeze through the crowd and scatter a few beans and ham on your plate, then rush for a seat at a rickety card table. The table would be too low or too high for your chair, and would probably be occupied by three bores you wouldn’t have dined with under other conditions.

“The minute dinner was over, the men would go into another room, and the actors would complain about the directors and the directors would complain about the producers. Women would sit alone in another room and play a conversational obbligato to their husbands’ laments. .

“Sometimes men and women would mingle again, sit down and drink orange juice and gin and play games. They would play Guggenheim. Everybody had to give a one-minute speech on the subject written on his slip. Most of the subjects were vulgar. Everything was supposed to be very funny.

So Ouida Bergère hated Hollywood and Basil Rathbone hated Hollywood. When they offered him a fat new contract in 1931, he tore it up and they returned to the New York and European stages. And they rekindled friendships with artists and writers and musicians, diplomats, poets and playboys.

“When Basil said we were coming back this time,” his wife continued, “I thought that was the end of everything. I said, ‘One thing you have to do – get me as far away as possible. of Beverly Hills – get out of the murderous atmosphere of the suburbs. I don’t want a single palm tree, or a swimming pool, or even poinsettias.

“So we put this house in the east of the settlement, and I redecorated the place and threw away the atrocities, remodeled the bastard architecture, and grew English flowers in the garden.

“Basil once said he hadn’t heard me make a single complaint against Hollywood. I thought about it and said, ‘Basil, Hollywood has grown up. It’s civilized!’

“And it’s civilized – writers and artists, musicians and great actors, titled people and society people come here and love it. You find Hugh Walpole and James Hilton and HG Wells and Somerset Maugham. You see Lord and Lady Plunket, the Earl of Carnarvon, Lord and Lady Cavendish, Lady Padget, Lady Furness and Lady Mendl, and the Rhenish Stuarts, Astors, Vanderbilt and Whitney.

“Leopold Stokowski came here and said all great music will eventually be heard through the screen. Everywhere we’ve been abroad people want to know more about Hollywood and wonder if it’s true that the intelligentsia of the future will certainly flock here.

“There are fewer buffet dinners now. If I have 50 guests, they’ll all be seated in substantial chairs at substantial tables, and they’ll have great food and wine, expertly served. I don’t hire a colored girl to bang a piano and moaning blues tunes. I always have a Hungarian orchestra, and they play good music – mostly Strauss. Not a single board game was played in this house since we’ve been living here. My guests talk about things other than movies.”

Harrison continued, “It goes without saying that a lot of people in Hollywood are quietly and properly entertaining these days. Mary Pickford has been less of a social presence than usual. There’s evidence that the Frederic Marches would like to be patrons of the symphony or the ballet Joan Crawford has forgotten the days of the fringed skirt and Charleston, and it is now Joan Tone, who sponsored Stokowski’s reception.

“Mrs. Basil Rathbone has quietly initiated a project for a huge cultural center in Hollywood, something on the order of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. There will be studios for the hundreds of teachers; offices for companies allied with the screen; an opera company; a symphony orchestra, musical matinees, art galleries, dance recitals, a splendid theater for legitimate plays.

“Hollywood is getting nerd.”

As far as I know, Ouida Rathbone has not endowed the civic center with her dreams.

Another thing, about “Paul Harrison”: It’s become a semi-notorious pen name; but this 1936 writer could actually have been called Paul Harrison. See Valley Scribe writer Jenny Jordan’s mention of her grandfather’s gossip columns here: arkansasonline.com/425paul.

And finally, I regret to inform Friend Reader that I found a little more about Ouida/Eula in the archives of the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette. It is a family connection with a Nobel laureate and a famous poet.

Check back here May 2 for that.


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