My grandmother told me a story long ago of taking the train to New York City to see Katherine Cornell and Basil Rathbone in “Romeo and Juliet”:

1934 magazine katharine cornell basil rathbone

The first time he played Romeo, Rathbone was twenty-one – which I think would have been around 1913. In 1934 Basil would have been around 42, Katharine was 41, we’re not talking Claire and Leonardo here (age-wise), but Brook Atkinson of the New York Times gave Miss Cornell a glowing review, and had a somewhat pallid response to Mr. Rathbone. Oh, and I forgot to tell you Orson Welles played Tybalt.

“Having avoided Shakespeare until she believed herself ready to play him, Miss Cornell has hung another jewel on the cheek of the theater’s nights… on the high plane of modern magnificence… In these circumstances all a reviewer can say is “Bravo!”… As Romeo and Mercutio, Basil Rathbone and Brian Aherne, respectively, are not of first quality, in this reviewers opinion, but they are able actors who do not let the drama down.”  New York Times, Brook Atkinson Dec. 21, 1934

romeo and juliet basil rathbone and katharine cornell

Grammy loved them both, and their performance made such an impression on her that she teared up describing it to me some forty years later.

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