Born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in 1892, the future Sherlock Holmes actor was 3-years-old when his family had to flee Johannesburg, South Africa, to escape the Boers. His father was a mining engineer; his mother a violinist.
He grew up in England, where he was known as “Ratters” among friends. He worked for a year at an insurance company at his father’s request, but soon pursued a career in theater.
Rathbone served as an intelligence officer in World War I. He once told Edward R. Murrow that he disguised himself as a tree to approach an enemy camp to acquire information.