Baker Street Wiki
Advertisement
Baker Street Wiki

William Hooker Gillette was an American actor and playwright active in the late 19th and early 20th century. He achieved his greatest fame for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in a popular series of stage plays that he co-write with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and toured throughout the United States and Britain. His performance introduced Holmes to American audiences, and had a lasting impact on creating the popular image of the detective. Gillette introduced Holmes' now iconic deerstalker cap and curved pipe; he is also credited as being the source of the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" (although his original line uses "fellow" rather than Watson's name.)[1] He assumed the role on stage more than 1,300 times over thirty years, starred in the silent motion picture based on his Holmes play, and voiced the character twice on radio.

Gillette's most significant contributions to the theater were in devising realistic stage settings and special sound and lighting effects, and as an actor in putting forth what he called the "Illusion of the First Time". His portrayal of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective. His use of the deerstalker cap (which first appeared in some Strand illustrations by Sidney Paget) and the curved pipe became enduring symbols of the character.

His first Civil War drama Held by the Enemy (1886) was a major step toward modern theater, in that it abandoned many of the crude devices of 19th century melodrama and introduced realism into the sets, costumes, props, and sound effects. It was produced at a time when the British had a very low opinion of American art in any form, and it was the first wholly American play with a wholly American theme to be a critical and commercial success on British stages.

Arthur Conan Doyle felt that the character of Sherlock Holmes was stifling him and keeping him from more worthy literary work. He had finished his Holmes saga and killed him off in The Final Problem published in 1893. Afterwards, however, Conan Doyle found himself in need of further income, as he was planning to build a new home called "Undershaw". He decided to take his character to the stage and wrote a play. Holmes had appeared in two earlier stage works by other authors in Charles Brookfield's skit Under the Clock (1893) and John Webb's play Sherlock Holmes (1894); nevertheless, Doyle now wrote a new five-act play with Holmes and Watson in their freshmen years as detectives.

Doyle offered the role first to Herbert Beerbohm Tree and then to Henry Irving. Irving turned it down and Tree demanded that Doyle readapt Holmes to his peculiar acting profile; he also wanted to play both Holmes and Professor Moriarty. Doyle turned down the deal, considering that this would debase the character.

Literary agent A. P. Watt noted that the play needed a lot of work and sent the script to Charles Frohman, who traveled to London to meet Conan Doyle. There Frohman suggested the prospect of an adaptation by Gillette. Doyle endorsed this and Frohman obtained the staging-copyright. Doyle insisted on only one thing: there was to be no love interest in Sherlock Holmes. Frohman uttered a Victorian rendition of "Trust me!"[citation needed]

Gillette then read the entire collection for the first time, outlining the piece in San Francisco while still touring in Secret Service. On one occasion, after they had exchanged numerous telegrams about the play, Gillette telegraphed Conan Doyle: "May I marry Holmes?" Doyle responded: "You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him."

Charles Frohman presents William Gillette in his new four act drama, Sherlock Holmes (LOC var 1364) (edit)


Sherlock Holmes 1916


Gillette starred as Holmes in a 1916 silent film that was thought lost until it was re-discovered in a Paris archive in 2014.[2]

Sherlock Holmes 1916 2


Appearances in adaptations[]

Gillette is mentioned in "The Star of the Adelphi", an episode of the BBC radio drama The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, written by Bert Coules. The episode dramatizes the real-life murder of actor William Terriss, who was performing in Gillette's play The Secret Service at the time of his death.

External links[]

References[]

Advertisement