Welcome

Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Whole Canon as BBC Radio Drama

Almost from his very beginning, Sherlock Holmes has been as much at home in drama as on the printed page. And one of the landmark achievements in that long history of Holmes being brought to life was the first dramatization of the entire Canon.

With Clive Merrison as Holmes, Michael Williams as Dr. Watson, and Bert Coules as head writer, BBC radio completed the task in eight years, seven months, and seventeen days, and just under nine hours, starting Oct. 9, 1989 and ending on May 26, 1998. So Coules reports in his excellent 221 BBC, part of the Musgrave Monograph series from the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society.

The 1998 monograph, later expanded into a book available from Wessex Press, is fascinating to me as an author. Coules writes in it about the challenges and decisions involved in adapting specific episodes. For example, he added a touching scene at the end of the “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” in which Watson invites himself to Baker Street for a late Christmas Eve meal so that famously unemotional Holmes won’t have to say the words.  

The series has long been regarded as a high-water mark in Sherlockian drama, not only because of its ground-breaking nature but also because of the high quality of the scripts and the acting. So I’m pleased to say I recently inherited from the late R. Joel Senter, Sr. (via his wife Carolyn) the entire series on cassette tape, as well as a copy of the monograph.

But who has a cassette player anymore? Well, the Senters covered that, too. Long ago they gave me this art deco radio that also plays cassettes.

 

                                                
Fortunately, that’s not the only way to enjoy this BBC Sherlock. The shows are available from Amazon and Audible. Click here for a link to Bert Coules website, where you can learn much more about the historic series and order the episodes as well as 221 BBC.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Sherlock Holmes in Chester, IL

 

Last week we visited the only permanent Sherlock Holmes statue in North America – and it has the face of Elzie “E.C.” Segar, the cartoonist best known for creating the immortal spinach-eating sailor Popeye.

The granite statue standing in a residential neighborhood in Segar’s hometown of Chester, IL, was the brainchild of Mike McClure, BSI, founder of the Chester Baskerville Society. It celebrates Segar’s affection for Holmes, which shows up repeatedly in his cartoons.

On the wall behind the statue, those who not only see but observe will notice the word “RACHE” in red from A Study in Scarlet, four crosses from The Sign of the Four, and the symbol tattooed on the Scrowrers The Valley of Fear. At the base of the statue are “the footprints of a gigantic hound.”

Encircling the statue are a series of granite blocks, each bearing the name of two Sherlock Holmes adventures and the sponsor of the block. From above, these form the lens of a magnifying glass, with the path being the handle.   

McClure, a mortician by trade, was also the creator of the Popeye & Friends Character Trail, celebrating the fact that Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Popeye’s other friends were based on residents of Chester in Segar’s boyhood. And many of these statues are embedded with Sherlockian Easter eggs. We didn’t have a chance to catch up with Mike on our visit, but he sent me these photos:

Cole Oyl

 

Caster Oyl

Cole Oyl's Hound of the Baskervilles

To learn much more about all of Mike’s fun and fascinating enterprises and hear his March 2019 interview with the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast, click here.

A Great Start for McCabe & Cody on Kickstarter


My first Kickstarter -- for the new Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody book -- is off to a great start, with 15 days left to go. If you haven't seen it, please check it out here. If you are already on board, thanks!  The book is already available on Kindle and will be in print soon.  

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Nigel Bruce: The Man Who Would Be Watson


Internet research is indispensable, but sometimes you just have to ask the right person to get the right answer.

Over the weekend, I had a vague recollection that Nigel Bruce wrote an unpublished autobiography. That’s all I remembered. So, on Saturday afternoon I popped an email over the ocean to my British friend Roger Johnson, the always-helpful editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, to ask him if there was indeed a Bruce memoir.

On Sunday, Roger sent me a PDF of eight pages from the Winter 1988 number of the Journal. A couple of pages consists of Nicholas Utechin’s interview with Nigel Bruce’s daughter, Pauline Page, and the rest is made up of excerpts from Bruce’s unpublished memoir, Games, Gossip and Greasepaint.

Ms. Page lovingly describes her father as a gregarious, intelligent, very funny man who read at least a book a day and fit in well with Hollywood’s British colony, which included David Niven and Boris Karloff as well as his great friend, Basil Rathbone. She remembered Rathbone fondly as a “wonderful, kind, loving, gentle – really gentle – man without a nasty streak in his body.”

Bruce took just over three years to write his autobiography, ending on Nov. 3, 1947. The extracts in the Journal are limited to his role as Dr. Watson. That began in 1938 when Basil Rathbone sent him a telegram in New York, where he had been involved in a failed Broadway play: “Do come back to Hollywood, Willie dear boy, and play Doctor Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. We’ll have great fun together.”

“Willie,” as all Bruce’s friends called him, was soon making The Hound of the Baskervilles. He earned nearly $10,000 for the picture.

“I never worked with a nicer man than Basil,” he writes, “and I never acted with a more unselfish or more co-operative actor.”

His assessment of Rathbone was based on an experience that included 13 more Holmes films and a long-running Holmes radio series. They also spent many hours together playing golf, both having a 10 handicap.

“Our (Universal) Sherlock Holmes pictures took between 18 and 22 days to make,” he reports. For this he was initially paid a salary of $850 a week in 1942 for 40 weeks. By 1945 his contract was for $1,150 a week, but he was laid off for 12 weeks – during which time he arranged an operation on his legs, which had been wounded in World War I. He acknowledges that Watson "was made much more of a 'comic' character than he ever was in the books."  

Bruce was also playing Dr. Watson on the radio for $500 a week at the same time. This was not only good money, but security for an actor.  

Although Pauline Page blames Basil Rathbone’s “very ambitious, rather pushy little wife” Ouida for ending the Holmes film series, Bruce’s final words about Rathbone in the excerpt are: “Ours had been a very happy association and one which had brought me much publicity and a lot of money. During our long time together Basil and I never had a row or any unpleasantness of any sort.”

Bruce ends his memoir with the hope that his two daughters “will enjoy their lives as much as their father has enjoyed every minute of his.”

It is good to know that William Nigel Ernle Bruce, who gave so much happiness to the rest of us, was a happy man himself. He died in 1953 at the age of 58, one month shy of five years after finishing his memoir.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Look what I found!

 


A Sherlockian on vacation is not on vacation from being a Sherlockian. Here's a sign we spotted on a store in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina, while we were vacationing last week on idyllic Fripp Island. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Three Titles for One Sherlock Holmes Movie

            

Ann and I recently watched the Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce film Sherlock Holmes: Prelude to Murder. What – you’ve never heard of that one? Neither had I! 

That’s the title under which Amazon Prime serves up Dressed to Kill, the last of the 14 Rathbone-Bruce film outings as the immortal duo. And it’s colourized! Purists may hate the tampering with the original black and white, but I enjoyed it. It was a different experience, and a good one for me. The costumes and sets really popped out because of the color contrast. 

Once we started watching the movie, the Dressed to Kill title came up. Apparently, that refers to Mrs. Hilda Courtney (what was Mr. Courtney like?), who has some great wardrobe changes and what Roger Johnson calls “the most bizarre hat in the entire series.” The lovely Patricia Morison, who played the part, died in 2018 at the age of 103. 

Roger’s 48-page review of the 12 Universal Studios Holmes films, “Ready When You Are, Mr. Rathbone,” was published by the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society as Musgrave Monograph Number Three in 1992. In it, Roger notes that “Dressed to Kill was released in Britain under the rather banal title of Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code.” 

Banal it may be, but that title strikes me as the most fitting of the three in terms of the plot. To refresh your memory, this is the one with the musical boxes. 

Roger sums up the movie rather nicely when he says, “Dressed to Kill is by no means top rank Sherlock Holmes, but (adaptor) Frank Gruber and (screenwriter) Leonard Lee have devised a clever plot which really stretches Holmes’s capabilities.” 

The number of dedicated Sherlockians worldwide whose first exposure to Holmes came from the Rathbone-Bruce series must number in the hundreds or thousands. My experience was different. I’d already read much of the Canon and may have even owned my first Complete Sherlock Holmes before I saw any of these movies. It took me a long time to get over the buffoonish Watson, the uncanonical plots, and the 1940s setting. 

But I thought from the first time I saw him in the part, as I think now, that Basil Rathbone is a marvelous Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

ACD's Holmes Beyond the Canon

The 1981 Castle Books edition (left) and the 1995 Barnes & Noble 

Even if your Sherlock Holmes library is less than a shelf, it should include a book of the apocrypha, Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings about Holmes that are not part of the Canon. That includes, at minimum, two plays, two sketches, and two short stories (in which Holmes is unmistakably referenced but not named).

Such a book is The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Peter Haining. I already a Barnes & Noble copy of this 1995 book and recently acquired the earlier Castle Books edition from the library of the late R. Joel Senter, Sr., published in August 1981. Although I’m not a collector, I sometimes keep different editions of a book that happen to come my way.

(The Haining anthology is not to be confused with the Heritage Press book of the same name, edited and with an epilogue by Edgar W. Smith, which brings together His Last Bow, The Valley of Fear, and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1952, the year I was born. I inherited one of those from Joel, too.)

The Haining collection is a good one, but I don’t think it’s the best. For my thoughts on the superior version of the apocryphal Holmes, please click here to read my earlier blog post on Leslie S. Klinger’s The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Discovering A Classic Anthology


Beyond Baker Street, where have you been most of my life?

This Sherlockian anthology edited by Michael Harrison, which Steve Doyle considers “a classic,” came out in 1976 in the wake of the Sherlockian wave created by Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. But, somehow, I missed it.

It recently came to me from Carolyn Senter among a number of Sherlockian books that belonged to her late husband and our good friend, R. Joel Senter, Jr. I consider an inheritance from Joel. 

 By coincidence, I’d only owned the book for about a day when I came across a reference to it in Commissionaire, Sonia Fetherston’s new biography of Julian Wolff. The reason is that the book is fulsomely dedicated to Wolff, who was then head of the Baker Street Irregulars and editor of The Baker Street Journal.

Even before I began reading Beyond Baker Street, I noticed something curious: pages 205-236 of the volume I have are printed upside down! S. Brent Morris says this is almost certainly a complete “signature,” in bookbinding terms, and when the worker gathered the signatures together this one was inadvertently inverted.

That novelty aside, the content of the anthology has something of the feel of such masterworks as Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight and Vincent Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, published more than a generation earlier. 

The quality of the essays by 25 American and British writers is not as uniformly interesting as in those early books, for my taste, but the best ones are very good indeed. John Gardner offers a masterful overview of the Victorian underworld, David Pearson has one of the best articles I’ve read on the question of Holmes’s religious faith, and Martin Gardner’s proof that ACD didn’t write the Canon is clever though rather mean-spirited.

My favorite essay, though, is Anthony Howlett’s piece on “The Impersonators: Sherlock Holmes on Stage and Screen.” His frank assessment – and the frankness is what makes it so enjoyable – lauds Basil Rathbone and Arthur Wontner, but surprisingly finds Peter Cushing “a rather lightweight and prissy Holmes” and his Hound “a feeble and disappointing production”!

Among the many illustrations that add to the enjoyment of the anthology are 13 delightful line drawings by Henry Lauritzen.

Now you must excuse me. I have to add a book to my library shelves.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Getting to Know Dr. Julian Wolff



Dr. Julian Wolff just became real to me. But first, some background:

The most common age for readers to encounter Sherlock Holmes is about 12. Unusually for me, I was a bit ahead of the curve on that. At that age, in 1964, I spent $5.50 of my own money to buy my first Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes. I had read not only half the Canon by then, but also Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar W. Smith’s Profile by Gaslight, and probably some issues of The Baker Street Journal.

So, at the age of 10 or so, I certainly knew about the Baker Street Irregulars and might well have known about its third leader, Julian Wolff. Now I feel like I know Dr. Wolff himself after reading Sonia Fetherston’s new book Commissionaire. It’s a fast and fascinating read.

This is not a complete biography of all the ins and outs of Dr. Wolff’s professional and personal lives. It is, rather, largely a portrait of his BSI service and leadership, with sufficient personal details to make the subject come alive as a complex personality. (A man who courts a woman for 30 years with ultimate success is no quitter.) I love the anecdote-laden way the book is written, with quotes and stories from dozens of people who knew him.

Not surprisingly, many of those anecdotes come from the inimitable Peter Blau. My favorite is his quote from Julian Wolff himself about how he ran the BSI: “Sometimes I’m described as a benevolent dictator. I’m not a dictator. But if I were a dictator I’d be a benevolent dictator. If I were benevolent.”  

In no way slighted is Dr. Wolff’s controversial (then and now) decision to maintain the BSI as a stag organization, at least in terms of attendance at the annual dinner, despite the famous picketing by a half-dozen female Sherlockians at the 1968 dinner. Three of the first six women admitted to the BSI a year after Dr. Wolff's death offer their unique perspectives on him. 

If you’re as interested in BSI history as I am, be sure to listen to an interview with Sonia Fetherston here on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast and equally sure to order a copy of the book here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Sherlockian Cocktail

Socially distanced cheers!
We had a nice cocktail last night with our friend Carolyn Senter, who used to operate Classic Specialties with her late husband, Joel.

Here’s the recipe, which our son Mike found somewhere:

Start with –  

·         5-10 basil leaves muddled with an orange wedge
·         1 sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar)
·         4 dashes of bitters
·         ½ cup orange juice
·         2 to 2.5 ounces bourbon

Pour into a shaker of ice and shake.
Pour over ice and garnish with cherry.

The words “Basil,” “orange,” “sugar,” “bitter,” and “juice” are all in the Canon. “Bourbon” is not, but you can’t have everything.

There’s a name for this, but I don’t know what it is. It deserves a Sherlockian name. Since basil gives the drink its distinctive taste, how about calling “The Captain Basil” after the disguise Holmes assumes in “The Adventure of Black Peter”?

Or maybe “The Basil Rathbone” after a certain actor?

Or “The Basil of Baker Street” after the Mouster?

What do you think?