Before there was Brett, there was Gillette.
Many actors played Sherlock Holmes both before and after Jeremy Brett, of course, but the American actor William Gillette must have been one of the greatest. He created the role in 1899 and revived it as late as 1930. He also wrote the still-gripping play Sherlock Holmes and was William Dorr Steele's model for the illustrations that first appeared in Collier's.
Vincent Starrett, in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, favorably quotes the novelist Booth Tarkington as telling Gillette, "I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning."
Now comes Henry Zecher with a massive (734-page) and certainly definitive biography called William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes. I haven't had the chance to read it all yet, but this jumped out at me:
"His eccentricities were legendary, but they were harmless and usually fun, and he lived a life free of scandal and above reproach. More than most, he left the world a better place than he found it, and the public may have sensed this in his character."
Mr. Zecher will join a number of other luminaries -- including Nicholas Meyer, David Stuart Davis and Leslie S. Klinger -- at the appropriately named "Gillette to Brett III" conference in Indianapolis, IN, Nov. 11-13.
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