Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The 130th Anniversary of Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
It is common knowledge that Sherlock Holmes first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet, first published in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887. As to when exactly the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 was published, that is a bit more of mystery. Most simply guess that it was published sometime in November or December of that year. That having been said, the website I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere makes a good argument that Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 was most likely published on November 21. If that is the case, then today would be the 130th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet would be published as a book in July 1888 by Ward, Lock & Co., with a second edition appearing the following year. It was first published in the United States in 1890. Regardless, A Study in Scarlet was not responsible for Sherlock Holmes's enormous success. Neither for that matter, would Sherlock Holmes's second appearance, which was in the novel The Sign of the Four, published in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. It would be a series of shorts stories published in The Strand Magazine that would ultimately be responsible for turning Sherlock Holmes into a phenomenon. Beginning with "A Scandal in Bohemia" in the July 1891 issue, short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes would appear regularly in The Strand Magazine for a few years.

Indeed, it was not long before author Arthur Conan Doyle and even his creation Sherlock Holmes would begin receiving massive amounts of fan mail. Some fan mail was even addressed to 221B Baker Street, an address that simply did not exist at the time the stories were originally written (Baker Street did not go up to 221 in the Victorian Era).

While Sherlock Holmes was phenomenally popular, as early as November 1991 Arthur Conan Doyle thought of killing the character off, maintaining in a letter to his mother, "He takes my mind from better things." Here it must be pointed out that Mr. Conan Doyle wrote many other works that had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. He wrote several historical novels, as well as fantasy and science fiction stories featuring Professor Challenger and humorous stories set in the Napoleonic Era featuring Brigadier Gerard.

Ultimately Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes once and for all so he could devote more time to his historical novels. It was in "The Adventure of the Final Problem", published in The Strand Magazine in December 1993, that Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunged to their apparent deaths over the Reichenbach Falls. Public outcry over Holmes's death was immediate. Both Arthur Conan Doyle and The Strand Magazine received tonnes of angry letters from Sherlock Holmes fans. Many people cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine.

Despite the public outcry, Arthur Conan Doyle would not write about Sherlock Holmes for some time. It was eight years before Holmes would appear again, in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised in The Strand Magazine from April 1901 to April 1902). The novel was set before Holmes's apparent death. It would be with "The Adventure of the Empty House", published in Collier's Magazine in the United States in September 1903 and in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom in October 1903, that Arthur Conan Doyle would resume writing about Holmes. It is in "The Adventure of the Empty House" that it is explained how Sherlock Holmes faked his death in order to confound his enemies.

Following "The Adventure of the Empty House" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would write several more Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as the novel The Valley of Fear. The last Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place", was published in the March 5 1927 issue of Liberty in the United States and the April 1927 issue of The Strand Magazine.

While the last Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1927, the character has never really been out of the spotlight since the 1890s. Sherlock Holmes would be adapted to the stage multiple times. Indeed, actor William Gillette made a bit of a career out of Holmes, first appearing as the detective in the play Sherlock Homes. Over the years there would be many more plays.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes would appear in several movies over the years, so many that Guinness World Records lists him as the character most portrayed in movies and the most portrayed detective on television as well. The first known film featuring Holmes was the one-reeler Sherlock Holmes Baffled, produced in 1900 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. In 1916 William Gillette, who had played the detective several times on stage, appeared in the film adaptation of his play Sherlock Holmes. His play would be adapted again in 1922 by Goldwyn Pictures. This time it starred John Barrymore as Holmes and is historic as William Powell's film debut.

Perhaps the actors most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who first appeared as the par in 20th Century Fox's 1939 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It would be followed the same year by another Holmes film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 20th Century Fox had wanted to make more Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, but talks between the studio and the Conan Doyle estate broke down. Fortunately, Universal obtained the film rights for Sherlock Holmes and launched a new series of films starring Messrs. Rathbone and Bruce starting with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. Universal took the then revolutionary step of updating Holmes to the 1940s. Since then many more films starring Sherlock Holmes have been made. In fact, to adequately discuss Sherlock Holmes on the big screen would take and (and has taken) entire books.

Sherlock Holmes has also been adapted for radio several times over. On October 20 1930 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes debuted on NBC Red. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes would be followed by several more radio shows featuring the great detective in the United States, with the last airing in 1956 on ABC. Notably, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce played Holmes and Watson in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Rathbone would continue until 1946, the role then being taken over by Tom Conway. Even after the demise of Old Time Radio in the United States, there would be many radio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. The BBC alone has aired several.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed detective on television. What is more, Sherlock Holmes appeared on television fairly early. In 1937 The Three Garridebs, starring Louis Hector as Sherlock Holmes, aired from the stage of  Radio City Music Hall on NBC as part of a field test before regular television broadcasts began. In 1951 the BBC aired a six episode series entitled Sherlock Holmes. An American series, also titled Sherlock Holmes, aired in syndication in 1954. Since then there have been several more TV shows featuring Sherlock Holmes, including the 1960s series initially starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and later Peter Cushing, the Eighties Granada Television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, the more recent series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and another recent series, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller.

One hundred and thirty years after his debut, Sherlock Holmes's popularity shows no sign of declining. The character continues to appear in movies and on television regularly. The original books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the "canon", as it is known) continues to sell well. The Baker Street Irregulars, an organisation of Sherlock Homes fans founded in 1934, continues to thrive. While other literary characters might see their popularity fade until they are eventually forgotten, it seems that Sherlock Holmes will likely still be popular 130 years from now.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

All hail Doyle and his amazing creation. Long may they reign, in any form whatsoever - homage, pastiche, animated, as a mouse - I'll enjoy them all done in the right spirit.