Friday, September 28, 2007

OTR: Sherlock Holmes, pt. 1

I’m going to bore you all for several days over the next week or so with ramblings about the current 20-CD collection of Sherlock Holmes programs I’ve checked out. As with most of the other audio books I’ve reviewed of OTR this is from Radio Spirits.

It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out from my blogging and knowing me a bit to assume that I’m a big fan of Holmes. I was introduced to the character by watching the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films on television as a kid, and then went on to reading somewhat abridged/bowdlerized versions of the stories in junior high. Eventually, somebody bought me a copy of the original stories for either a birthday or Christmas.

Over the years I’ve seen as many of the Holmes films as I could, as well as reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories several times over. I haven’t read nearly half the various continuations, homage & pastiches of the canon by numerous authors. Those I have read run the gamut from outstanding to embarrassing. At one point I had almost as many movie adaptations on VHS of “Hound of the Baskervilles” as I had of “A Christmas Carol.” Sadly, all those tapes were tossed or given away during several moves this past decade.

I believe that the first time I heard any of the Holmes tales read was by Rathbone back in a junior high school English class. The teacher would often bring in albums with readings of the poetry or literature we were reading for class. I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard any of the Old Time Radio (OTR) performances, but it was probably in the late 1970s when in college. Several of the NPR stations had OTR shows on the weekends, which turned me on to so many of the shows I’ve reviewed here.

The headline above will take you to main Wikipedia entry on Holmes and from there you can read as much or as little about the various incarnations of the character as you like. I’m not going to pretend to know much, but will throw in a few things primarily from the booklet included in the collection I’m reviewing.

The first performance is one by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre. It is Welles’ own adaptation of the SH play written by the actor William Gillette. A Shakespearean actor, Gillette became famous portraying the Great Detective on stage and in at least one silent film. If you look at any existing photos of Gillette you can see that he remarkable resembles what most folks think of when reading Doyle’s descriptions. The play makes use of several of the original tales, along with introducing Professor Moriarty, the “Napoleon of Crime” as Holmes called him. Apparently, according to the Radio Spirit booklet, Welles had once seen Gillette and modeled his own Holmes after the older actors’ performance.

Growing up Connecticut a treat for me were the occasional visits my family would take to Gillette’s Castle near the town of Essex. The actor actually had most of a castle shipped across the Atlantic and rebuilt on a hill over looking the river. It was filled with secret passages, hidden spy holes and strange locks that Gillette had installed. It was said that he liked to keep an eye on his visitors without their knowledge. He also had a room designed and furnished to resemble the 221-B Baker Street apartment of Holmes, which visitors to the castle could see from the doorway but could not enter.

The Welles performance is interesting, giving the actor a chance to do several voices as he plays Holmes in disguise in some scenes. Ray Collins, who appeared in Welles’ CITIZEN KANE & THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS played Dr. Watson ; Eustace Wyatt, who appeared alongside Welles in the film JOURNEY INTO FEAR, portrayed Professor Moriarty.

Next time out I’ll talk about the SH episode with one of the actors immediately identified with the character, Basil Rathbone.
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