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William Gillette - The American Sherlock Holmes

When Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film began shooting the casting of Robert Downey Jr excited a lot of debate (which included yours truly). The idea of an American taking on one of Britain's most iconic characters scared people whose memories probably drifted back to a certain Robin Hood film (or indeed films).

Regardless of your opinion of the merits of RDJ in the role it is worth remembering that the first man to make a real success of portraying Sherlock Holmes was the American William Gillette.

Gilllette was not the first man to portray Sherlock Holmes on stage. That honour had gone to the English actor Charles Brookfield but Brookfield had been part of a Sherlock Holmes parody. The play, entitled Under the Clock, had a limited run and made little historical impact.

Gillette's play (based to some degree or other on an original play by Arthur Conan Doyle) was the first to take the subject seriously. He originally believed the stories could not be dramatised but changed his mind once he was given a free hand.

My next book An Entirely New Country will be covering this play (amongst other events) but you can also find out a lot about William Gillette on-line.

His is a story that demonstrates that having an American play a Brit can be a success.

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