Monday, June 9, 2014

Conan Doyle - Our Man in the Moon.

Mark Gatiss as Cavor in his version of "The First Men in the Moon" 2010 BBC4.

"There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before." ~~ A Study in Scarlet

Even for Mark Gatiss, it would perhaps have been an allusion too far for his character Professor Cavor to have made out the scratched initials "ACD" on the side of a lunar crater in BBC4's adaptation of "The First Men in the Moon". Doyle had, however (as with the Sherlock Holmes Gatiss was also adapting in 2010), 'been there' before him.

As the 19th became the 20th century, the orbits of Conan Doyle and the Moon twice came within similar close proximity.

The more recent dates precisely to August, 1901. Since the previous December, Strand Magazine had been publishing H G Wells' forthcoming novel, "The First Men in the Moon" in monthly parts. There had been no new Sherlock Holmes stories since FINA of December, 1893. That August number contained both the final part of the Wells and the first chapters of "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

Earlier, on 12 June, 1899, William Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes" was given its copyright performance at the Duke of York's Theatre, London. (see HERE ). While Charles Brookfield and John Webb preceded him in England, Gillette is generally viewed as America's first Sherlock Holmes (and the world's first serious portrayal).

US Sherlockian, Howard Ostrom, has, however, recently added to his well-known internet gallery, The Ostrom Collection , the photo and autograph of an actor with greater claim to be the first American Holmes - Ferris Hartman. 

"The Man in the Moon" (just like 1893's "The Clock" by Brookfield & Hicks a musical revue), premiered at the New York Theatre on April 24, 1899 and ran for 192 performances (see IBDB Entry ). The large cast included Hartman as "Sherlock Holmes", the 30 year old, Marie Dressler and (heading the cast as the greatest male box office draw) Sam Bernard as "Conan Doyle".
Addison's "The Man in the Moon" 1892.

Ironically ("it has all been done before"), this American production was preceded in England (in 1892) by J Addison's "The Man in the Moon" which played at The Britannia Theatre (see HERE ). It should not be confused with its US namesake.

My focus here is on the representation of Conan Doyle, but Marilyn Slater has HERE a fascinating biographical piece on Hartman. It's also well worth reading Matthew Kennedy HERE for some detail of the content of the musical, Dressler's amazing lifestyle and a sense of the status of Sam Bernard.

Born Samuel Barnet, Birmingham, England in 1863, Bernard was, by 1899, clearly enormously popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The pairing of him with Dressler was a management coup. It's near poetic that in 1927 he should pass away on board ship in mid-Atlantic. The Montreal Gazette carried a report and obituary (see HERE ).
Sam Bernard 1909.

As yet, I have found no image of him in the character of Doyle but this 1909 photograph (as Schultz in "The Girl and the Wizard") gives some sense of the man at this period.

History for Sale illustrates Sam Bernard's signature in 1912/13 HERE and I'll close this brief visit to the Moon with what proved to be one of the last photographs taken of the first American to play Conan Doyle on stage, along with the inscription on the reverse.

Further reading:
Conan Doyle has a growing list of appearances as a character. IMDb has a useful collection of references HERE .

The history of New York Theatre (originally Loew's) is described HERE .

Vaudeville old and new has a biography of Sam Bernard HERE

    © Ray Wilcockson (2014) All rights Reserved

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