Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sherlock Holmes Spotting (Part 3) - In the Footsteps of William Gillette.

William Gillette in a poster for "Sherlock Holmes".

"I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning" - Author Booth Tarkington in a letter to William Gillette.

This quotation is heard with renewed significance on the lips of many a Sherlockian currently savouring the prospect of viewing Essanay's 'lost' 1916 silent film of Gillette in his iconic role. 

Thirteen years before the release of this 90 minute 7-reeler (on 21 December 1903 as the Baker Street Journal has reliably tweeted), H A Saintsbury delivered his 500th performance in the same part. The American would himself have played Holmes some 1300 times before the final farewell tour of 1932. Saintsbury is probably the best known of numerous actors who trod the boards in Gillette's footsteps in America, Great Britain and abroad.

So popular was the play that it stretched even the considerable resources of producer, Charles Frohman and Gillette's energies to meet an insatiable demand. 

 Had cinematic technology, production & distribution developed fifteen, even ten years earlier than it did, replication of the popular play across the world may perhaps have been more filmic than theatrical with Gillette himself writ large on the silver screen. But an infant medium capable only in 1900 of a 30 second Mutoscope like "Sherlock Holmes Baffled" was no viable alternative to theatre's well-developed international reach. Where Gillette could not perform in person, touring companies were able and willing to make hay while this beneficent sun shone. 

Australia's First and Second 'Sherlock Holmes'. 

The franchise was clearly in safe hands when Australian impresario, J C Williamson, paid £1000 to produce the play, initially in 1902. New Zealander, Harry Plimmer, was both the first to portray Holmes in Australia and the first New Zealand-born actor to play the part. Williamson's other lead, the Canadian, Cuyler Hastings, however, came to personify the detective for Australians. Derham Groves tells their story HERE with contemporary illustrations and news archives. 

Thomas Kingston, an English Holmes Abroad.

The Evening Post for October 4, 1902, (HERE) noted the Williamson production contract and (scroll down) the recent Melbourne production with Cuyler Hastings. The ensuing paragraph mentions a London production of Magda which included Thomas Kingston in its cast. On 25 October Kingston opened at The Comedy Theatre, London in a show that would run for 430 performances (Kingston recalls over 600) - "Monsieur Beaucaire", co-written by Booth Tarkington himself. Here is Kingston in the part of Mr Rakell.


  StageBeauty has an excellent article on this production HERE and The State Library of New South Wales possesses a superb photograph of Thomas Kingston taken in a Sydney studio (please click HERE to view). I would suggest this photo was taken in 1900 when this leading English actor was on his first of several visits to Australia. There is evidence of performances in two plays for J C Williamson's Company, both alongside Harry Plimmer.
1) Easter Saturday, April 14, 1900: in "Camille" as Armand Duval (see HERE ). 
2) November 2, 1900 in "Hedda Gabler" as Lovborg (see HERE ).
(In each case, scroll down link page for relevant text.)

Almost 40 in 1900, Kingston's debut appearance for Williamson (for whom he would always work abroad) was (with poetic aptness) in Gillette's "Secret Service". 

Mrs Thomas Kingston.

On July 1, 1896, the actor married a lady destined to be far more famous and to live many more years. One of Clara Schumann's last pupils, Adelina Tilbury, born in Carlisle in 1872, now renowned world-wide as the pianist and composer, Adelina de Lara, would live to the ripe old age of 89. You can hear her playing - just search the name on Youtube.

Mrs Thomas Kingston.
There is an excellent biography of Adelina HERE . The Sydney Mail for August 19, 1899, records the imminent arrival of man and wife HERE . The Adelaide Advertiser has an informative article on Kingston dated 2 August, '99 HERE . 

In August, 1906, Williamson recalled Kingston at short notice and The Evening Post of 25 August details the couple's extensive touring to date HERE . 

In the Footsteps of Cuyler Hastings 1909-11.

On June 7, 1909, Roy Redgrave opened as Sherlock Holmes in "The Bank of England" at the King's Theatre, Melbourne, for William Anderson's Company, thus becoming the first South African-born actor to portray the detective. (see HERE ).

Meanwhile, in the same city, at the Princess Theatre, Thomas Kingston played Sherlock Holmes for the week beginning September 11, in the Gillette/Williamson version. (see HERE ).

On December 4, The New Zealand Herald described the forthcoming revival of Gillette's play with Thomas Kingston as Holmes and Harry Plimmer as James Larrabee. (see HERE ). 

The Press for 22 December reviewed the production at the Theatre Royal (see HERE ).

One senses from an article in New Zealand's Observer (18 September '09) that Kingston is planning a well-earned retirement. There are two (separated) paragraphs about his love of sculling and recent purchase of a farm in France HERE .

Perhaps the most important article about Thomas Kingston's portrayal of Holmes was published in the Observer's Lorgnette on 12 February, 1910 in that it compares and contrasts Kingston with Hastings (see HERE .).

I have found just two more articles that flesh out the all-too-sketchy information available on this well-respected, somewhat neglected leading actor. In May 1910, the Observer notes Kingston's intention to retire to France when his New Zealand tour of "Peter Pan" closes. (see HERE ). Alas, the best laid plans were not to be. The Dominion for 15 September, 1911, carries his obituary and pays fitting testament to a man well-liked and an actor much  admired. It may be read HERE . He was just short of fifty.

The more famous names peopling Thomas Kingston's world have to my mind rather over-shadowed one who, in his industry, reliability and professionalism exemplifies all such lesser lights who facilitated the celebrity of a finer talent by following in the footsteps of William Gillette.




[Part 4 will conclude this series of posts with a miscellany of little-known Holmes actors, including a new morsel of information on the elusive John Webb.]

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