Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The A-Z of Sherlock Holmes Performers - A Special Tribute & Contribution.

"Silver Blaze" Granada TV.
Horse-whisperer: "Three thousand, you say?"
Silver Blaze: (with a wink) "From the horse's mouth, Mr Holmes."

In this case, the horse's mouth is Sherlockian media expert, Howard Ostrom of Florida, whose alphabetical index of the world's Sherlock Holmes performers since 1893 recently passed a milestone: 3000 entries. The A-Z may be viewed HERE on the "No Place Like Holmes" website hosted by Ross K. Foad and this special post is by way of tribute to an admirable endeavour. 

I am delighted to see both these gentlemen in the record. Ross has the distinction of being the first to play Sherlock Holmes in a web series and he has just returned from a self-imposed hiatus to trail NPLH series 6. In the stories, Holmes is, to my mind, revealed as more than a detective in his love of music and Ross comes across as a man of more (creative) parts too in the personal statement that introduces his trailer. I think this a salutary lesson for all Sherlockians. See his 27/11/2016 post HERE .

It's been a researcher's delight to play a minor role in the project. Behind every find is a tale that educates the detective in unpredictable ways and you come away with far more than another name. It's just like the pattern of most Sherlock Holmes stories: revelation of the solution never matches (for Holmes, Watson or the reader) the thrill of the chase.

Sherlock Holmes on the New World Stage: First Landfall.

1893 poster for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
Just 29 years had elapsed since the end of the American Civil War when Arthur Conan Doyle embarked on his first lecture tour of a United States. In the first week he encountered two reminders of that conflict in the person of veteran Major James B Pond - a recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroism at Baxter Springs, organizer of the author's itinerary - and Bronson Howard's stage drama, "Shenandoah"

Under the management of a young Charles Frohman, General Philip Sheridan's 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign was brought to astonishingly realistic life on the cavernous stage of New York's Academy of Music, deploying 300 soldiers, sundry cannon and 40 horses to spectacular effect. The Sacramento Daily Union for 29 September carried a full description (scroll down column 1 HERE ). Conan Doyle saw it on October 2 and would unwittingly cross Frohman's path again in Chicago on the 14th when his future associate (with the Gillette "Sherlock Holmes") happened also to attend the Opera House to see a very different spectacle, the extravaganza "Aladdin Jr" with Sophie Harris in the title role. The production had premiered in June but elsewhere that October (in Elizabeth NJ and Providence RI) another, much more successful extravaganza was touring that, in a later incarnation, would, for the first time, bring Sherlock Holmes to the New World stage: "Hendrick Hudson; or, The Discovery of Columbus".

Alhambra, Chicago c 1907.
Chicago's Columbian Exposition opened belatedly the year after the quatercentenary it marked and was over by Doyle's arrival. Had he travelled there in the summer of '93 apart from visiting the strangely modest British pavilion, he may well have seized the opportunity to see the Houdini Brothers who performed in the Curio Hall that August (see HERE ).  
British Pavilion 1893
For entertainment he may well have been directed beyond the White City to the most popular show in town: "Hendrick Hudson" at the Alhambra, starring Corinne aka Little Corinne, the girl with the mandoline, in the extravaganza's title role.

Hendrick Hudson 1890-97.
The evolution of this historically impossible fantasy (Henry Hudson meets Christopher Columbus) is only one story in the Naked City of 19th century theatre but exemplifies survival through canny adaptation. For the Sherlockian it also illustrates elegantly the gradual assimilation of Holmes into American hearts and minds. Four distinct phases are apparent.

1890 (The failed Mark 1)
In an attempt to cash in on the current taste for females in 'trouser roles', Fay Templeton starred in the new musical burlesque by Robert Frazer and William Gill. It premiered at the 14th Street Theatre, New York on August 18, lasting just 16 performances. Panned as "merely twaddle and tights", the show went on the road, returning after some tinkering to the Park Theatre. Irretrievably poor, a fortnight that October saw its deserved demise.

1893-4 (The successful Mark 2)
By contrast, "Hendrick Hudson", newly and expertly adapted, hit the ground running during the World's Fair, arriving at The Academy in September after 75 performances in H R Jacobs' Chicago theatres, the Alhambra and Clark St. In early November it went on tour, playing essentially the Alhambra version for the next twelve months. The happily detailed 1893 programme for a November 3 performance at London, Ontario's Grand Opera House survives. Please view it HERE . There are features of special interest. In describing the Acts it is clear the original burlesque was revamped wholesale as an occasional celebration, site-specific to the World's Fair, accounting in part for the show's success. Just as apparent is the care taken to incorporate its star in a way that played to her strengths and confirmed her as the centrepiece. In this most lavishly extravagent of extravaganzas (think English pantomime on steroids), Corinne is at the fictional focal point as actress/singer and the main attraction as renowned mandolin player amid a miscellany of support vaudeville acts.

This was the work of one of the most astute businesswomen of the era, retired actress, Jennie Kimball, foster mother and business manager to Corinne.


 I shall tell their story in greater detail at a later date (such is its drama), restricting reference here to matters in hand - "Hendrick Hudson" ... and, in the fullness of time, Sherlock Holmes. 

Corinne, a child star like Fay Templeton, was 19 and much more established than the 25 year old Fay had been in 1890. Under the guiding hand of Jennie Kimball, 'Little Corinne' had captured the nation's heart. She often performed decked in a spangle of jewels, expensively dressed. The mandolin was the instrument of the day and she was groomed to great profit as its ultimate poster-girl.  

While her 'mother' lived, the pair grew ever more wealthy. Corinne was worked hard (without resentment) and shielded from frivolous distraction. So successful was "Hendrick Hudson" that Jennie bought for her daughter at Christmas the special high class $1,500 mandolin that had been displayed at the World's Fair (see column 1 HERE ). 

And there the trail might have ended for, when the show closed in November, 1894, Corinne's attention was turned to Paris. 

1896 (Hendrick Hudson Jr)

However, in January 1896 after a summer of mandolin and dance tuition in France, Corinne was back on the Los Angeles stage in "Hendrick Hudson Jr". The Los Angeles Herald details her European adventure and the revised show in column 2 HERE . Seemingly happier and more accomplished than ever 'Peerless Corinne' is lauded by the Sacramento Daily Union in February before and during the staging of "Hendrick Hudson Jr" at the Metropolitan. See HERE and HERE ).

Tragically, as the New York Times reported the very next day, Jennie died of pneumonia at 7 am on March 23, alone, in her special company box car in the Union Station of St Paul, Minn. She left Corinne an estate estimated at $600,000 and the thriving Kimball Opera Bouffe Company. I find no more performances of the revived show until the end of October, by which time it has again undergone significant change.

1896-7 (Hendrick Hudson Jr and Sherlock Holmes)

Now in sole charge of her own company, Corinne makes what I think is a tactical error, forgivable in one new to management and doubly so as her action brings Sherlock Holmes onto the American stage.

Hendrick Hudson cast 1893.
 The dramatis personae listed in the London Ontario programme included two deputy sheriffs, McCann and McFarlan. Autumn 1896 discarded these to make room for two of the three outstanding vaudeville comedians engaged by Corinne. By May 1897 when she quit a new show "Excelsior Jr" featuring the same trio, Corinne appears to have realised belatedly her stardom was effectively paled, eclipsed by greater comedic talents. Joe Cawthorne, John Page and Neil McNeil would not, I think, have been engaged by her late mother. Even as deputy sheriffs. Let alone (as if to underline their thespian dominance) endow John Page with the name 'Sherlock', Neil McNeil with 'Holmes' and give them the stage.

Chronology of performances (including casting evidence) October 1896-February 1897 with links:

Oct 29-31 Denver Broadway: HERE
Nov 6-7    Sacramento Metropolitan: column 3 HERE and HERE
Nov 9-16  San Francisco Columbia: block ad far right HERE and page foot HERE
Nov 27-8  Los Angeles Theatre: HERE & HERE & HERE
Dec 4       Roseburg Opera House: HERE and HERE 
Dec 10     New Columbia Opera House: HERE 
Dec 18-20 Seattle: HERE and HERE

from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec 19, 1896.
 Christmas 1896 Anaconda Opera House: HERE
 February 7 1897 Ninth St Theatre, Kansas City: HERE

John Page, Neil McNeil and Sherlock Holmes.

The reader will have learned something of these half-forgotten comedians from the newspapers cited. I shall return to this post in a few days to add a pdf file listing other productions in which they figured. As yet I have found no image of any production of "Hendrick Hudson" nor of John (aka Johnnie) Page.

Neil McNeil  (sometimes McNeill) is the better documented. Here he is in the title role of "Simple Simon Simple" (1905):

AND (on the left of the photograph) as April Fool in 1910's "The Land of Nod" :

  Neil McNeil already appears in the A-Z as Kid Connor (Watson) in "The Red Mill" (1909) with Walter S Wills as Con Kidder (Holmes). The article HERE refers to "the Sherlock Holmes business" AND, ironically, precedes a piece about Ferris Hartman, also listed in the A-Z for "The Man in the Moon" (1899). 

Hitherto, Hartman was thought to be the first American actor to play Sherlock Holmes. That honour is surely shared equally by Page and McNeil, with the latter additionally America's first Holmes AND Watson performer.

I began this post with a poster. Take a closer look. At the man holding the Union Jack. Is he meant to be Sherlock Holmes? Or a typical Englishman? It hardly matters; they are soon indistinguishable. Holmes has made his first landfall.



  1. A minor role in the project you say, I say a major role since there would have been no A-Z project without you. Thank you as always for all the assistance, and congratulations on another informative early theatre blog (even though once again it will force me to rewrite a few of my other essays LOL!)

  2. Many thanks for this comment! Now, on to 4000! Ha!

  3. Thanks Ray. Really appreciate it. :) And Howard is right, your contribution is major to this and other essays! You 2 are the stars of this mammoth resource. Added to the Media page on NPLH

    1. Thanks for posting on NPLH Media Page, Ross. AND welcome back to Baker Street from your personal 'Tibet' :)