Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"The Youth of Sherlock Holmes" - John Barrymore. Part 2 of Silent Sherlocks in The Strand.

2. The Young Pretender.

In June, 1922, almost a year after Eille Norwood's interview detailed in my companion post HERE , The Strand carried an article by American journalist, Hayden Church, who spent a day on location at Hampton Court with John Barrymore.

The famous actor was in England with his producers and crew "for the purpose of getting the correct settings and the real atmosphere for certain exterior scenes in our film version of 'Sherlock Holmes'...The other scenes will be built in New York where the remainder of the film will be produced."

For Barrymore, this  extended a Continental vacation 'climbing Mont Blanc and doing a few other little holiday stunts'. (Church tactfully refrains from mentioning  just how much alcohol was consumed and later prohibited back in New York).

William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes.

Norwood's Holmes was based on Conan Doyle's stories, while the Barrymore film took as its starting point William Gillette's popular stage play.

And it is Barrymore's film. The article makes clear that it is 'my own idea' to have the studio writers, Marion Fairfax and Earl Browne, write an introduction to the original play: 'In a specially- written prologue they have projected Sherlock Holmes back into the days of his youth...We are thus to see...a young student of a dreamy, indeterminate, half-poetic type'. Watson will be a college friend at St. John's, Cambridge where Holmes will be embittered through early love for Lucy Faulkner and encounter Professor Moriarty. As the script poetically reads: 'At the beginning of the hour I met love and it passed me by. At the end of the hour I met monstrous evil.' 

Nicholas Rowe was 19 when he played Young Sherlock Holmes in the 1985 film. John Barrymore was 40 in 1922, about the age of Jonny Lee Miller, who is 4 years older than Benedict Cumberbatch.

This clip of the opening scene makes for fascinating comparison with these modern Sherlocks.

Of special cinematic & historic interest is the detail given in Church's article of exact exterior locations used in the film.

Apart from St. John's College, Cambridge, they filmed in Stepney, at Lambeth Pier, Scotland Yard, Trafalgar Square...and two very carefully chosen places.

Finding both Baker Street and Gower Street too modern or too busy, the film's 221b. is in fact in Torrington Square, where real  (former) policemen appeared as extras in the Gillette scene where Moriarty draws off the police through a street disturbance to gain entry to Holmes's rooms. The recent strike had left many policemen jobless and they were obtained as willing extras from the Vigilance Society. 

The most intriguing location used was Hampton Court. And, much to his delight, Church was invited to travel there with Barrymore AND play a bit part in the scene. The journalist recalls: 'Sitting there with the mimic Holmes at my side...I was, in fancy, Dr. Watson off with his friend and idol on one of their expeditions.'

Several shots were taken at Hampton Court, most importantly those on a Thames houseboat. Barrymore thought this a novel setting and one that would entrance the American audience.

He also had much to say in that three hour trip about Conan Doyle, whom he compared very favourably to Edgar Allan Poe. For the actor Poe's Dupin was a cardboard marionette in contrast with the 'vivid, vital, living' Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was 'a creative artist' and Barrymore waxes lyrical on the other heroes such as Professor Challenger and Sir Nigel: 'Have you read The White Company?' asks Barrymore. 'To me it is Sir Arthur's finest achievement. I re-read it every two years.'

Fortunately Barrymore's film survives (having I believe been lost for decades). It is available on dvd but not in full on Youtube. I leave the reader with another taste of this 1922 silent Sherlock - Holmes meets Moriarty.


To read the whole original article in The Strand Magazine in pdf, please click this link CHURCH .

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Eille Norwood, My Dear Conan Doyle!" - Silent Sherlocks in Strand Magazine (1).

Exactly 30 years after A Scandal in Bohemia appeared in The Strand Magazine Conan Doyle's famous detective took centre stage in the July, 1921 issue.

The Mazarin Stone (first in the final Casebook series) would be published in October but by then the first batch of 15 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Stoll's series of silents starring Eille Norwood were on release.

This post looks at Fenn Sherie's 1921 interview with Eille Norwood and the American, Hayden Church's companion article on John Barrymore - The Youth of  Sherlock Holmes - published in The Strand in April, 1922 is the subject of my next post. 

1. The Old Pretender.

Eille Norwood & Conan Doyle.

"I think these photographs of Sherlock Holmes quite wonderful."

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introducing the Norwood interview)

Filming had begun the previous November, as soon as Sir Oswald Stoll had bought the rights from Doyle.
Norwood was just 59 and would spend the next three years as Holmes directed (mostly) by his friend, Maurice Elvey.

I have dubbed him The Old Pretender only in part because of his age. Barrymore(my Young Pretender)would be 40 when he came to play Holmes in 1922.
Both, of course, were Pretenders to the throne (or rather armchair ) of 221b. Baker St at a time when William Gillette was still regularly performing the role (not least in the lost 1916 film).

I chose these titles however to reflect the focus of The Strand interviews. Eille Norwood is presented very much as the master of makeup and disguise while the novelty intended to attract audiences to Barrymore's film Sherlock Holmes (called Moriarty in the UK) is the significant addition of scenes from Sherlock's youth to a script based on Gillette's play.

The Norwood interview begins with a glimpse of the new Stoll Film Studios in Cricklewood.

Fenn Sherie's pen slips as he describes the "erection of a perfect replica of Holmes's famous residence at 144 (sic) Baker Street." But it is interesting to know a whole street was built, complete with motor cars(not hansom cabs) ...and the director could summon rain or sunshine at will.

Holmes's study has been created so faithfully that "when the dazzling arc-lights are turned off...the visitor who wanders into the apartment feels somewhat like a tourist standing upon historical ground...as though Sherlock Holmes himself had actually existed."

The lion's share of the interview is given over to "the outstanding feature of these productions", Norwood's Holmesian talent with make-up and disguise.

There is matter of genuine historic interest here in the insights into the difference between stage and cinema make-up techniques. Eille Norwood was a very experienced stage actor and it is fascinating to watch him experimenting and adapting to the new medium.

Clearly he was successful too in satisfying the eye - the operative sense with silent film audiences, as here, disguised as a Japanese opium smoker, "strapping"his eyes invisibly to change their shape.

So proficient was Norwood that I think it possible the Granada production team took some inspiration for Jeremy Brett's disguises from surviving images of Norwood.

Here is his non-conformist minister of A Scandal in Bohemia.


And here Jeremy Brett in the part.

Both these actors seem to mimic Holmes's remarkable skill. As Fenn Sherie so aptly quotes:
"It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part he assumed." (SCAND).

Readers of my blog will find the central interview with Eille Norwood fascinating as he describes breaking new ground in the art of make-up in "my advent into the realms of the silent drama". Magnifiable pdf pages of the original article may be accessed via the link below this post.

Eille Norwood's interview is also amusing: it must have been great fun to work on set with him. He was an inveterate practical joker and here describes trying out new disguises in real life on the production crew.
In character as the taxi driver shown here, Norwood was almost thrown off the set when the Managing Director called for his removal.

" 'Lor Lumme!' I explained in a hoarse voice. 'I ain't doin' no 'arm, am I? I'm waiting for some bloke 'ere, and you don't think I'm goin' to 'ang about outside in the perishin' cold, do yer?'"

At that moment the director called for Eille Norwood and he stepped straight onto set, leaving the Manager, Jeffrey Bernerd,  non-plussed.

Even greater pleasure was gained in deceiving his close friend, director Maurice Elvey. A few days before shooting SCAND he donned the disguise shown and wearing a huge ulster walked into the studio with his knees bent, thus reducing his height to about 5'4".

"Assuming a weak and nervous voice I approached ...Elvey. 'Please, I've been told to see you about the part of Dr. Watson'.

After some discussion of his shortness and wrong moustache, Elvey dismisses him as "quite unsuitable".

" 'Then how would I do for Sherlock Holmes?' I asked, reverting to my natural voice and drawing myself up to my full height."

Deliciously, Elvey was duped yet again!

Failing to recognise Eille Norwood on set dressed as the non-conformist minister, the director nodded to him affably and then stopped in the middle of the set as if looking for someone. He strode across to a tall "super" or extra who was disguised with a heavy moustache and bushy eyebrows...

"'It's no use, Eille,  old man, I've found you out this time!' he exclaimed gleefully.
'That's where you're wrong', said the old minister, who was by this time standing at his elbow. 'Try again!' "

Practical jokes? Certainly...but also very serious rehearsal by a master of his craft. And, in closing, I would remind the reader of all those times in Doyle's original stories where Sherlock Holmes utterly confounds Dr. Watson, his closest friend, through the use of disguise.

Eille knew that and judge for yourself from one or more of the 3 films available on Youtube but in my book Norwood was very close to Holmes and I'd love to have worked on set with him.


To read the complete Strand Magazine interview please click HERE  for The Strand,  July 1921.

To view Youtube videos of Eille Norwood as Sherlock Holmes please click on a still:

1. The Dying Detective 1921.

2. The Man with the Twisted Lip (1921)

3. The Devil's Foot. (1921).

To go straight to "The Youth of Sherlock Holmes" - John Barrymore. Part 2 of Silent Sherlocks in The Strand please click PART 2 .

Additional link!
Here is the link to British Pathe short film entitled All Change which shows Eille Norwood making up as Sherlock Holmes in 1923.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Eille Norwood, my dear Rathbone!" - A Silent Monograph by Altamont.

Bruce & Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1939.
"I can discover facts, Watson, but I cannot change them." (Thor Bridge)

Basil Rathbone, born in 1892, was 49 at the time of his first outing as Sherlock Holmes.

Concurrent with writing forthcoming blogs on the Granada series, starring Jeremy Brett & two silent Sherlocks, Eille Norwood and John Barrymore, I am reading Michael Druxman's book on the life and films of "The Baz". As a result, certain unchangeable facts present an irony of poetic poignancy. 

The year is 1921. Movies are silent; Conan Doyle has yet to complete The Casebook, which will begin publication in The Strand that October.  Sir Oswald Stoll has, the previous year, bought the rights to make films based on the Sherlock Holmes tales at his Cricklewood Studios. By the close of 1921, the first 15 silent black and white shorts, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the feature-length The Hound of the Baskervilles have initiated a three-year project totalling 45 shorts and 2 feature-length stories.

Under the direction of Maurice Elvey (and, for 1922, George Ridgewell) Stoll Films set an as yet unbeaten record (only Granada comes anywhere near). The actor chosen to play Holmes set a personal record too as the man who has played Holmes most often on film.

Eille Norwood as Sherlock Holmes 1921.

When The Dying Detective (the first Stoll short) was released Eille Norwood was 59 years old. As my forthcoming blog on Norwood and Barrymore will show, Norwood's special genius for disguise won him the part. 

A list of the Stoll series in order may be viewed HERE and The Bioscope website HERE gives a scholarly filmography of Stoll's Holmes films and much more (scroll past the Dickens entries). 

A minor irony lies in the revelation that Norwood's real name was Anthony Edward BRETT.

Three of his Holmes shorts are readily available on Youtube: Here is The Dying Detective.


Meanwhile: in 1921 Basil Rathbone, 29 years old,  unmarried, still living in England made his debut on film.

Innocent was released in March, 1921, and The Fruitful Vine (shot first) came out in September.
The film company was Stoll Films. The director of both films was Maurice Elvey.

Here he is with Valya in The Fruitful Vine.
Of his performance in Innocent, The Bioscope said:
       "Basil Rathbone makes a romantic figure as the perfidious painter".

Did Maurice Elvey wake one summer night long ago and vaguely wonder if young Rathbone might have cut it as Holmes? Did he ever, later in life, think back to those early silent, Cricklewood days when he directed one Holmes alongside a Holmes-to-come?

I leave the reader to decide how far we may regret the 18 year wait for the Baz's shot at Sherlock.
I'd miss that voice. I'm happy with the facts as they are.

But that doesn't stop me from noting the irony and I leave you with the poetry of a man who loved his Sherlock Holmes too.

The opening lines of Burnt Norton from The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:

 "Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"The Whole Art of Bicycling." An 'Altamont' Trifling Monograph.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife have a message for Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch on the occasion of his proposed riding of a bicycle from Palace to Palace in aid of The Prince's Trust upon Sunday October 14, in the year of Our Lord, 2012.

Sir, as life-long enthusiasts of the noble pastime of British bicycle riding and in addition claiming more than residual interest in the "Sherlock Holmes" franchise (to use your modern parlance), may we presume to offer you some well-meant instruction and advice on the subject before you venture into the public eye upon your 21st Century aluminium contraption. 

We shall say little about your choice of machine other than to advise the Palmer Tyre should they still be available.

What concerns us much more is that, as the current British occupant of 221b, Baker Street, you should dress and conduct yourself in a manner fitting your status, which does not demean the Holmes name. 

In the matter of suitable garb:

THIS, sir, will NOT do.


We have, Sir, seen sketches upon "the internet" (not, I hasten to add, the work of Mr. Paget) in which you appear to be navigating a road ensconced upon a vehicle of unknown (probably foreign) origin, piggy-backing Dr. John Watson! 
My dear wife pronounces this "beyond the pale!"
courtesy Lord-Harry Deviant Art.
 So offensive does she view such casual attire (the whole effect reminiscent of the antics of our London telegraph boys) that, failing your capacity to adopt any more respectable appearance, perhaps (she suggests) you should borrow a leaf from the comedy book of Mr.  Keaton. At least that would entertain the costermongers!
Buster Keaton as Sherlock Jnr. 1924.

I fear, however, the omens are not good for Team SH when I view the Team BC training ride on YourTube:

No, Sir! It will not do.

So, we write to beseech you to think again for the sake of the Sherlock Legacy and Fandom.

The Solution to this Two-wheeled Problem.

I have just read your own words, Mr. Cumberbatch, in that excellent news organ "The Radio Times". Your solution...your MODEL lies there.

The Magisterial Jeremy Brett Shows How It's Done.

Sincerely, ACD.
 (And while I'm at it - what about my Undershaw?!)