Chaplin as Billy, age 14 (though he looks 12 to me.
When I became a Charlie Chaplin fan in 1991, one of the *very first things* I learned about him was his role in the 1901 Sherlock Holmes play written by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I had been a Sherlockian for 5 years by then and was thrilled that my new “obsession” had a connection, one of many (and growing!) I would later discover.
William Gillette, in his Holmes garb
Chaplin was born on April 16,1889, in Lambeth, London, England, at the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes publishing era. the year before the publishing of the second Holmes story, “The Sign of Four”. After living for some time in poverty, he gradually got work as a child actor (both his parents were stage performers). He wrote in his My Autobiography (1964) how he lied about his age to get a part in a H A Saintsbury play, A Romance of Cocknaye, saying he was 14, when he was actually 12 1/2. The manager of the production and cast liked him so much they offered him the Billy the Pageboy role. So from July 1903 to February 1906 he traveled the country performing the part. (Holmes trivia: The pageboy in the original stories did not have a name until after the play was made. It would have been interesting if Doyle named him Charlie!)
The argument over “Who’s the best Sherlock Holmes?” is nothing new, though the names change over time. Back in his day, Chaplin worked under two of the starring Holmes’: William Gillette and H A Saintsbury. He wrote in his “My Autobiography” that while he liked both, he felt Saintsbury was closer to the “real” Holmes.
List of the cast (including Chaplin as Billy), as they performed at Duke of York’s Theatre, circa 1905
Want to see the play? Here it is, performed in 1981 for HBO. Frank Langella plays Holmes (very well, I must say!) My favorite scene (Act 3, pt 2), which includes some great interactions with Billy, is embedded below:
(side note – the boy playing Billy in the above performance is a young Christian Slater)
The Great Dictator (1940) – Chaplin as Hynkel (center), Reginald Gardiner (left) as Schultz, and Henry Daniell as Garbitsch (right)
While he had other roles in his early childhood showbiz career, none seemed to have stuck with him later in his life than the Billy role. Decades later in 1939 when he was shooting his Hitler satire, “The Great Dictator”, he would re-enact scenes from the Holmes play in-between scenes for the movie to entertain the cast and crew.
One of the actors in Dictator was Henry Daniell, who later who appear in three of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films: Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), and The Woman in Green (1945, playing Professor Moriarty, the role I best remember him for.)
Which also brings us to Nigel Bruce. Chaplin hired Bruce for his 1952 film, Limelight. Bruce was hired not only because of his talent but mainly because of his strong connection with the Holmes franchise having famously played Dr. Watson.
Basil Rathbone (left) as Holmes, Nigel Bruce (back, center) as Watson and Henry Daniell (right) from Voice of Terror (1943)
In the film Limelight, Bruce plays Mr Postant, an homage to the real life who was William Gillette’s stage manager, and who had played an important role of keeping an eye out for the young Chaplin during the Holmesian days.
I have often felt that if he played Watson like he later played Postant, Watson would have been considered less bumbling. Below is a clip from Limelight which not only includes Bruce, but also Claire Bloom (many years later she would costar with David Tennant in Doctor Who, “The End of Time”), and Buster Keaton who plays Calvero’s partner (Keaton’s Holmes connection is making the brilliant 1924 silent film Sherlock Jr.)
One of the reasons why I picked using the name Calvero on the internet, and have kept it for almost 20 years, is the Holmes connection (along with Keaton, and the later Doctor Who connection,
To Modern Times
In 1992 came Robert Downey Jr playing the title role in Sir Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin”. Absolutely brilliant! And he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (he was ROBBED! ROBBED, I tell you!). Downey did such a great job, that most of the time I forgot I was watching someone else playing Charlie.
Fast-forward 17 years and he was picked by Guy Ritchie to play the lead in Sherlock Holmes, which, honestly, sounded a little weird. For Chaplin, he played someone who was about 5’4″. And years later he plays someone who is described by Watson as being at least 6 feet tall. Either way, I did (and still do) enjoy his take on the Great Detective. He did win a Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy” for his portrayal of Holmes (a category I still don’t understand how he won, but he won it. So, YAY!)
Chaplin and Holmes meet once again
On season 2, episode 1 of BBC’s excellent show Sherlock, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, John Watson’s girlfriend Jeanette is played play by Charlie’s granddaughter (Geraldine’s daughter), Oona Chaplin. When I was first watching the episode, I didn’t know who the actress was but there was something about her… I couldn’t put my finger on it. She seemed familiar, and at the same time not familiar. When I immediately re-watched the episode for the second time (because it was so mind blowingly awesome), I paid more attention to the ending credits, and the name “Oona Chaplin” jumped out at me. I threw my arms up in the air and shouted “WOOOOOOOHOOOO!!!” and did a happy dance. And so a new Chaplin comes face to face with the great detective.
Close encounter of a Sherlockian/Chaplinesque kind: Aidan Quinn
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), and Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) from Elementary
Another recent connection (though not as strong as the above ones, but still there) is CBS’s newest take of the Holmes and Watson interpretations in Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, and Lisa Liu as Joan Watson (that’s right, a female Watson…a very good one), which premiered during Holmes’ 125th anniversary (2012). Co-starring is Aidan Quinn who plays Captain Thomas Gregson of the NYPD.
Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), Sam (Johnny Depp), and Benny (Aidan Quinn)
Almost 20 years earlier (1993), Quinn played in an adorable movie that also starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Matherson, Benny and Joon (released just a few months after Downey’s Chaplin.). Quinn plays the older, and pretty protective brother, Benny to Matherson’s Joon who slowly falls in love with Depp’s Sam who is a eccentric person who is obsessed with Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
(I have been asked a few times about my story about how I got my deerstalker. I finally put fingers to keys and tell the tale.)
It was the Christmas season back in 1994 (almost 20 years ago… I feel sooo ooolllldddd!). My family (parents, 2 sisters, and brother) had a chance to visit the UK. We went through England, Wales, and Scotland… all areas that my family is descended from (had a wonderful Christmas popping in on my Welsh cousins by surprise… but that’s another story).
When we were in London, I really wanted to visit the infamous 221b Baker Street, the famed (fictional) home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. I had been a Sherlockian for about 7 years by that point, and with the aid of my mom (Dad and siblings split and went to Madame Tussauds) we waited in the line (or as the British say, queue). I had a lovely chat with a father and his young son who stood behind us. They had visited the set of the Granada’s Sherlock Holmes set and said how wonderful it was.
So we waited in line, paid the fee ( £5 I think it was, or £8), and entered. We went through the rooms, up all 17 steps (I counted, and yes there really were 17 steps). There were rooms that had dummies recreating some scenes from the stories, such as the King of Bohemia from “A Scandal in Bohemia”. We entered the revered study where Holmes and Watson would sit, talk to each other or to clients. Everything was a bit cramped, because, as our guide said, that was about how it would have looked in the late Victorian era. The reason why the rooms are bigger on tv is so they have room for the cameras and crew and other equipment.
The whole time I would remind myself that this place, this residence turned into a museum, was for fictional characters. They never existed. Sure they were partly based on real people, but those people did not live here. All the beautiful detail in books, dagger on the mantelpiece, the hanging Persian slipper, everything that was from the right period of history but yet still fictional. But I fell back into “playing the game” as I sat down carefully onto Holmes chair, picked up the deerstalker and put it on my head and carefully picked up the calabash pipe from the table by the chair. My mom took a picture (which has since been lost, drat!). and we went into Holmes’ bedroom, then upstairs to Watson’s room.
The last room was the gift shop where there were so many things to buy. I wanted one of everything, but my funds said otherwise. I had a wonderful conversation with the woman running the register, excitedly telling her how I was a fan from America and how I had wanted to visited Baker Street ever since becoming a fan. I did manage to buy a few things (all which I still have, amazingly after several moves), and we went downstairs and across the street to another Sherlock Holmes memorabilia store directly across the street from 221b (From what I understand, it is no longer there).
So I’m wandering around this second store but not seeing anything near as good as what I got at 221b. Then my eye catches a hat rack of deerstalkers of all different colors and patterns. I never knew there were so many different looking ones, but there they sat. But none of them were what I would want to get. I wanted a traditional looking one, not crazy colored or weirdly patterned. I remembered seeing a hat rack over at 221b, and only remember seeing one hat there that I liked. I talked to mom about it and she said I should see about trying to go back over there. I still had the receipt from entering, and who knows if I would ever be in London again, so why not go for it?
So I crossed Baker Street once more (it seems so weird to type that, and that it actually happened!). Outside there was still a line, and also a middle aged man dressed up as a Victorian Bobby. I showed him my receipt and asked if I could enter again.
“Go ahead!” he said with a slight bow and a smile, lifting one arm towards the door. I excitedly thanked him and went up the steps (1, 2, 3,….17) to the shop. The same woman was still there, and seeing me she let out a laugh. I asked about the deerstalkers and she pointed to the hat rack. I quickly looked over them and spotted the one I had remembered seeing out of the corner of my eye.
And there it was. I picked it up, bought it and headed downstairs (17,16,15…1).
And there it is, sitting on my head a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite Sherlockian possessions. And yes, I know that he was not explicitly described as wearing one, but it’s fun to wear (Sidney Paget illustrated Holmes as wearing one, and that’s good enough for me). When I went to see both Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, I wore it to the theater. No one had to ask what movie I was going to see. The answer was elementary.
[I had posted this earlier this year, but when rebuilding the blog in the last few days, I had somehow lost the backup. Thank goodness for Google’s cache!]
I got a little choked up when I watched the Read My Mind fanvid, but this one really got me choked up. The below one is done to ColdPlay’s “Fix You”, also featuring clips from the Granada series. As with Read My Mind, the editing done in time with the song is top notch.
Sherlock Holmes – Safety Dance
This one is a bit repetitive, but fun. Men Without Hats classic 80s song, “Safety Dance”. More Granada clips (are you getting the impression that the Granada series was/is that popular among fans? :D)
Sherlock can do anything
One that made me laugh was this one done to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Sueade Shoes”. And no need to adjust your computer, it is double speed.
I love how Holmes throws paper around the room. Poor Mrs. Hudson!
These (especially “Read My Mind” and “Fix You”) have got me thinking about putting together a fan video of my own. I already have a couple songs in my head, and have been working out what parts could go where. Maybe one day I’ll finally make it 🙂
In my last (regular) post, I talked about the official video for “Discombobulate”, the main theme for the recent Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. (Hans was robbed of an Oscar! Shame on the Academy!!)
One thing I have become a fan of are fan-made music videos. To keep in line with my last couple posts, I list below some of my favorite Holmes related ones:
Sherlock Holmes Symphony
First up is a great medley of Holmes from various films, TV, and animation (even some anime!) done to The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. Opens with scene from CSI’s “Who Shot Sherlock?” episode (which happened to air on what would have been, if he existed, Sherlock’s 150th birthday), along with scenes (not listed in order) from Jeremy Brett (but of course!), Star Trek: The Next Genereation (loved the “Elementary, My Dear Data” episode!), The Simpsons, Daffy Duck & Porky Pig, Michael Pennington (from the very enjoyable TV movie “Return of Sherlock Holmes” where Holmes wakes up in 1980s England by Watson’s great granddaughter), Peter Cushing, Ronald Howard (an overlooked actor. Played the Great Sleuth back in the 50s on TV. Minus having blond hair, he made a great Holmes!) Basil Rathbone (another “but of course!”), shot of Laurel & Hardy wearing deerstalkers, Buster Keaton (from his masterpiece “Sherlock Jr”), and many others.
Last night I found this great video. From the title I was afraid it was going to be another slash vid, but it turned to be really really good. I watched it numerous times in a row, even getting a little choked up. Stars fast clips from the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, David Burke, and Edward Hardwicke. And with a sweet ending! The song is “Read my Mind” by The Killers. Great video on a greater friendship:
Sherlock Holmes, “Tubthumping”
Next is a very good vid taken from scenes of the Robert Downey Jr. movie. What makes this vid really interesting is that it was made before the DVD/Blu-Ray release. Clips were taken from already released scenes on the ‘net and trailers. Song is the 90s hit “TubThumping” by Chumbawamba:
Sherlock Holmes Featurette (Brett & Downey Jr>
This one combines both Brett’s and Downey’s Holmes with the song “All the Strange Strange Creatures” from the new Doctor Who series (season 3). One of the best songs from the new series (IMHO, of course). Anyway, it’s a very good combination! I’ll later post my favorite Doctor Who fan vids.
Sherlock Holmes video – Rocky Road to Dublin
And in honor of today being St. Patrick’s Day, below is also from the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. “Rocky Road to Dublin” by the Dubliners. While the song was in the movie, it’s not on the soundtrack 🙁 (whose brilliant idea was that?)