The Evolution of Sherlock Holmes in Pop Culture Part II (The Plays and Radio Dramas)

As I said last week Holmes was so powerful he could not be kept on paper so Doyle’s stories also became available in the mediums of theatre and radio. The radio dramas began with The Mercury Theatre on the Air starring Orson Welles which aired September 25, 1938. It was Orson Welles’s own adaptation of the playwright William Gillette’s story. In it we meet Sherlock Holmes’s most famous adversary, Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, a criminal to match Holmes’s intelligence and trickery. There have been many famous foil duos, Batman and the Joker, Snoopy and the Red Baron, well you can’t have Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty. The radio drama’s aired from 1938-1969 starring such legends as Basil Rathbone, Tom Conway, John Stanley, Sir John Gielgud, and Carleton Hobbs as Sherlock Holmes. One of my favorites is The Adventure of the Haunted Bagpipes. The way each show begins is the same. The host sets the scene for the listeners, “Kreml Hair Tonic and Kreml Shampoo presents The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and Tom Conway as Sherlock Holmes.” Then he’ll say something like, “Now here we are once more in Dr. Watson’s study. And maybe we’re not glad to get here. If we hadn’t had a Sherlock Holmes story waiting for us at the other end we’d have never ventured out on a night like this.” … “Oh it’s typical Edinburgh weather,” responds Watson. And from there we begin our adventure.    This time Holmes and Watson go to Edinburgh, Scotland. Holmes says that London has been fairly bereft of crime over the past few months and it is because the man behind the criminal scene has been in Edinburgh. The man is none other than Professor Moriarty himself. Now Holmes is in Edinburgh because he has been hired by an owner of some property in the city. Rumors abound that the area is haunted and no one dares go near it. They say that one of the houses, sealed shut since the infamous Black Plague, sometimes has ghosts of those who died walked about inside. They also say that at night there can be heard the sound of bagpipes played by the ghost of a piper who went missing in the underground tunnels 150 years before. So naturally Holmes has decided to stay in the house next door to the fatal house (like you do) and Watson is not looking forward to the night ahead. And on top of all of it it’s raining, Holmes says it’s “just a good Scotch mist.” “Mist, my grandmother,” says Watson, “I’m soaked to the skin and my teeth are chattering like castanets.”   After they arrive, they barely settle in before the house keeper who met them runs out because she doesn’t want to be there after dark not long after which they hear the phantom bagpipes. So naturally (sigh) Holmes says they should go into the sealed house! Inside they find the house covered in cobwebs with a table still set for a meal during the plague era in the dining room. And in the sitting room they find… sorry, Spoilers (Doctor Who says hi). You’ll have to look it up! But anyway the stories are beautiful and very well done. From the sound of a fire crackling to the sounds of a busy street, no ambiance or sound effect is missing or lacking. The music was even performed live in the studio for the broadcasts! And of course the voice acting is excellent!   There were several plays including the afore mentioned play by William Gillette (1899) Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner, which was a culmination of several stories by Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Final Problem, The Copper Beeches and A Study in Scarlet. By 1916, Harry Arthur Saintsbury who starred in this production had played Holmes on stage more than a thousand times. Also part of this cast was a certain child actor who grew up to be one of the most iconic names in film and comedy, you know him as Charlie Chaplin. This play formed the basis for Gillette’s 1916 motion picture, Sherlock Holmes, but more about that next week.   Then in 1965 a Broadway musical called Baker Street opened and ran for several months. It starred Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Peter Sallis as Watson, and Martin Gabel as Moriarty. This cast list also happened to include the one, the only, Christopher Walken (ah, not expecting that were you). The cast called for 14+ men, 4+ women, and 4 children’s roles as well to play the Baker Street Irregulars, whom Holmes sometimes employs as spies and messengers in the stories. Actually the plot for the musical is very similar to the plot of the first Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law movie. But again, more on them next week…   Lena is an actress and likes the color red this week. Next Week: Part III (Film and Television) Logo photo by Justine Impressions