Long before Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jonny Lee Miller assumed the Sherlock persona, Victorian Charles Brookfield became the first professional stage actor to portray Holmes. Wearing dark tights and a short cape, Brookfield appeared in Under the Clock, an 1893 musical parody of the sleuth’s adventures written by Seymour Hicks.
1892 caricature of Charles Brookfield and co-star
Lottie Venne from Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan
The Scottish playwright Charles Rogers claimed an established copyright due to an 1892 performance of his play. In 1894 Roger’s Sherlock Holmes, The Private Detective opened in Glasgow with John Webb in the starring role. Several years later American actor William Gillette collaborated with Sir Arthur Conaan-Doyle and producer Charles Frohman to bring Doyle’s stories to the stage. Charles Rogers’ heirs sued but failed to stop the production.
In 1899 William Gillette performed as Sherlock Holmes for the first of over one thousand times. He became famous for his portrayal and two iconic elements, shortening a line to “Elementary, my dear Watson” and using a curved pipe as a stage prop.
Who are your favorite Sherlock Holmes actors? Why?