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William Gillette

William Gillette

William Gillette (July 24, 1853 – April 29, 1937) was an American actor, playwright and stage-manager in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best remembered today for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage and in a now lost 1916 silent film. Gillette's most significant contributions to the theater were in devising realistic stage settings and special sound and lighting effects, and, as an actor, in putting forth what he called the Illusion of the First Time. His portrayal of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective. His use of the deerstalker cap (which first appeared in some Strand illustrations by Sidney Paget) and the curved pipe became synonymous with the character. He assumed the role onstage more than 1,300 times over thirty years, starred in a silent motion picture based on his Holmes play, and voiced the character twice on radio. Ultimately, his play based on the figure he rendered iconic, Sherlock Holmes is published by Samuel French. Held by the Enemy (1886), his first Civil War drama, was a major step toward modern theater in that it abandoned many of the crude devices of 19th century melodrama and introduced realism into the sets, costumes, props and sound effects. And, at a time when the British had a very low opinion of American art, in any form, Held by the Enemy was also the first wholly American play with a wholly American theme to be a critical and commercial success on British stages. 


Samuel French Titles by William Gillette