William Hooker Gillette was born July 24, 1853, in
Hartford, CT. He left for New Orleans to begin his apprenticeship
as an actor when he was 20 years old. Later, when he returned
to Hartford, he appeared at the Globe Theater in Boston in Mark
Twain's "The Gilded Age" on Twain's recommendation.
For the next six years, from 1875-1881, he served as a stock actor
in New England and the Midwest. In 1881, he was hired by the Frohman
brothers as a playwright, director and actor for $50 a week. The
first play he wrote and produced, "The Professor," proved
to be a great success with 151 performances. In 1887, he became
the first American playwright to achieve true success on the British
stage with "Held By the Enemy" which placed him in good
standing in London society. In 1895, he wrote "Secret Service"
which turned out to be an huge critical and popular success. In
the 1890's, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was looking for additional
income and considered Sherlock Holmes for a stage production,
although it had been made into a stage place at least twice earlier.
After unsuccessful attempts to have Herbert Beerbolm Tree and
Henry Irving play the part, he approached Frohman with his script.
Frohman suggested an adaptation by Gillette, which Doyle approved.
"Sherlock Holmes" debuted in October 1899 in Buffalo
and made its Broadway debut the next month running until June
of 1900. The company then toured with the play for another year.
In 1901, the play made its debut in Liverpool. Gillette continued
to be in demand and perform in a number of plays, with his last
stage performance in 1936, although his appearances lessened as
he aged. In 1914. he had revived his role as Sherlock Holmes,
and in 1916, he was approached by Essanay Film Manufacturing to
film the play. The resulting film included all of the stage cast
members reprising their roles for the silent movie and was the
only movie in which Gillette ever appeared. The film was re-edited
into a four-part serial in France. Gillette passed away in 1937
at age 83. His castle home he built in Hadlyme, CT, was purchased
by the state in 1943 and today includes a museum, park and many
theatrical celebrations with over 100,000 visitors annually.
Selected films of this star available for viewing:
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