Sunday, August 21, 2016

"The Beloved Fable of Baker Street"

"The Immortal Sherlock Holmes."
The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio play by Orson Welles, adapted from Sherlock Holmes (1899) by William Gillette.
First aired: September 25, 1938. Original running time: 55 minutes 5 seconds.
Script at Generic Radio Workshop HERE; recording at YouTube HERE.
The cast:
   Dr. Watson . . . Ray Collins
   Alice Faulkner . . . Mary Taylor
   Madge Larrabee . . . Brenda Forbes
   James Larrabee . . . Edgar Barrier
   Inspector Forman . . . Morgan Farley
   Craigin . . . Richard Wilson
   Bassick . . . Alfred Shirley
   Leary . . . William Alland
   Billy . . . Arthur Anderson
   Professor Moriarty . . . Eustace Wyatt
   Sherlock Holmes . . . Orson Welles
   Orchestra conductor . . . Bernard Herrmann
   Production supervisor for CBS . . . Davidson Taylor
   Announcer . . . Frank Gallop.
Orson Welles introduces his version of the Great Detective:
Good evening. Well, tonight it's back to Baker Street. Back to that unlikely London of the nineteenth century where high adventure awaits all who would seek it, in a hansom cab or under a gas lamp in an Inverness cape. For tonight we pay tribute to the most wonderful member of that most wonderful world — a gentleman who never lived, and who will never die.
There are only a few of them, these permanent profiles, everlasting silhouettes on the edge of the world. There is, first, the little hunchback with the slap-stick whose hook nose is shaped like his cap. There is now and always will be the penguin-footed hobo in the derby and the baggy pants. And the small boy with the wooden head. And the long rusty knight on horseback. And the fat knight who could only procure a charge on foot. There is also the tall gentleman with the hawk's face, and the underslung pipe, and the fore-and-aft cap. We'd know them anywhere and call them easily by name: Punch; and the Charlies, Chaplin and McCarthy; Quixote; Sir John; and Sherlock Holmes.
Now, irrelevant as this may seem, we of the Mercury Theatre are very much occupied these days with rehearsals for a revival of a fine old American farce a lot of you will remember, if only for its lovely title — which is "Too Much Johnson." Its author was William Gillette, which reminded us, as it reminds you, of Sherlock Holmes. As everybody knows, that celebrated American inventor of underacting leant his considerable gifts as a playwright to the indestructible legend of the Conan Doyle detective and produced the play which is as much a part of the Holmes literature as any of Sir Arthur's own romances.
And, as nobody will ever forget, he gave his face to him. For William Gillette was the aquiline and actual embodiment of Holmes himself. It is too little to say that William Gillette resembled Sherlock Holmes; Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette. Sounds like him, too, we're afraid, and hope devoutly that the Mercury Theatre and the radio will take none of the glamor from the beloved fable of Baker Street; from the pipe and the violin and the hideous purple dress-ing-gown; from the needle and the cigar on the window ledge, and the dry, final, famous lines — "Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary. The mere child's play of deduction."
If you'd like to see what changes were wrought during the live broadcast (some lines were cut), go to the script page at Generic Radio Works, then open another tab and follow along with the recording.

The bottom line: "Sometime when you have a year or two to spare I commend to you the study of Professor Moriarty."
Sherlock Holmes

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