09 July, 2008
William Hooker Gillette was an American actor, playwright and stage-manager.
Gillette was a major stage actor in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While he was not the first actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, he became best known for that role until he last played it on stage in 1932. Through Gillette's portrayals of Holmes, the use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe, became synonymous with the character. Gillette was seen as the definitive Holmes of his day, appearing on stage as the character for over thirty years, starring in a silent motion picture based on his play, and voicing the character twice on radio.
Born in the era of melodrama, with its grand gestures and sonorous declamations, he created in his plays characters who talked and acted the way people talk and act in real life. Held by the Enemy, 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. In Sherlock Holmes, he introduced the fade-in at the beginning of each scene, and the fade-out at the end, instead of the slam-bang finishes audiences were accustomed to. Clarice in 1905 was significant because, for the first time, he sought to achieve dramatic action through character rather than through incident and situation.
Gillette died on April 29, 1937, in Hartford, due to a pulmonary hemorrhage.