A long line of actors have played the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes is an article written by Julie Washington, a reporter for the The Cleveland Plain Dealer that was published on December 20th. Here is the article in its entirety:
As the latest actor to play Sherlock Holmes on film, Robert Downey Jr kept the pipe, added bed head and lost the deerstalker hat.
Downey’s Holmes — whom audiences will meet when “Sherlock Holmes” opens in theaters Christmas Day, Dec. 25 — is a bare-knuckled brawler who keeps his rooms messy and likes to experiment on Watson’s (Jude Law) dog.
Since the silent film days, every actor to play the iconic detective has brought something new to the character. William Gillette, who played a silent-film version of the great detective, added the iconic pipe, deerstalker hat and the saying “Elementary, my dear Watson,” to the popular image of the character, said Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Sherlock Holmes became a cinema icon almost as soon as the movies were up and projecting onto silver screen,” writes David Stuart Davies in his book “Starring Sherlock Holmes.”
The fraternity of actors who have brought Holmes to life on stage, television and movies includes well-known actors such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, as well as a few surprising members like Charlton Heston, Larry Hagman and John Cleese.
As we prepare to meet a 21st century Holmes and Watson, here’s a sampling of actors who have taken us along on the chase, and some movies they appeared in:
This stage actor was among the first to become identified with the role. He appeared in the first production of the play “Sherlock Holmes” when it opened in New York in 1899 and appeared in the drama until his retirement in 1932. A silent film based on his play is recognized as one of the first Sherlock Holmes movies.
“There can be no doubt that Eille Norwood was the silent movies’ greatest Holmes,” writes Davies in “Starring Sherlock Holmes.”
“If only by the sheer volume of his output — starring in 47 titles in two years — he emerges as the champion,” Davies writes.
In the spotlight: “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” is a collection of 15 short films adapted from Doyle’s stories.
Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
Rathbone and Bruce are the definitive Holmes and Watson for generations of movie-goers thanks to their series of Universal movies made during the 1930s and 1940s, Dixon said. It was a good pairing, with Rathbone’s classically trained, upper crust demeanor playing against Bruce’s not-too-bright Watson. “The two of them played off each other very well,” Dixon said.
Disney even tapped Rathbone to be Holmes’ voice in the animated movie “The Great Mouse Detective.”
In the spotlight: “The House of Fear” (Holmes investigates mutilated murder victims), and “Spider Woman” (Holmes fakes his own death to investigate a rash of suicides).
Peter Cushing: The Hammer horror film veteran played Holmes in British movies and a 1968 television series.
Cushing and Christopher Lee, who were often paired in the Hammer movies, teamed up again when Cushing played Holmes and Lee portrayed Sir Henry Baskerville in 1959’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” about an unlucky family pursued by a hound from hell.
In the spotlight: Cushing’s “The Masks of Death,” when three corpses floating in the Thames set Holmes on the trail.
Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke
The duo made a modern-day Holmes and Watson team in a number of British television movies in the 1980s and 1990s. “Jeremy Brett nails it more than anyone else,” making the master detective egomaniacal, openly drug addled, vain and always right, Dixon said.
Brett also played Holmes with David Burke as Watson in the 1980s British television series “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”
In the spotlight: “The Last Vampyre” (a sinister newcomer to town can kill just by looking at his victims).
John Neville and Donald Houston
“A Study in Terror” (1965) is the first movie to pit Holmes (Neville) and Watson (Houston) against Jack the Ripper. Houston won plaudits for playing Watson as a competent partner the way he was depicted in the stories and not as the bumbling, amiable goof he’d been turned into on the screen.
Plummer played Holmes in “Murder by Decree” opposite James Mason and in a 1962 British movie with Thorley Walters as Watson.
In the spotlight: “Murder by Decree” has Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper.
Other notables in the role:
Before he was J.R. on “Dallas” (1978), Larry Hagman was Sherman Holmes in the comedy “The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective” in 1976. Hagman plays a detective who is so obsessed with Holmes that, after a clunk on the head, he believes he is Holmes.
Matt Frewer, aka Max Headroom, starred as the famous detective in three Hallmark television movies in the early 2000s.
Roger Moore starred in 1976’s “Sherlock Holmes in New York” with Patrick Macnee (“The Avengers”) as Watson. Moriarty (John Huston) plots Holmes’ downfall by threatening the world’s gold supply.
“Doctor Who’s” Tom Baker appeared in an adaptation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in 1982.
Jonathan Pryce, known from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, was Holmes in a 2007 two-part British television program focusing on the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of street urchins Holmes used as junior investigators.
Shakespearean actor Peter O’Toole (“Lawrence of Arabia”) lent his voice to two animated Sherlock Holmes movies.
John Cleese (“A Fish Called Wanda”) played a drunken Holmes for laughs in the 1973 British television movie “Elementary, My Dear Watson.”
Moses — well, actually Charlton Heston as Holmes — ventures into an opium den to solve a murder in the 1991 television movie “The Crucifer of Blood.”
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This is just a partial list of the actors that have played Sherlock Holmes. Certainly some are more well known than others for their portrayal. Who is your favorite? Please take a moment and vote for your favorite Sherlock Holmes in the poll in the sidebar.