Gillette Biography Drawing Excellent Reviews

William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes, has been gathering splendid reviews since its publication in the spring.


          James Zeruk, biographer of the Hollywood Sign Girl, Peg Entwistle, and a Hartford, Connecticut, native, reported, ‘‘Meticulously researched and footnoted, and jam-packed with many heretofore unknown aspects and insights into Gillette's private life and public career…, Zecher takes the reader on a journey that covers Gillette's ups and downs with honesty and integrity.’‘

In addition to being a biography of a great actor, Zeruk observed that ‘‘it is also a wonderful history of a great era and of the pioneers of America's great moments in the footlights on America's stage!’‘

Matt Sanders, who works summers at Gillette Castle in Hadlyme, Connecticut, was among the castle tour guides anxiously awaiting publication of the book, and he hit upon one major reason why Gillette is mostly forgotten today: ‘‘Unfortunately, as he never did film, he was quickly lost from memory after his death. Though he might well have laid the foundation of modern theater and our perception of Sherlock Holmes, his only accomplishment still celebrated by today's masses is the strange house on the hill that everyone assumes was made with razor-blade money.’‘

          Sanders observed that the author ‘‘pulls from innumerable newspaper articles, personal correspondences, memoirs, and even a few doctoral thesis to try and construct a picture of Gillette… Zecher does a really admirable job of pulling together an in-depth chronology of Gillette's work and descriptions of his methods.’‘

          Covering all the bases, Sanders felt that the author had perhaps included a bit too many reviews of some of Gillette’s various productions, but that the book ‘‘gives a very good history of the times. Specifically, he outlines the development of American theater starting in the 1870's until Gillette's death in 1937. It was a time of huge change in the presentation and purpose of theater of which our subject was not only a participant but an active visionary.’‘

Others agree with Zeruk’s and Sanders’s assessments.

The Baker Street Journal felt that the author ‘‘must be congratulated for discovering so much about his subject; his notes and bibliography are formidable. He not only writes about Gillette’s life and career but also offers a longish postscript about his place and influence today in popular culture.’‘

Peter Blau’s April issue of Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press called it ‘‘a splendid biography of the actor/playwright who did so much to make Sherlock Holmes so popular. There was much more to Gillette's life and career than Sherlock Holmes, and the author has told the story well, with careful research and readable style; recommended.’‘

          GROANS, CRIES AND BLEATINGS, official news letter of the Baker Street Breakfast Club in Vermont, pointed out how the author ‘‘tracked down every resource that was available, discovering letters and photographs in various surprising places... An indication of Zecher’s tireless researching is that his endnotes take up almost 100 pages of his book.’‘

The book, the newsletter concluded, ‘‘should appeal to theatre people and Sherlockians alike, since although Zecher pays the attention Gillette’s work on Holmes it deserves, he also provides a full picture of Gillette’s theatre work and of the theatre world of the time in which Gillette worked.’‘

          And, The District Messenger, newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, noted that ‘‘Mr. Zecher’s fourteen years’ research has uncovered no scandal, no sensation, just the fascinating life of a brilliant, chivalrous, witty gentleman, and he’s done Gillette proud.’‘

          Finally, Sanders concluded that, ‘‘Zecher has done a very good job given the scope of his task. Though the book may be over-long, no fault of that lies with the man's prose, which possesses a really keen humor that would have made his subject proud. He keeps a very fair hand by sharing the bad reviews as well as the good, and is completely forthright with the fact that, while Gillette was immensely popular and laudable, he was not a very good playwright. When it comes right down to it, even his acting was largely limited to one stoic, unflappable role. None the less, the reader comes away with a new appreciation for an American icon they didn't even know they had forgotten. Gillette was a man who inspired generations of theater goers and theater makers and created an image so iconic that even Orson Welles was forced to admit that, ‘‘Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette.’‘

Profusely illustrated with many photographs, some of them rare and some not seen in more than a hundred years, the book is published by Xlibris Press in Bloomington, Indiana, and is available both from the publisher and on and Barnes & Noble.