The Brettish Empire
Vol. II #8

June 16, 1996

Hello Everyone,

I have some fun stuff for you on this Dad's Day--but, first, a "TBEditorial."


"Quick, Watson--the rolled up newspaper!"

A lot of growling went on recently in a certain Internet mailing list.

Why? The 6/9/96 Los Angeles Times featured a glowing tribute to Jeremy Brett in its "Calendar" (arts) section. Someone posted the tribute on the mailing list, but, because the tribute contained some careless errors (and some favorable opinions), it was mauled like a Milk Bone.

It seems the opinions bothered people more than the errors did. For example, here's what one poster had to say (with my comments interposed):

"I must admit that I enjoyed counting the errors in the LA Times story about Brett (indeed, I enjoyed counting them almost as much as sniggering about the errors in the new science fiction flick The Arrival--but I digress:-), but I was quite surprised by which error seemed to most rouse collective...hackles.

"Yes, it was ludicrous to write that Brett 'was...the first actor who insisted on being rigorously faithful to Doyle's text'"

[LLO--Maybe not "ludicrous," just "incorrect." Quite a few previous Holmes portrayers also set out to be faithful. I think the key word here is "rigorously." Michael Cox, writing in the Sherlock Holmes Gazette #13, said, "Where John Hawkesworth and I had changed or expanded Doyle's text [Brett] fought for absolute fidelity--sometimes we won, sometimes he did--nothing was taken for granted." The next sentence in the Times tribute continued, "This meant dispensing with several signature Holmes items--the calabash pipe, Inverness cape, and deerstalker hat--none of which were Doyle's inventions, but were brought to the part by various actors." But, even Jeremy used these props occasionally--and I believe the cape and the hat were suggested by Paget's drawings.]

"It was sloppy to refer to [The Final Problem as] The Final Solution."

[LLO--Yes, it was.]

"Certainly it was taking large liberties to say that '[At the time of his death of heart disease nine months ago]...the consensus among Holmes aficionados was that Brett's blazing characterization...will stand as the one to top for decades to come.'"

[LLO--Maybe those "liberties" aren't so large. I've received messages from scores of Holmes fans from all over the world, from all walks of life--men, women, and children; college students, housewives, authors, journalists, lawyers, librarians, lab technicians, computer experts, secretaries, mail clerks, media specialists; etc.--and their consensus is, "Brett is Holmes!" So, somebody out there likes his characterization. (And, anyway, everyone knows that Jeremy can't be topped...) <G> ;->]

"But doesn't this all pale in comparison to quotes like 'Here is a man [Holmes] who received his first kiss at the age of 37 [that momentous occurrence took place in The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton]...and [who] took no real moral position on the crimes he solved.' Say WHAT?"

LLO--It's obvious that the LA Times reporter isn't an expert on Sherlock Holmes; she's a writer who apparently just scrolled through newspaper databases to research the tribute. She repeated erroneous information from earlier articles, without double-checking the facts for herself. For instance, I immediately recognized the "CAM" information: it came from a 1991 Christian Science Monitor article which stated, "Brett has also played Holmes for Granada in a new two-hour special, Charles Augustus Milverton, in which Holmes gets his first kiss at 37." I'm not sure where they got the "37" figure, though. According to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Holmes was probably "born" in 1854, and CAM took place in 1899, so he would have been 45, not 37. In any case, the kiss occurred in the television adaptation (renamed The Master Blackmailer), and not in the original story. (For what it's worth, Jeremy Brett was nearly 58 when the "kiss" scene was filmed.)

Now, I know that one actor can't be all things to all Holmes aficionados. And, it's maddening to read articles that are chock-full of errors. I also realize that everyone is entitled to their opinion--I have no quarrel with that. However, what bothers me about the mailing list growlers is that in all their nit-picking, error-counting, and fault-finding, they completely missed the point: the LA Times article is a tribute to Jeremy Brett, not Sherlock Holmes.

Granted, Jeremy probably wouldn't have rated such a tribute if it hadn't been for his portrayal of Holmes. (Indeed, the tribute is entitled, "Remembering Jeremy Brett--Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Interpreter.") But, ultimately, the Times tribute laments the loss of an actor and a man:

"Fans who mourned Brett's passing should make a point of seeing Moll Flanders, it features his final performance. Based on the Daniel Defoe novel, directed by Pen Densham and shot four months prior to Brett's death, the film finds the [61] year-old actor cast as an effete aristocrat who opposes his son's marriage to a reformed prostitute. Though he appears in just one scene, Brett is, as always, incandescent.

"'I was a huge fan of Jeremy's work as Holmes and figured it was a long shot he'd be interested in the small part I was offering him,'" Densham recalls. 'Needless to say, I was thrilled when he said yes and though he only worked one day, it's a day I'll always remember--he approached his scene with such intelligence.

"'Despite the fact that he worked with great vitality, we all suspected he wasn't well. He was quite pale and perspiring profusely, but he never said a word about his health and insisted on not wearing makeup for his scene. I knew he was fragile but I certainly wasn't prepared for his death--it was a devastating loss for me, as I'm sure it was for anyone who knew him.'"

Some of us are grateful for this tribute, even if it isn't perfect. The LA Times noted the significance of Moll Flanders as Jeremy's last film. Yes, their reporter could have done a better job of researching the article, but at least they noticed. Think about it--here is an actor who, though not generally well-known in the US, received a tribute in a major newspaper nearly a year after his death, upon the release of his final film, a film in which he appears in only one scene. This doesn't happen every day.

The point is: Many actors may portray Doyle's fictional creation in the decades to come. Some may even "top" Jeremy Brett's interpretation. Although he can be replaced as Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy can never be replaced as a human being. There may be another vivid portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, and then another, and another--but there will never, ever be another Jeremy Brett.

As the Times tribute concluded, "Seeing Brett again in Moll Flanders, one is reminded of how much we lost with his passing and how much he left us with his performance as Holmes."

Now, onto the fun stuff...


Special correspondent Linda Patterson (mom of TBE'er, Kristy) dispatched the following, dated June 7:

"A very small and interesting observation that I might share with you--my 'NYC' daughter (Kelly) attended Moll Flanders at a special preview showing last night [...'for mom'--good kid, that]. She said that though she was riveted to the screen, both because the film was great and [she was] waiting for JB to show up, her significant other observed that many in the audience appeared to be there--just as they were--to see JB! The 'There he is'-type tittering and squirming when he came up was discernable! And the end screen was dedicated 'in fond memory' of JB and another man. So--if one leaves in the middle of the credits he'll miss it."

(Stay put during the credits, TBE'ers! :->)

Incidentally, it looks like I'll have to have someone see Moll Flanders for me, too. Moll came to theatres around the U.S. on June 14. However, the local movie listings made no mention of it. So, I checked the "MovieLink" service on the WWW to see if the film is playing in the area. Yes, it's playing in the area--the area of Cleveland. Oh, well--I guess I can wait for the video. Or, I can drive down to the local mega-multiplex and see The Cable Guy instead--it's showing on about 20 screens. (What's wrong with this picture?)

"A mouse with a flower in a herd of elephants."--Pen Densham quoted on how he feels about Moll Flanders being released amid a glut of summer action films.

Since I can't see the movie, I visited the beautiful (albeit Brett-less) "Moll Flanders" website. 

Useless Trivia #1: One of the producers of Moll Flanders is named John Watson.

I'm also reading the novel.

Useless Trivia #2: The original full title of Daniel Defoe's novel is: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c, Who was Born in Newgate and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent. (Hope that doesn't give away too much of the plot!)


A glance at ye olde cable guide reveals that A & E will dust off Shoscombe Old Place for viewing on Tuesday, June 18, 1996, at 10:00 EST.

Well, that's all for this issue of TBE. My warmest thanks to all who contributed. Take care, everyone.

Until next time,

Lisa :-)

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"The Brettish Empire"/"TBE" Copyright Lisa L. Oldham.