In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there wasn't a bigger star on the stage than William Gillette.
Today the Hartford native is primarily known for writing one of the many stage adaptations of "Sherlock Holmes" and for his great 1919 stone castle home along the Connecticut River in East Haddam.
But, oh, you should have seen him in his prime as a playwright, producer and especially as an actor.
This son of a U.S. senator and descendant of Hartford founder Thomas Hooker grew up on Nook Farm, near the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. His first professional experience was in New York in 1875 in "Faint Heart Ne'er Won Fair Lady," and Mark Twain later selected him for a part in his play, "The Gilded Age." (Twain also helped finance Gillette's first Broadway play.) He played Helen Hayes' father in the "Dear Brutus" play in 1918.
But he was most known as the stage embodiment of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary creation. When he played Holmes in 1900 in his hometown, The Courant wrote, "Many proclaim him the most finished and polished actor of the day, the acme of realism."
The Courant reported that author Booth Tarkington wrote to Gillette of his performance: "I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning."
Gillette's farewell to his craft was given to a packed house at The Bushnell in 1936 in "Three Wise Fools." He died the next year at the age of 84. The Courant reported he had an unusual request in his will, directing his executor to make sure no "blithering saphead" be allowed to come into possession of the castle, its grounds or its small railroad that ran around it. It later became a state park.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun