|From Gillette to Brett - Indianapolis - November 8-9, 2003
A Personal Perspective By Charles Prepolec
|So what is the most fun a Sherlockian can have? Easy, getting together with other Sherlockians. How do you improve on that? Not so easy? Sure it is. Invite a 130 or so keen Sherlockians, throw some interesting Sherlockian guests into the mix, add food and drinks, bring in a few dealers, shake hands vigorously and serve with warmth. Which is exactly what Steven Doyle and Mark Gagen of Wessex Press did in presenting the From Gillette to Brett Symposium in Indianapolis on November 8-9, 2003. It was the best of times and it was the…well, the best of times. Now that I’ve said that, there’s no need for me to review a thing. Phew! That was easy.|
|Alright, alright, you got me, so why then does this page go on and on you might rightly ask? Well, if, like me, you’ve only recently begun connecting with the greater Sherlockian community (my second event after 15 years of only local scion meetings), or you’ve only thought about going to a function in passing, or have no idea about what goes on at one and are too shy to ask, perhaps I can provide a bit of insight by sharing my own ‘newbie’ experiences and encourage you to dive into the fun-filled world of organized Sherlockian events that await you. I can assure you, you’ll enjoy getting in on the fun. So no review here folks, just one geographically isolated Sherlockian’s personal perspective on mixing and mingling at a spectacular Sherlock Holmes event.|
|Having bribed my partner Kristen into accompanying me to the Symposium with Pacer tickets, we arrived in Indianapolis a day early so that we’d be over any jet lag from our 1500-mile journey before hitting the social scene. We knew we were in the right place when, the next morning, while having breakfast, we spied Edward Hardwicke taking a solo meal at another table. Now I’m not one for being star-struck, but it is a strange thing to be picking at your bacon one moment and then discovering that Watson is sitting in the room the next! Not wanting to disturb anyone at a meal, we took our leave and went for a stroll. On returning we found Edward Hardwicke sitting in the lobby. This time I couldn’t resist so dragging Kris along, we went over and introduced ourselves. I’m delighted to report that Edward Hardwicke is quite likely one of the most genial and self-effacing media figures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. No side to the man whatsoever! He’d been in the lobby waiting for someone to pick him up for a tour of Indianapolis. After exchanging a few brief pleasantries we left him to await his ride and headed up to our room. With nothing to do for a few hours, and having learned my lesson in New York at the birthday festivities last January, I grabbed a book, headed back to the lobby, and decided to see who turned up. Now here’s a tip for other novice’s at Sherlockian gatherings, if you are relatively shy like myself, stake out a good public place and wait. Sherlockians being the incredibly friendly people they are, someone will be along in short order and feel the need to introduce you to absolutely everyone. These folks are invaluable and will thrust you into any social circle with wild abandon. As expected, my solo vigil didn’t last long, as Fred Levin from Chicago introduced himself and together we waited, idly chattering about the Sherlockian community, so-called Sherlockian widows (a phrase new to me), foreign language editions and just about anything else under the sun.|
|The Best of Times...|
|As the afternoon progressed we waved and chatted with folks as they turned up.It was a pleasure to reacquaint myself with Julie McKuras (left), Paul Smedegaard, Richard Sveum (left), Regina Stinson, Paul Singleton and Susan Dahlinger once again, as well as meeting, through Fred’s kind introductions, Roy Pilot, Richard and Francine Kitts, Allan Devitt, David Stuart Davies and Ted Friedman.|
|As afternoon turned into evening, it came time to bundle Kris off in a cab to her much anticipated Pacer’s game, but only after she was introduced to all and sundry by Fred’s charming wife Sunny. Having been abandoned by Kris for her beloved basketball, pity was taken on your correspondent and I was invited to dine with the Kitts, the Levins and Ted Friedman (pictured right).|
|After our mealr, we had a bit of time to kill, but soon it was time for the informal reception for early arrivals in the Wessex Press suite. Now I’m sure Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen expected a fair turnout, but I’m also pretty sure they weren’t expecting the over 70 early arrivals that did attend! The suite that Wessex Press had set up with drinks and munchies was jam packed, with the party rapidly spilling out onto the landing. Drinks and conversation flowed with equal measure, resulting in a raucous racket that was pure heaven! It was here at the reception that attendees first caught sight of the remarkable movie-style poster that Wessex Press had created for the event. A beautiful blue-hued background featured images of Gillette and Brett with titles, and guests listed like players, in the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles poster font. The stunning poster was the point of much discussion, to say nothing of universal envy. Happily it was announced that one copy of the poster would be given as a door prize at the next night’s banquet. It was at the reception that I had the distinct pleasure of finally meeting the inimitable Gael Stahl of the Nashville Scholars and the WelcomeHolmes e-group . I can’t begin to say how good it is to meet some of the folks in person that you’ve come to know only through email, and Gael Stahl was no exception! Although having met once before, it was also a pleasure to see Peter Crupe, who never skips an opportunity to tell me how much he likes this website (thanks Peter, the check is in the mail!), and Steve Clarkson (Morse Hudson), owner of the Hounds of the Internet group. I also very briefly met fellow Hounds Amy Rauch (A Slim Youth in an Ulster) and Ted Cowell (That Man of the English Soil). I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only Canadian in attendance when I had the pleasure meeting Bill and Corinne Read, a charming couple from Bradford, Ontario.|
|Now here’s a curious thing, you know it’s a great party when a celebrity like Edward Hardwicke quietly slips into the room and nobody takes the slightest notice or makes any particular fuss! You’d expect either everyone to fall quiet or mob the poor fellow, but not Sherlockians, we just kept right on chattering away. Certainly everyone eventually managed to shuffle over to exchange a few words of appreciation with Hardwicke, but it was all done in the most subtle and casual manner conceivable. Somehow or other I found myself in conversation with David Stuart Davies, and sharing a mutual interest in Sherlockian film, we ended up chatting, along with Glenn Sermersheim, for the rest of the evening. It has to be said that David Stuart Davies (Editor of Sherlock Mag) is one of the most amusing and colorful conversationalists that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. His anecdote regarding the madwoman on his flight set the tone of our conversation, but we touched on a wide variety of subjects including his experiences recording the audio commentary for the Sherlock Holmes Faces Death DVD release, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Hammer Films in general, Jeremy Brett and Linda Pritchard in particular, various Sherlockian film books and God knows what else. Without realizing, it was suddenly after eleven, and we found ourselves the last folks left in the room. Taking pity on our hosts, I bid them goodnight and wandered off to the lobby bar to meet up with Kris, who was due back from the game at any moment. I’m not sure which of us was more flushed with excitement over our respective experiences, but we had both experienced an absolutely fantastic evening and rounded out the night reliving the highpoints for the other’s benefit. We eventually stumbled off to bed dead tired, but undoubtedly happy!|
|David Stuart Davies|
|An overcrowded and woefully understaffed dining room didn’t exactly make for the best of dining experiences, but good company and Sherlockian conversation makes up for almost any culinary shortcoming, although I’m betting our rather harassed waiter Anwar would probably disagree!|
|The much admired poster!|
|Gael Stahl: A Nashville Scholar!|
|Wanting to get up bright and early for registration Saturday morning, and a first swipe at the huckster’s tables, I was dismayed to find that I had indeed set the alarm correctly, but had neglected to turn up the volume! So after a mad rush to get dressed, we trotted down to the lobby and queued up for Registration. Another credit to the efforts of Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen was the efficiency in planning, as the line moved very quickly since all attendees had to be pre-registered. We were soon sporting our nifty nametags, registration packages firmly in hand, and finally hit the dealer’s tables, but not before grabbing a CD featuring interviews with Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing culled from the Sherlock Holmes Review archives, as well as a set of 8 postcards featuring the ‘Gillette to Brett’ poster and seven of the most compelling Sherlockian impersonators (Gillette, Norwood, Wontner, Rathbone, Cushing, Richardson and Brett - see the photo-strip montage above left). Full-size posters featuring the same actors were to be found adorning the walls of the main hall, all of which were later used as door prizes. Once again it was fun to reacquaint myself with even more folks, and I had the pleasure of introducing Kris, amongst others, to Les Klinger, Regina Stinson and her husband Sam, Paul Singleton, and the current Wiggins of the BSI, Mike Whelan. While browsing the dealer tables, I took the opportunity to get books signed by David Stuart Davies (Starring Sherlock Holmes and Bending the Willow), Gordon R. Kelley (The Sherlock Holmes Screen and Sound Guide) and the aforementioned Les Klinger (The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library). Every few minutes I’d pop into the main hall to catch snippets of 16mm Sherlockian films, which were being shown throughout the morning. The Digest version of the 1921 Lost World, running only 15 minutes, is quite possibly one of the more bizarre things I’ve seen, since it manages to cut Professor Challenger entirely from the story!
Round about this time Edward Hardwicke took his place at an autograph table, so into line we went once more. I am pleased to have had the foresight to bring a small selection of photographs for signing, since there was absolutely nothing available to have Edward Hardwicke sign. Being the indecisive fellow that I am, I actually brought about a dozen or more extra 4x6 photos that I was able to give away to anyone that asked, eventually leaving the remaining few with Edward Hardwicke for use as he saw fit. In due course Nicholas Meyer turned up to take his place at the autograph table, so back into line we went to get a couple stills (a Star Trek 6 still picturing Meyer, Shatner and Nimoy for my Curious Incidents co-editor Jeff Campbell and a Time After Time still featuring the then first-time director for me) and my first editions of The Seven Percent Solution and the West End Horror signed. Having secured my autographs, we had just enough time to grab a bit of brunch before settling in for the afternoon lectures that began at 12:30 pm.
|Registration and Dealers|
|Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen began with opening remarks welcoming all to the event and outlined the importance of keeping everyone on schedule. To insure that we all returned to our seats after each break, they announced that door-prizes would be drawn just before beginning each session, if you weren’t in the room you couldn’t win the prize, which worked like a charm! I’m not going to recap what each speaker had to say, as this is simply too involved, but I’ll make an effort to give you a bit of the gist. First up was Susan Dahlinger who, accompanied by overheads, provided a brief overview of Gillette’s accomplishments, reminded us that this was the 150th anniversary of his birth, and generally supllied some excellent background regarding the creation of Gillette’s play Sherlock Holmes. Through her researches, Susan had also managed to provide the correct date of the play’s copyright performance. As usual, Dahlinger is a pleasure to hear when discussing this subject that is obviously dear to her. Once the applause subsided, it was directly on to the next speaker. Gordon Kelley has made a lengthy study of Sherlockian radio programmes, and has documented a good chunk of it in his highly useful reference book The Sherlock Holmes Screen and Sound Guide. Although he had some difficulty with speech as a result of recent medical treatment, his enthusiasm for his subject came across beautifully in short comments interspersed between clips of various radio shows, with the Jack Benny adaptation of HOUND getting a huge laugh from the captivated audience.
After a short break, and the handing out of a door prize, it was back on track with the next speaker, David Stuart Davies. Having but 40 minutes to cover his topic, Starring Sherlock Holmes, he presented a media display featuring various film clips, in particular highlighting Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone, peppered with his typically amusing anecdotes. Davies, as I’d noted previously, is hard to resist when in full flow, so the audience was treated to a genuinely fun, informative and funny presentation. Moving from the general overview of Davies presentation to a much more narrow focus, Paul Herbert treated us to an utterly fascinating glimpse of Basil Rathbone’s difficulties in bringing his wife Ouida’s doomed Sherlock Holmes play to the stage in the early 1950s. Reading from a series of letters from Rathbone to Vincent Starrett, there is no denying a sense of desperation in the tone of the correspondence. Not surprising really when one considers that Rathbone, essentially then at a dead-end in his film career, had to again turn to the dreaded spectre of Sherlock Holmes, that had previously left him typecast, for income. Certainly not an up-beat presentation, but definitely one of the most remarkable!
After another short break, it was door prize time again. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Kris’ name being called to claim an Italian movie poster for the Peter Cushing telefilm The Masks of Death. Although broadcast only on television in the rest of the world, this film received a theatrical release in Italy, hence the poster. The irony of Kris (who while interested in Holmes and attends our scion meetings is not a collector) winning this particular door prize is twofold, first-off, I work as a dealer in movie posters, and secondly, the poster was donated by Christopher Gullo, who originally informed me of the Symposium before it was publicly announced. Now, Christopher had originally been scheduled to speak on Peter Cushing at the Symposium but unfortunately had to cancel when his publisher postponed his forthcoming book on the subject. When he informed me that he wasn’t attending he mentioned that he had donated the poster and I enviously joked about my odds of winning it. Funny how these things work out, thanks Chris and Kris!
Next up was Nicholas Meyer. For me, as a fledgling publisher, editor and enthusiast of Sherlockian pastiche, he was the main guest that drew me to Indy in the first place. Hearing Meyer relate the events, or at least his highly stylized, witty and humorous version of events, that led up to the publication of The Seven Percent Solution and its subsequent adaptation to the silver screen was without a doubt the highpoint of an already superlative weekend. Having spent 3 years booking speakers, trainers and entertainers for corporate functions, and sitting in on many sessions, I can say with some degree of professional perspective, that Nicholas Meyer is a truly gifted speaker! Clearly I was not alone in this view, as Meyer received a resounding standing ovation from the 130 or so Sherlockians present. The downside to Meyer’s presentation? He was only given a scant 45 minutes…we could easily have spent another 3 hours listening to him.
Following the final break of the day, and another door-prize draw, we took to our seats to hear Edward Hardwicke. In a variation from the other speakers that day, Hardwicke’s presentation took the form of an onstage interview hosted by the ever-versatile David Stuart Davies. The soft-spoken Hardwicke spoke with great warmth, particularly when discussing his late co-star and friend, Jeremy Brett. Although Brett, due to his illness, was not always the easiest person to work with, there is no mistaking the genuine affection that Hardwicke has for the man. After David Stuart Davies guided interview, questions were taken from the floor and finally it all came to an end when Hardwicke reminded us that the next day was the anniversary of Brett’s birthday. For the second time that day, the audience expressed their appreciation with a well-deserved standing ovation. And on that note, the presentations wound to a close. After a few closing remarks by Doyle and Gagen, we were informed that the banquet had been pushed back an extra half hour to allow us to wind down after such an extraordinary afternoon, before hitting the heavy socializing of the evening ahead.
|Edward Hardwicke and Me|
|Left -Nicholas Meyer
signing my books
Right - Edward Hardwicke and Julie McKuras
|So, after a quick change into more formal attire, a relaxing drink and a number of hastily smoked cigarettes, it was into the Crown Room for the banquet. On entering we found ourselves faced with the question of where to sit, since seating had not been prearranged, but it was only a moments hesitation before we spotted Gael Stahl waving from across the room, settling the seating question in an instant. Joining us at table were Susan Stahl, Audrey and David L. Hammer (Gasogene Books), Glenn Sermersheim and to my great pleasure and surprise, Carolyn and Joel Senter (Classic Specialties). Once again, fantastic company and conversation made up for a truly lacklustre buffet style meal. Let me just say that what is apparently known as roasted sirloin in Indianapolis is a far cry from what you’d expect when you’ve been raised on Alberta Beef! Anyhow, I digress. Once everyone was seated again, Don Curtis, President of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis bestowed honorary memberships on both Edward Hardwicke and Nicholas Meyer. Poster doorprizes were awarded to a number of people including Les Klinger, Brad Keefauver and once again…Kris! A bit shocked to have her name drawn again, I suddenly found myself telling anyone that would listen that we only each entered our names once into the draw, so she was a bit hesitant to go collect her prize (a handsome Jeremy Brett poster). Feeling that someone else should have an opportunity to win a prize she attempted to refuse the poster, but was told, no, there was no mistake, so, reluctantly Kris came away with two prizes. With the banquet at an end, closing remarks were made by Doyle and Gagen, followed by a reminder that this was the end of the formal agenda, but that an after banquet party was being held in the lobby bar. To add a final touch of uniqueness to the proceedings, like any more was really needed, Mark Gagen announced that a lunar eclipse was in progress and that it was plainly visible from the hall. On that note, we started making their way out of the Crown Room to continue conversation in the hptel's rather cramped little bar...
|Food and Friends...|
|Gael Stahl and David L. Hammer|
|Joel and Carolyn Senter|
|Kathy Carter and Brad Keefauver|
|Sherlockians and bars have a natural affinity for one another, or so it would seem as the tiny lounge filled up with exuberant Sherlockians in no time. Being a smoker, that scourge of the modern age, I found myself a small table away from the main traffic and expected to be left to my own devices. Happily that was not to be, since we enjoyed a steady stream of folks popping by for a few words here and there, including June Kinee, Donald Curtis, Teresa Thurston, Donald Curtis II, Mike Whelan and finally Brad Keefauver (Sherlock Peoria) and his wife Kathy Carter (both pictured above left). We spent the remainder of the evening merrily chatting away with Brad and Kathy until the bar closed at the ridiculously early stroke of midnight! Remember what I wrote about the downside of Nicholas Meyer’s presentation? Well, the same applies to our conversation with Brad and Kathy, we simply could have continued for hours. Instead, grumbling mightily about ridiculous licensing hours, we trudged off to the elevator and said our goodnights. It had been a truly impressive and memorable day from start to finish.
Sunday morning featured a brunch for those of us still left in town. A good chance to say our good-byes all around. Happily we connected with Brad and Kathy once more, who very knidly gave us a lift to a nearby mall, much thanks for that! I had a hankering to pick-up the first boxed set DVDs of the newly re-mastered Basil Rathbone series. Yes, I was in denial and wanted to bring as much Sherlockian material back to savour once I returned home again, and dear old Rathbone and Bruce were the perfect way to do so. I particularly wanted to hear what David Stuart Davies had to say in the commentary track to Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, having enjoyed his presentation. And that dear reader is that. We returned to the hotel, grabbed our stored luggage and then it was off to the airport and home!
|So as I write this, some two weeks later, I find I’m thoroughly enjoying reliving my memories of the Symposium. Was it worth the expense and travel for just a couple days in a hotel in Indianapolis? Oh hell yes. You see, what I wrote at the beginning of this rather overlong piece holds true, that is: So what is the most fun a Sherlockian can have? Easy, getting together with other Sherlockians. Sure the guests were great, and Nicholas Meyer was what originally caught my interest, but it is the general Sherlockian bonhomie, the getting together with like-minded folks, the Sherlockian chatter, the downright joy of meeting friendly and knowledgeable people that makes going to these far-flung places (yes, I know, but from Calgary, Indy is far-flung!) so very worthwhile. It truly was the best of times… So, to the Sherlockian who carries on the hobby in relative isolation and has thought ‘this isn’t for me’ I say...piffle! Get in the game and meet the other players. You’ll have a ball!
As for me, I can’t wait until my next opportunity to see you all again! Thanks folks, it was fun!