Gillette, William

Gillette, William
   One of the major stage stars of the late 19th century, William Gillette, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, was the son of a U.S. senator and received his education at Yale University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Fine Arts Institute before making his stage debut in Faint Heart Ne'er Won Fair Lady in 1875. He played secondary roles in several productions at the Boston Museum. He made his New York debut in George Densmore's The Gilded Age (1877). While Gillette toured in Bronson Howard's Young Mrs. Winthrop, he began to write plays as vehicles for himself, notably The Professor (1881) and Digby's Secretary (1884). His other early plays include Esmeralda (1881), which he adapted with Frances Hodgson Burnett, Held by the Enemy (1886), She (1887), All the Comforts of Home (1890), Mr. Wilkinson's Widows (1891), and Settled Out of Court (1892).
   Gillette's dual careers peaked with Too Much Johnson (1894), Secret Service (1896), and his major triumph in Sherlock Holmes (1899), a melodrama adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of the fictional Victorian detective. Gillette was admired as a more natural actor than many of his contemporaries, and in 1913 he published his lecture "The Illusion of the First Time in Acting." Gillette's later plays, including Clarice (1905) and Electricity (1910), were mildly successful, but after 1900 he was preferred in plays by others, including J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton (1903) and Dear Brutus (1918). The exception was Sherlock Holmes, a character Gillette frequently performed on stage and in motion pictures (1916), reviving the play in New York for the last time in 1931 at the age of 76. Gillette is believed to have given over 1,300 performances in the part. Like many of his star contemporaries, Gillette was both blessed and cursed by finding that one iconic role.
   See also Doro, Marie.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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