Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 April 2021
‘You will be amused to hear that I am at work upon a Sherlock Holmes story. So the old dog returns to his vomit.’Arthur Conan Doyle to Herbert Greenhough Smith
Sherlock Holmes, who died in Switzerland in May 1891, returned to the world on 23 October 1899. The location for his rebirth was, somewhat surprisingly, the Star Theatre in Buffalo, New York. Early the following month, Holmes moved to New York where he could be found in Manhattan's Garrick Theatre on 236 separate occasions, before making his way across the United States. In September 1901, Holmes went back to Great Britain, arriving (like so many travellers from the US) at Liverpool, before reaching London on 9 September 1901. He was so much in demand that on 1 February 1902 he received an audience with King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. In 1902 he was again in New York, was seen travelling across northern England in 1903, and for the next thirty years popped up repeatedly in various American towns and cities.
Holmes was reborn in the medium of theatre. Sherlock Holmes: A Drama in Four Acts, credited to Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette and starring the latter, was a highly successful play, running to more than 1,300 performances across Britain and the US. It reached an even wider audience in 1916 when it became a motion picture – long thought lost, but recovered in 2014 – and in 1935 a radio play, both with Gillette in the title role. The text itself was largely Gillette's creation (though he based it on elements of Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Final Problem’), but the original idea was Doyle’s: he wrote a five-act version of a Holmes play in 1897, which he offered to the two greatest actors of the age, Henry Irving (who turned it down) and Herbert Beerbohm Tree (who insisted on too many changes). The American producer Charles Frohman brought Gillette into the project, who (if the legends are true) went to the effort of dressing up as Holmes when meeting Doyle for the first time at South Norwood station.