British character actor, Nigel Bruce who appeared in over 80 films in a career that spanned three decades, died sixty years ago today (October 8, 1953). Best known for his depiction of Dr. Watson starring opposite Basil Rathbone in several pictures and radio dramas based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Bruce is remembered today on Once Upon a Screen via work he did on radio with a special Old Time Radio double feature.
The first feature is a special, star-studded Lux Radio Theater production of “Brief Moment”, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille from February 14, 1938, which stars Bruce accompanied by a fantastic cast including Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Louis Calhern, Paul Harvey and Grace Kern.
“The Amateur Mendicant Society”
This second feature is an episode of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which teams Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson from April 2, 1945.
On his depiction of Dr. Watson – “The stories we did were modernised but the characters of the famous detective and his biographer were kept more or less as originally written by Conan Doyle. Watson, however, in the films was made much more of a ‘comic’ character than he ever was in the books. This was with the object of introducing a little light relief. The doctor, as I played him, was a complete stooge for his brilliant friend and one whose intelligence was almost negligible. Many of the lovers of Conan Doyle must have been shocked, not by this caricature of the famous doctor but by seeing the great detective alighting from an aeroplane and the good doctor listening to his radio. To begin with, Basil and I were much opposed to the modernising of these stories but the producer, Howard Benedict, pointed out to us that the majority of youngsters who would see our pictures were accustomed to the fast-moving action of gangster pictures, and that expecting machine guns, police sirens, cars travelling at 80 miles an hour and dialogue such as ‘Put em up bud’, they would be bored with the magnifying glass, the hansom cabs, the cobblestones and the slow tempo of an era they never knew and a way of life with which they were completely unfamiliar.”
In honor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was an old-time radio show which aired in the USA from October 2, 1939 to July 7, 1947. Originally, the show starred Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. Together, they starred in 220 episodes which aired weekly on Mondays from 8:30 to 9:00pm. Bromo Quinine sponsored some of the earlier programs on the NBC Blue Network and for a period Parker Pen was the sponsor. The show first aired on the Blue Network but later moved to the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Basil Rathbone’s last episode as the famous detective was “The Singular Affair of the Baconian Cipher.” He was eager to separate himself from the cast type of Holmes, and even though the show’s sponsor Petri Wine offered him generous pay to continue, he decided to move on. Once he did, the sponsor did as well, and Tom Conway took the starring role, though Nigel Bruce got top billing and was always announced first. The new sponsor was Kreml Hair Tonic for Men, and the new series only lasted 39 episodes.
With Rathbone and Bruce, the show exhibited an interesting introduction. The sponsor’s spokesman would show up weekly at Dr. Watson’s house (then retired and living in California), and share a story about Sherlock Holmes and his adventures over a glass of Petri wine. This offered them the chance to sometimes bring in other characters to contribute to the story, and also gave Watson a chance to summarize or add additional tidbits at the end. Another interesting thing about this radio shows introductions was Watson’s anecdotes and comments about his dogs usually referred to as the “Puppies”. (Old Radio World)
Starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
“The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”
“Murder By Midnight”
“The Missing Bloodstain”
“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” – Arthur Conan Doyle