The Late Movies: the Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

One of pop culture's most beloved characters -- and some say the most famous fictional character of all time -- Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed on screens both large and small by dozens of men. Since I'm posting excerpts from my Sherlock Holmes book all week, I figured I'd make the leap from book to film and share some of my favorite Holmeses here.

John Barrymore played Sherlock Holmes in this 1922 silent film, Sherlock Holmes. He meets Moriarty for the first time in this scene.

Ten years later, Reginald Owen lent his likeness to the role in this film version of Arthur Conan Doyle's first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.

Arthur Wontner played Holmes in this 1935 adaptation of The Valley of Fear.

Jumping forward a few hundred years, Brent Spiner as Commander Data channeled Sherlock Holmes in the episode "Lonely Among Us."

Of course, Data wasn't the only primetime television character inspired by Sherlock Holmes. There's also Greg House, M.D., whose sour temperament, coldly rational mind, musical talent and weakness for drugs all echo Holmes' character. Here's an awesomely cheesy fan-made video set to Rihanna's "Rehab" which compares House and Holmes' respective addictions.

As long as we're on the subject of unconventional Holmses, check out John Cleese's Holmes in this bit from Comedy Playhouse:

How about a Russian Holmes? Vasily Livanov played the role to great acclaim in a number of Russian film and television adaptations in the 1970s and 80s.

Then, of course, there's my favorite: the late, great Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes to a tee in Granada's long-running series for British television. Here's a great clip:

Will Robert Downey, Jr. make a good Sherlock Holmes? It's hard to tell from the trailers, but I'll certainly pony up ten bucks to find out. Holmes is due out Christmas day in theaters across the U.S.

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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