A Study In Signatures – The Autographs Of The Sherlock Holmes Actors Of The Basil Rathbone And Nigel Bruce Film Series

Posted in Autograph Collecting, Featured, Silver Screen Stars

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A Study In Signatures

 rathbone and bruce sherlock holmes

The Sherlock Holmes actors of the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce film series made up one of the most quirky and interesting group of characters in any similar film series of the era.  In 1939 20th Century Fox filmed what would become the first of 14 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone as the inimitable private detective and Nigel Bruce filling the role of Dr. Watson.  “The Hound of The Baskervilles” was an instant success and the studio quickly went into production of a follow up film “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, both set in the usual Victorian era.


 

20th Century Fox stopped production of the series after the first two films, but Universal Studios picked up the series with a run of 12 more, this time presented in a modern 1940’s setting.  Universal hired Roy William Neill to direct the series.

 

One of the more interesting things you will notice as you watch these films is the appearance of many of the same Sherlock Holmes actors and actresses showing up in multiple roles.  The director had a group of actors that he liked working with and often employed the same ones time and again in various films.  This group would come to be affectionately known as “The Universal Repertory Company”.

 

Of course several of these Sherlock Holmes actors, including Rathbone and Bruce, reprised the same roles in multiple films.  Among these are Dennis Hoey who played Inspector Lestrade and Mary Gordon in the role of Mrs. Hudson.  However, the “Repertory Company” was the collection of faces that appear throughout the series in various roles.

 

Dennis Hoey’s son Michael Hoey wrote a book about these 68 actors entitled “Sherlock Holmes & the Fabulous Faces – The Universal Pictures Repertory Company” which is available at the link below (affiliate link).  This is a wonderful and in depth study of the story of these wonderful Sherlock Holmes actors.

Sherlock_Universal_repertory company cover michael hoey

I have amassed a small collection of many of the signatures of these great, and often forgotten, character actors, and I have decided to share them here on the site for the first time.  Many of these signatures are very hard to find simply due to the fact that many of them were and are not extremely well known figures and signature examples are very scarce.  Also the fact that it’s been 70 years since the films were produced lends itself to the scarcity of the autographs.   Some are nearly impossible to come by and, in fact, in over 7 years of searching I have yet to come across even a single example of several of the lesser-known actors.

 

Well, without further delay here are the ones that I have acquired.  I hope you enjoy this rather Sherlockian “ A Study In Signatures”!

 

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BASIL RATHBONE

 

rathbone

 

First up is the star of the series.  Rathbone signed many items throughout his life so his autograph is fairly easy to obtain.  It can be costly sometimes, especially if there is any content related to Sherlock Holmes on the item.  Below are two items that I own.  One is a letter written in 1923 to Broadway producer Gilbert Miller.  The second is a simple signature cut.

basil rathbone signature cutRATHBONELETTERBACK

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NIGEL BRUCE

 

Nigel Bruce

Here is a 3×5 card signed by Bruce, inscribed to Mary and dated 1946 featuring a caricature drawing as Dr. Watson.  Signed just after the series ended.   Bruce signed many of these cards and they appear for sale fairly often.  His signature is still valued by collectors with signed photos as Dr. Watson and letters with content regarding Watson, Holmes or the film series being most sought after.

 

Bruce appeared in all 14 films.

 Nigel Bruce Signed Card

 

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Dennis Hoey

 

Dennis Hoey

Unfortunately we have no signature examples of Dennis Hoey who played Inspector Lestrade.  This has proven to be one of the more difficult signatures to obtain.  I have seen only two examples come up for sale in the past 7 years.

If you have an example you would like to have featured on the site please leave a comment and let me know.

Hoey appeared in the following films:

Terror by Night (1946)

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945)

 

The Pearl of Death (1944)

 

The Spider Woman (1944)

 

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

 

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Lionel Atwill

 

 

Atwill appeared in 2 films in the series:  Hound of the Baskervilles as Dr. Mortimer and The Secret Weapon as Professor Moriarty.  Atwill’s signature can still be found today offered for sale rather often.  Here is his signature from an inscribed, signed card

lionel atwill signature

 

Another example.  Less formal and quickly scribbled

 

Lionel atwill signature

 

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Gavin Muir

 

-Muir’s signature from a copy of the book Enter Madame signed by the cast of the play of which he was a member.  Very difficult autograph to obtain

Gavin Muir autograph signature

He appeared in the following films as various characters:

Sherlock Holmes and The House of Fear (1945) Mr. Chalmers

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943) Phillip Musgrave

Sherlock Holmes In Washington (1943)  Mr. Lang, government agent

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) (uncredited)  BBC radio announcer

 

 

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Mary Gordon

 

Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson

mary gordon signature

Mary Gordon appeared as Mrs. Hudson in 10 of the films

Dressed to Kill (1946)

 

The Woman in Green (1945)

 

The Pearl of Death (1944)

 

The Spider Woman (1944)

 

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

 

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

 

 

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Paul Cavanaugh

Paul Cavanaugh

A quick signature, inscribed to John, in green felt pen on a light blue slip of paper.  Cavanaugh’s signature can be fairly difficult to obtain although not very valuable.

Paul Cavanaugh Signature

He appeared in 3 films as different characters

The Woman in Green (1945)  Sir George Fenwick

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945)   Dr. Simon Merivale

The Scarlet Claw (1944)   Lord William Penrose

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Henry Daniell

 

Henry Daniell

Henry Daniell autograph signature

A signature cut in blue ballpoint pen.  Taken from the playbill of a play in which Daniell was a part.

He appeared in 3 films:

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) William Easter

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) Sir Alfred Lloyd

The Woman In Green (1945)  Professor Moriarty

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George Zucco

 

George Zucco

george zucco signature

A very light example of a very rare autograph.  Zucco signed very little so when an example comes up for auction it usually brings a heftier price than would normally be expected from B list actors from this era.

He appeared in 2 films:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) Professor Moriarty

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)  Stanley, the antiques proprietor and ex-German agent Heinrich Henkel

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Harry Cording

Harry Cording in Sherlock Holmes

Harry Cording Signature

Harry Cording was a very versatile actor that appeared in many of Universal’s horror pictures of the era.

Cording is listed generally as having played in 8 of the films, however I personally believe he was also an extra in Hound of The Baskervilles in 1939 working on a street lamp in a high shot, but I have been unable to confirm that.

Dressed to Kill (1946)  Hamid

Terror by Night (1946) (uncredited)  Mock

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945)  Captain John Simpson

The Pearl of Death (1944) (uncredited) George Gelder/ Owner of plaster shop

The Spider Woman (1944) (uncredited)  Henchman on Roof

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) (uncredited)  Jack Brady

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) (uncredited)  Camberwell, dive patron

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) (uncredited) Second Phoney Policeman [Extra]

 

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Richard Greene

Richard Greene in Sherlock Holmes

Richard Greene Signature

Greene appeared only in the first film “Hound of the Baskervilles” as Sir Henry Baskerville.

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Ian Wolfe

Ian Wolfe

Ian Wolfe Signature

 

Ian Wolfe appeared in 4 films in various roles

Dressed to Kill (1946)  Commissioner of Scotland Yard

The Pearl of Death (1944)  Amos Hodder

The Scarlet Claw (1944)  Drake

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) (uncredited)  Antique Store Clerk

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Hillary Brooke

Hillary Brooke

Hillary Brooke Signature

Hillary Brooke would go on to be known for her roles in Abbott and Costello films but her earlier work was in 3 of the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films.

The Woman in Green (1945) Lydia Marlowe

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943). Sally Musgrave

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) (uncredited)  Jill Grandis

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Patricia Morison

Partricia Morison

Patricia Morrison Signature

Morison played in only one film but stood in for the Irene Adler character of the Holmes stories quite well in Dressed To Kill (1946).

As of this writing in 2012 Morison is the only actor from the Holmes series who is still living.

There are many other great character actors who made up the “Universal Repertory Company” and added such life and vitality to the film series, such as Gerald Hamer, Morton Lowry, Vernon Downing, Olaf Hytten, Frederick Worlock, Holmes Herbert.  I have yet to obtain signature examples from these and several of the other supporting actors, but when (and if) I do I will update this post accordingly.

We hope you have enjoyed this ‘Study in Signatures’.

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2 Comments

  1. Just came upon the excellent piece on players in Sherlock Holmes films. I have been collecting vintage Hollywood signature for more than 30 years and I tend to specialize in Universal film players from 1920-1948, with emphasis on the great ensemble folks often cast in the dozen Rathbone-Bruce films. Great to see Harry Cording and Gavin Muir – two players who have thus far eluded me. I have found, however, Dennis Hoey, Olaf Hytten, Holmes Herbert, Alec Craig and Frederick Warlockl. Vernon Downing and Gerald Hamer simply may not exist! Does anyone have one? And don’t forget Gale Sondergaard, Doris Lloyd and Miles Mander – I have acquired those, too. Wonderful do see another collector with the taste to assemble these fine actors and actresses – each made the films ever better.

  2. PS) I also have Rondo Hatton (The Creeper!) and George Regas, the club-footed assassin in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But Morton Lowery, alas, no. I do have Lionel Atwill, John Carradine – and a superb Basil Rathbone 8×10 as Holmes signed in-person in NY in 1964 ….and dated.Aalso have dear Nigel Bruce, Paul Cavanaugh, Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell, Leyland Hodgson, Thomas Gomez, Evelyn ankers, Patricia Morison and artyhur Hohl (The Scarlet Claw, Spider Woman etc.). Cheers.

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