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Sherlock Holmes FAQ

On January 19th, PBS aired the long-awaited first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, season 3. Sherlock’s triumphant return to television (and Baker Street) did not disappoint. Before the last episode this Sunday, enjoy a bit of the Introduction from Dave Thompson’s upcoming book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective

There are probably as many books about Sherlock Holmes as there are words in all of the stories. Or at least different words.

That may be an exaggeration, but only marginally. There is no single character in western fiction who has inspired more authors to write about him than Sherlock Holmes, with even James Bond and Doctor Who—the two that come closest—lagging far, far behind in terms of simple shelf filling. A complete Sherlock Holmes bibliography could fill a small library, a vision that is made all the more remarkable when one considers that the original stories that inspired this phenomenal outpouring would take up barely six inches of shelf space.

Just four novels and fifty-six short stories constitute the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To this there can be added a dozen or so other writings by Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, “the canon” (as the primary series of tales is known) has fired a debate that might never end. But they would add no more than another inch of published paper, tucked away in a room that is already stuffed with so many other books that it would take a lifetime to read them all. “Never,” one might say, “has so little given birth to so much.”

Neither does this outpouring look like it is ending. The massive success of Sherlock, the BBC’s twenty-first-century reimagining of Holmes has inspired a whole new generation of writers and researchers to immerse themselves in the world of Holmes, and an older one to reacquaint themselves. Indeed, one of the most popular fiction serials of the modern age, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast, closed 2013 with the publication of White Fire, a thoroughly modern detective tale rooted in a near century-old Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Sherlock’s triumph, however, transcends all of these—that triumph itself being defined not by viewing figures (which themselves are massive) or popularity (ditto), but by the skill with which we are invited to enter a world in which the “real” Sherlock Holmes, the classic Holmes whom we have spent the past century-plus enjoying, never existed. Until today.

The original Holmes was a child of his times, the last years of the Victorian era and the first of the twentieth century. The modern Holmes is likewise a child of his times, the first decades of the twenty-first century. That is, more than one hundred years after Conan Doyle’s original stalked the streets, the intervening century has shaped the modern Holmes just as thoroughly as the prototype was shaped by the years that preceded him. Culture creates the heroes it requires. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes fit his era like a glove. British writers and TV creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s is equally well proportioned.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes studied newspapers and magazines. The modern one harnesses the Internet. The original Holmes was addicted to opium. His successor is addicted to nicotine. The original was partnered by an army doctor, John Watson, recently returned from what was then Britain’s most recent war, far away in Afghanistan. Today’s Holmes is partnered by a man of the same cut and same name, fresh from what is still Britain’s most recent war . . . far away in Afghanistan.

Parallel after parallel pile up, but the fact is, the modern television Holmes is as unique a televisual character as the original was a unique literary creation. The fact that they share the same DNA, investigate the same mysteries, and sometimes speak the same lines binds them, of course. But it also defines their individuality. Were they ever to meet face to face, the nineteenth-century Holmes and his twenty-first-century doppelgänger, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

The Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a one-stop guide to over a century’s worth of mystery, mayhem, and most of all, deduction. Digging deep inside the manifold worlds of Sherlock Holmes, the FAQ is a dramatic and detailed digest of the Baker Street sleuth in all of his many guises, as TV and radio star, movie phenomenon, and, of course, literary giant.

Chapters investigate his predecessors and his successors, and discuss the influence that Holmes has had not only on other writers, but on real-life police procedures as well. The London that he perambulated in deerstalker and cloak is laid bare, plus the life and other fascinations of Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are mapped out in all their foggy, darkened atmosphere.

We meet giant hounds and fearful foes, common crooks and misdirected souls. Ghosts appear in these pages, and vampires, too – and more puzzles, conundrums, and mysteries than any mortal detective could ever hope to solve. But Holmes, as we shall see, was no mere mortal. And Sherlock Holmes FAQ is the story of his immortality.

JV Mercanti Interview

Guest Author: JV Mercanti, author of In Performance: Contemporary Monologues for Men and Women Late Teens-20sinterviews with The Playbill Collector.

The Playbill Collector (TPC): What did you go to school for?

JV Mercanti (JVM): I went to undergrad at NYU and I double concentrated in english lit and educational theater.  My senior year I worked in a casting office at Roundabout Theatre company and that opened doors for me.

TPC: Did you ever act?

JVM: I acted until my senior year at NYU.  At that point I came to somewhat of a crossroad and chose to start directing.  Currently I am freelance directing and am heading to the University of Miami in January to direct FLOYD COLLINS.

TPC: What gave you the idea for the book “In Performance”?

JVM: It fell into my lap.  My colleague at the University of Miami, Bruce Miller asked if I wanted to do it.  The book is monologues for teens to people in their 20’s.  They are all contemporary pieces.   After talking to the editors, I told them I wanted character description, questions and play synopsis  along side the monologues.  That way the actor can know about the show and build their character.

To finish the interview, go to The Playbill Collector.com!

In Performance is intended for young people who are auditioning for both undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as professional productions and industry meetings. Featured are dynamic monologues from contemporary stage plays of the past 15 years, chosen from the point of view of a professional acting teacher, director, and casting director.

Along with covering the basics of how to match the best monologue to the actor and how to approach the rehearsal and performance of the piece, the book provides a synopsis of each play, a character description, and a list of questions specific to each monologue that will direct the actor toward shaping a complex, honest, and thoughtful performance that has a strong emotional connection, a clear arc, and playable actions.

Samurai Futaba

Today is the anniversary of the debut of Samurai Futaba on Saturday Night Live (1975). Below is an excerpt from Saturday Night Live FAQ to commemorate the special occasion.

In addition to his rants on Weekend Update, John Belushi was given the chance to let loose by inhabiting the body of a Japanese samurai, one of the elite warriors who served the feudal lords of preindustrial Japan. The samurai practiced a strict code of conduct known as Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) that valued chiv- alry, loyalty, and honor. A samurai who was dishonorable, or may have brought shame upon himself, or would rather die with honor than fall into enemy hands performed a form of ritual suicide known as seppuku or hara-kiri by sticking a sharp blade in his abdomen. The samurai was popularized by Japanese cinema, particularly in the films of director Akira Kurosawa such as Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), and Yojimbo (1961), all of which starred Toshiro Mifune.

According to Judith Belushi Pisano, Mifune was the inspiration for her husband’s Samurai Futaba character. She told Michael Streeter, author of Nothing Lasts Forever: The Films of Tom Schiller, that John started to imitate Mifune after watching a Japanese film festival on television. “John would sit so close to the television,” Belushi Pisano recalled, “that when there was a close-up of Mifune, it appeared as if he was looking in a mirror—John would reflect what he saw.” She gave him a robe, a rubber band to put his hair up, and a clothes bar from a closet to use as a sword. Belushi auditioned for the show with the Samurai character playing pool, which is how writer Tom Schiller got the idea of “Samurai Hotelier.” Lorne Michaels, who worked on the sketch with Schiller, Chevy Chase, and Alan Zweibel, thought some people wouldn’t know what a “hotelier” is, so they changed the title of the sketch to “Samurai Hotel.” Zweibel wrote the remaining sketches, though Schiller provided him with a list of possible occupations for Samurai Futaba.

Each sketch works off the same premise: Samurai Futaba, who is dressed in traditional Samurai garb and has a limited understanding of the English language, has a different profession that’s incongruous with being a samurai warrior. In his sketch debut (1.7), Samurai Futaba faces off with a bellboy samurai (host Richard Pryor) over who is going to take a guest’s (Chase) bag up to his room. Belushi enjoys playing with his sword, using it to mime a golf putter and, like his audition, a pool cue. After some swordplay, Futaba insults the bellboy with the Japanese version of the traditional maternal insult (“Your momma-san”). The bellboy reacts by splitting the front desk in two with his sword.

Samurai Futaba responds with the only English words we ever hear him speak— “I can dig where you’re comin’ from . . .”—as he takes the guest’s bag up to his room.

From season 1 to his final episode in season 4, Belushi repeated the role in a series of sketches featuring Buck Henry or another guest host as his customer or patient, who seems oblivious to the fact he’s a Samurai as he engages in small talk, which Futaba at times seems to understand. Belushi comically responds with grunts and Japanese gibberish, along with the raising of his bushy eyebrows and his sword. When the customer is displeased, Futaba kneels on the floor and pulls out his sword as if he is about to commit hara-kiri (at that point the customer usually assures him it’s all right). The sketch ends with Futaba raising his sword—with a freeze-frame and Don Pardo inviting us to “Tune in next week, for another episode of Samurai _______.”

Saturday Night Live FAQ

Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.

It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.

Redd Foxx’s Birthday

Known for his frank, tell-it-like-it-is form of comedy, the star of hit show “Sanford and Son” was an inspiration to comedians and minorities alike. Below is an excerpt from Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story, by Michael Seth Starr, in honor of his birthday.

Laff of the Party, Volume 1 is a slapdash collection of bits and pieces of Redd’s act, backed by raucous laughter (and the occasional shouted comment) from his Oasis Club audience, which sometimes sounds like a packed house and other times like only a handful of cackling customers. The record, about thirty-seven minutes long, is short on production values – about what you’d expect to hear, aurally, from a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a small nightclub. It’s divided into eight tracks, four on each side. The tracks on Side One are “Backward Conscious,” “The Sneezes,” “Song Plugging,” and “The New Soap”; Side Two has “The Honeymooners,” “The Politician,” “The Jackasses,” and “The Race Track.”

Judging Laff of the Party, Volume 1 by the standards of the times, it comes across as risqué, but the beauty of Redd Foxx’s humor lies in his clever wordplay. There is no profanity on Laff of the Party, Volume 1, but there are plenty of double entendres sprinkled throughout Redd’s four-to-five-minute-long monologues. Sometimes the wordplay catches Redd’s audience off-guard, and their laughter is a beat behind as they struggle to keep up with his rapid-fire delivery, to digest the verbal volley he’s just lobbed at them. At other times, Redd’s Oasis Club audience is right there with him, almost giddy with anticipation as he winds up and gets ready to lob his next zinger.

The record begins (somewhat abruptly, without any introduction) with “Backward Conscious,” in which Redd riffs on how some words spelled backwards have other meanings. “Did you know ‘motel’ spelled backwards was ‘letom’?” On “The Sneezes,” constructed loosely around different types of sneezes (“The confessional sneeze: ‘Ah Chew!’”), Redd segues into cigarette smoking with a smutty twist: “Do you know that out of four hundred, forty-six doctors that switched to Camels, only two of ‘em went back to women?”

“Song Plugging” is a takeoff on the old show-biz practice of selling, or “plugging,” sheet music or different acts to stores and record labels. But there’s a Foxx-ian twist when Redd talks about all his success “plugging” in New York City: “Pieces like Laura, Marie, Margie. Those were good pieces. I plugged all those pieces, I plugged ‘em all. I plugged that Old Gray Mare, but she ain’t what she used to be.”

In one of the record’s most memorable tracks, “The New Soap,” Redd talks to housewives in the audience about a new cleaning product called “Fugg”: “Suppose your husband works on a dirty job, in a coal mine, on a truck, in a garage…when he comes home all dirty and nasty, when he opens the door and walks into the house, tell him to go Fugg himself.”

Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story tells the remarkable story of Foxx, a veteran comedian and “overnight sensation” at the age of 49 whose early life was defined by adversity – and his post-Sanford and Son years by a blur of women, cocaine, endless lawsuits, financial chaos, and a losing battle with the IRS.

Foxx’s frank, trailblazing style as the “King of the Party Records” opened the door for a generation of African-American comedians including Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock.

Foxx took the country by storm in January 1972 as crotchety, bow-legged Watts junk dealer Fred Sanford in Sanford and Son, one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. Fred’s histrionic “heart attacks” (“It’s the big one, Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!”) and catchphrases (“You big dummy!”) turned Fred Sanford into a cultural icon and Redd Foxx into a millionaire. Sanford and Son took Foxx to the pinnacle of television success – but would also prove to be his downfall.

Interviews with friends, confidantes, and colleagues provide a unique insight into this generous, brash, vulnerable performer – a man who Norman Lear described as “inherently, innately funny in every part of his being.”

Happy Birthday, Curly Howard

Today is the birthday of another Stooge – Curly. Below is some choice dialogue featured in the Three Stooges FAQby David J. Hogan.

From Cash and Carry (1937):

CON MAN

Just a minute! It’ll cost you two hundred for the privilege of digging it up!

CURLY

Two hundred?

CON MAN
Two hundred or nothin’!

CURLY

Oh, we’ll take it for nothin’!

From Nutty but Nice (1940)

CURLY (apparently impaled by a spear)

I’m stabbed! I’m dead! I’m murdered, I’m killed! I’m annihilated! What’ll the world do without me? What’ll do without myself? I’m slaughtered, I’m annihilated, I’m destroyed! I’m barbecued, I’m done for! [Pause]

[to Moe] Can you think of anything else?

MOE

No, you’ve covered it all!

CURLY

I’m not even wounded?

MOE

That’s what you think!

From Rhythm and Weep (1946)

CURLY

Look look look look! Those two men down there! They’re my uncles!

MOE

Your uncles?

CURLY

Yeah!

MOE

They look like ants!

CURLY

They got aunts in their –

(Before he can say “pants,” a slap from Moe cuts him short)

Three Stooges FAQ

This entertaining and informative study of the Three Stooges focuses on the nearly 190 two-reel short comedies the boys made at Columbia Pictures during the years 1934-59. Violent slapstick? Of course, but these comic gems are also peerlessly crafted and enthusiastically played by vaudeville veterans Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe – arguably the most popular and long-lived screen comics ever produced by Hollywood.

Detailed production and critical coverage is provided for every short, plus information about each film’s place in the Stooges’ careers, in Hollywood genre filmmaking, and in the larger fabric of American culture. From Depression-era concerns to class warfare to World War II to the cold war to rock-and-roll – the Stooges reflected them all.

Seventy-five stills, posters, and other images – many never before published in book form – bring colorful screen moments to life and help illuminate the special appeal of key shorts. Exclusive sections include a Stooges biographical and career timeline; a useful, colorful history of the structure and behind-the-camera personnel of the Columbia two-reel unit; and personality sidebars about more than 30 popular players who worked frequently with the Stooges. Also included is a filmography that covers all 190 shorts, plus a bibliography, making this the ultimate guide for all Three Stooges fans!

Happy Birthday, Larry!

Today is Larry Fine’s birthday. Below are a few facts about Larry and an excerpt from Three Stooges FAQ, by David J. Hogan. Enjoy!

 3 Facts You May Not Know about Louis Feinberg (aka Larry Fine)

1. Larry was “a habitué of racetracks who loved fine clothes as much as he loved the ponies.”

2. Larry could play the violin and dance. He also worked as a song plugger, selling sheet music to vaudeville performers and others.

3. Larry wrote an autobiography, titled Stroke of Luck.

And now, an excerpt about The Three Stooges short Goof on the Roof (1953), in which the Stooges’ encounter some problems while attempting to install a television:

“Larry is all about dogged determination after stepping on a control knob and bending the extender that connects the knob to the set’s tuner. He attempts to hammer the tube straight by holding it against a wall but only manages to create a shocking hole – and drop the knob inside the wall in the bargain. But he’s determined to retrieve this vital piece, so after a while the wall has been hammered so vigorously that it appears to have been ravaged by a crackbrained picturehanger.

Larry can’t spot the knob, so he foolishly peers into one of the holes with a lighted match. Moe scolds him for inviting a fire and then carelessly tosses Larry’s match through the hole.

The subsequent smoldering fire invites some good physical gags with a tiny fire extinguisher and a knotted garden hose that’s attached to the kitchen faucet. The bit climaxes when Moe furiously sticks the gushing hose down the front of Shemp’s pants.

Shemp, like Larry, is in never-say-die mode and makes his way with the antenna to the roof of the house, where he batters the chimney into pieces (which conk Larry after he sticks his head from a window to see what the heck is going on), and later pounds a hole into the roof with such vigor that he plummets through the ceiling below. “I faw down!” he says apologetically.

Three Stooges FAQ

This entertaining and informative study of the Three Stooges focuses on the nearly 190 two-reel short comedies the boys made at Columbia Pictures during the years 1934-59. Violent slapstick? Of course, but these comic gems are also peerlessly crafted and enthusiastically played by vaudeville veterans Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe – arguably the most popular and long-lived screen comics ever produced by Hollywood.

Detailed production and critical coverage is provided for every short, plus information about each film’s place in the Stooges’ careers, in Hollywood genre filmmaking, and in the larger fabric of American culture. From Depression-era concerns to class warfare to World War II to the cold war to rock-and-roll – the Stooges reflected them all.

Seventy-five stills, posters, and other images – many never before published in book form – bring colorful screen moments to life and help illuminate the special appeal of key shorts. Exclusive sections include a Stooges biographical and career timeline; a useful, colorful history of the structure and behind-the-camera personnel of the Columbia two-reel unit; and personality sidebars about more than 30 popular players who worked frequently with the Stooges. Also included is a filmography that covers all 190 shorts, plus a bibliography, making this the ultimate guide for all Three Stooges fans!