Monday, October 22, 2018

Chasing A White Whale...Or Cat

Okay, this post isn't going to be about chronology at all. Well, I do kind of throw it in once, but for the most part this one won't deal with the Sherlock Holmes Canon much. What it is about is a special treat for you because this is something I never do: I'm going to let you in on one of the numerous Sherlockian "mysteries" that I work on whenever I can, but without success (so far). Basically, I want to see if anyone can come up with an answer to it. Or find more than I have.
I stumbled across this little problem some years ago and have never really satisfied myself with what I've found. Is it Sherlockian or not? Might be, might not be. And I'll appreciate your thoughts on it. So let's get to it.
To begin, I don't remember how I came across this. I am on Google Books a lot just flipping through publications from around the time of Holmes, so I probably just happened upon it. In the December 31, 1904, edition of The Graphic there was an illustration for a pantomime play that debuted on December 26, 1904, called "White Cat." Here it is:
In the upper left-hand area you'll see a guy that sort of looks like he's dressed like Holmes. Pipe, deerstalker, and ulster. Here's a detail shot of him.
When I looked closer I saw that the name of the character is Populo, and the actor was named Tom Woottwell. I wasn't familiar with either of these names, so I dove into some research trying to find out if Populo was indeed supposed to be a Sherlock-type character. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything. I mean nothing. But, I persisted. I looked up info on Tom Woottwell and found out he was a pretty popular comedian around the turn of the 19th/20th century. He was also an actor and singer, and his music is still used in shows today. What I couldn't find was a picture of 'The Loose-Legged Comedian" (as he was called) except in costume. This caricature is about as good as it gets.
One of the things I discovered about him is that his last name was sometimes spelled as Wootwell. I also discovered that under that version of his name a secondary search option comes up in Google:
I looked at every single link under that and couldn't find one time that Woot(t)well was associated with Holmes. His name does appear in articles where Holmes is mentioned, but not together. And every time it was from a paper in New Zealand. (I should also point out that that Holmes option doesn't appear under the other spelling of his name.) While looking through those links I did find a picture of a his name being displayed on the Palace Theatre on Walthamstow High Street in London. (And even though it's spelled Woottwell on the sign, I found it while researching Wootwell. I dunno.)
Anyway, back to the possible Holmes connection.
I kept looking and found descriptions of the play, but nowhere was there any indication of Populo being based on Holmes. (I also learned that for a little while the character was played by someone named Monte Elmo, and that the character was listed as Popula on occasion. There are other details I found, as well, but they don't really add anything to this mystery.) One day, while searching, I found a second illustration in The Illustrated London News from January 14, 1905, that featured the play, or bits of it. There he was again:
This doesn't really seem to help, though. Besides looking thinner, the character still kind of looks like Holmes, and kind of doesn't. That leads me to why I'm posting this: does this seem like a Sherlock-type character to anyone out there?
To further muddy the water, I found a (not so favorable) review of the play in the January 11, 1905, edition of PUNCH where the character is referred to as 'Coster.' (Another is referred to as 'Gorilla' but this is the only time I found these two character names associated with it.)
A coster (short for costermonger) is a street-seller of fruits and vegetables. See, no help. The term does appear in The Canon in 'The Red-Headed League' (REDH), but has no bearing on the problem. And if the Populo character is in fact a costermnger, he'd be the most fancifully-dressed one ever.
So, what do you think? I will probably do more research at another time since this is one of those little backburner problems that I pick up from time to time, but since they aren't about chronology I don't spend too much time on them. But I am interested in what YOU think. I think there's a good paper or presentation in this, but only if I can find out that the character is actually based on Holmes.
I rarely share these things because I like to find out the answers on my own, but I'm actually allowing you into my space on this one. So take it and run. If I don't hear from anyone about it I'll keep looking (someday), but I would like for all of you intrepid folk out there to poke around the archives and see what you can find.
Let me know what you come up with, and I'll see you next time. Until then...thanks for reading.