Interview Series: Imagination Theater Part 4

Jim French Productions Presents Imagination Theater produces hundreds of contemporary radio dramas and mysteries, such as “The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” John Patrick Lowrie plays Sherlock Holmes and Larry Albert (JHWS “Bertie”) plays Dr John Watson in the popular radio series.

This part of the interview is the conclusion of our discussion. Please read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you haven’t yet.

JOHN

I think it’s important to remember the important role that insanity plays. We, the two of us, owe our careers in the Sherlock Holmes radio to a guy named Jim French, who is… he would’ve been the Unabomber, except that he wrote radio shows instead.

ARIANA

That’s a great way to describe someone.

JOHN

Here’s a guy who loved radio shows so much. He’s 85 now —

LARRY

86.

JOHN

Eighty-six. He grew up listening to these things. He listened to the old ’30’s radio shows and he was so enamored of them that he wanted them to continue. So he started writing and he started producing them. He created a detective film-noir guy named “Harry Nile” and started writing these radio scripts. Larry found some Sherlock Holmes scripts that he’d written and he decided, well, we should do these. When I was brought on as the announcer, I was surprised at the quality. At first I thought they were adaptations, but they were new stories. To have the kind of mind that says, I know what I will do with my spare time is create an entire library of things that maybe people will listen to or maybe people won’t. But we’ll put it on the radio. We’ll put all of this effort into reviving this art form that really was dead.

ARIANA

In America, yeah. When TV became more popular, radio died out. Around 1949, 1950, that was it for Holmes on the radio —

LARRY

Actually 1950, they did the two years in New York and that took them into ’50, ’51, ’52 and they brought it back to Hollywood for one more season. And then, in ’55, they brought in the John Geilgud and John Richardson BBC version, produced in the UK —

ARIANA

It was by a different company but they brought it in.

LARRY

They brought it in and there are varying accounts of how many episodes there are. Some says there are 12. I have found 13. One guy in his log says there are 24.

ARIANA

Some context: The Geilgud-Richardson seasons are worth checking out. It’s a short series. They approach it in a slightly different adaptation and their Moriarty is Orson Welles. I’m going to be controversial and say that I like him better than Andrew Scott.

LARRY

I can’t stand Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. For me, Moriarty should be the way he’s described. The oscillating neck like a serpent. Mr. Scott’s performance — while he’s a good actor — the mad man, the nut job cliché that we’ve seen in so many movies? I don’t care for it.

JOHN

This is the guy in the new one? Cumberbatch?

LARRY

Cumberbatch.

JOHN

They took on an interesting challenge to actually try to tell the original stories in a 21st century setting. As I watch it, and this is just how my brain works, it’s “Oh, okay, alright yes, so you’re kind of making that fit. Oh! That’s interesting, cell phones, yes, ok, cool, cool, cool.”

LARRY

What makes perfect sense in the 21st century — Watson and I share one thing: he was in Afghanistan and I was in Vietnam. He missed it. We both missed it. We came back and we couldn’t get our lives together. My favorite line is when Mycroft says to him, “You don’t want to forget it — you miss it.” And for me that was “Of course! That’s it! He misses the action. That’s part of why he’s with Holmes.”

JOHN

It’s interesting to me that they needed to make Holmes a high-functioning sociopath because I don’t think he was in the 1880s. I think he was an expression of British Puritanism, this British intellectualism, this British denial of the base physical world.

ARIANA

Being a pretty commercial time with industry, that was seen as somewhat bohemian but at the same time idealized.

JOHN

Right, but it took effort. Sherlock was always denying himself: he denied himself food, he denied himself sexual contact, he denied himself anything he thought would interrupt his intellectual process. For Cumberbatch — that’s just him. He just doesn’t do anything else. That was an interesting solution because we don’t have people like that anymore. Our culture now is not “eschew sexuality, the Good Person only thinks.” “Eschew women, the Good Person only has intellectual problems.”

ARIANA

Now, it’s the Good Person does all of the things — they’re well-rounded.

JOHN

Yes, the healthy person. If you’re going to put these characters, these 19th century characters in the 21st century, you have to figure out how you’re going to do that.

ARIANA

Having them work with these issues in the modern version brings that appeal out.

JOHN

Oh, I think so, yeah.

ARIANA

Now, I’ve always wanted to ask this of a Sherlock Holmes actor. Jeremy Brett famously said in his early days that he wouldn’t have crossed the street if he saw Sherlock Holmes passing. He didn’t like him. He thought he was a dark character. Clive Merrison from the radio series said that, as an actor, Holmes’s problems make him an attractive subject. So if he saw him at the other side of the street, he’d “probably leap over and try and get to understand the old bugger.” So how would you react if you saw Sherlock Holmes passing across the street?

JOHN

This is a very interesting question. First off, I’d check my watch because I’d know I was in the wrong century. It would be like meeting Sam Clemens. To me, there is a lot of Mark Twain in Doyle. There is the fascination with the foibles of human behavior and the fascination with the details of human behavior. Sam Clemens is the most successful recordist of actual human language of the 19th century — of the way people actually spoke.

To me, the character of Sherlock is the realization of intellectual ideals. The thing that Doyle does so well is that he humanizes that realization with these odd little flaws, like the cocaine and things like that. It’s the humanizing things that fascinate me. I think that if I met Sherlock Holmes it would be two alpha dogs in the same room. We’d spend the whole time trying to prove which one was smarter.

LARRY

It wouldn’t be pretty.

ARIANA

What happens if you had seen Watson?

LARRY

I would’ve rushed across the street to meet him.

JOHN

You’re a war veteran yourself.

LARRY

Yeah, we have that in common. I think one of the reasons I love playing Watson — and I don’t ask for more dialogue in the scripts as Watson — is because Watson recognizes that it’s not about him. That’s the first thing that a Watson actor has to understand. The show is called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes not Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. This is a man who is comfortable with who he is, who knows who he is. He has a fixed idea of his own personality and people like that are rare. I would like to know someone like that.

He fascinates me. He’s been on all of these cases. He writes and seldom says he’s done anything brave in the thing. He very seldom says anything like that and Holmes says “Watson, you continually underestimate yourself.” We’d like to know why? How?

And what happens? In the only two stories written by Holmes, Watson’s not in one and he’s a chauffeur in the other one, or something.

ARIANA

Though the Merrison and Williams one was great with “The Lion’s Mane.” Sherlock Holmes writes it and he’s retired and Watson isn’t in it. But in the Merrison-Williams version of that story, they set it a week later and Watson is visiting him for the weekend. So it’s like “Hey, you want to solve a case I’ve solved?”

LARRY

In the Blanched Soldier, Watson’s not in that. We got him because, in the end of it, it’s Watson reading Holmes’ story out loud. And he says, “And?”

JOHN

Matthew did a great job. (Imitating Watson in that scene) “Really? This is how you think the story should end?”

LARRY

I got a good four or five pages of good dialogue from this: “But you didn’t say anything!”


Comments

Interview Series: Imagination Theater Part 4 — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for having this! I’ve been an avid listener and huge fan of these gentlemen, but I have not been able to find anything that shows me anything of John and Larry. All I’ve seen of them is Holmes and Watson. So it’s good to finally be able to get a glimpse of these two men behind the two characters. And I am thoroughly enjoying what I see. 🙂

    • I’m very happy that you enjoyed reading the interview. Meeting them both was one of the coolest things for me to experience this whole year. They’re both wonderful people and they have such brilliant minds – it was such a long recording to transcribe into text because we managed to fit so much conversation into just those 45 minutes of the event panel.

      Also, their live performances at Kirkland Performance Center are so much fun! I hope you will have a chance to see it one day, Clover.

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