"became entangled with this young person" [SCAN]
William Gillette famously wanted a love interest in his play "Sherlock Holmes", hence his telegram to Arthur Conan Doyle: "May I marry Holmes?" When he filmed the play in 1916, the silent movie that was thought lost but is now being revealed to the world, Miss Alice Faulkner was there, ready to nestle up to Holmes in the final scene. The question is, who played Alice Faulkner in the film that we're all going to be seeing this year?
We have always known that the actress was Marjorie Kay. But, well, who was Marjorie Kay? The Internet Movie DataBase and similar sources tell little or nothing about her. The answer can now be revealed, thanks to inquisitive questions on my part and skillful genealogical research on the part of talented Sherlockian and historical researcher (and my good friend) Leah Guinn (her website is wellreadsherlockian.com and she's on Twitter as @LeahGuinn).
The most remarkable thing we've discovered is that when she made the 1916 film, starring opposite the 62-year-old Gillette, Marjorie Kay was 17 years old. But there's a lot more to her life story than one film. Some highlights:
- Marjorie Kay was born November 2, 1898, in Detroit. (That date comes from a passport application she submitted in May 1916. We have not been able to see her actual birth certificate.) Her parents were Canadian-born: Robert D. Kay, a jeweller, and his wife, Margaret Griffin Kay. A number of newspaper mentions call her "a society girl".
- In 1916, presumably after completing Sherlock Holmes (which was released May 15 of that year), she joined the Naval Nurse Corps and went to Europe, where the United States was already providing hospital services even though it would be more than another year before the US entered World War I. Between May and September she worked at a hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine and possibly other hospitals, and drove an ambulance. Along the way the Detroit society girl made the acquaintance of Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, a pillar of New York society. (There were multiple Vanderbilts; this one was the former Anne Harriman Sands Rutherford, who had married a grandson of the original "Commodore" in 1903.)
- She came home from Europe in September, aboard the SS Rochambeau. Among the keepsakes she brought back was a belt to which were attached 154 military buttons, collar ornaments, shoulder badges, hat badges and belt buckles from Allied armies and even those of Germany and Austria. The young nurse clearly got to know her patients well.
- Not too long after her return, she was apparently chosen as the model for a Red Cross fund-raising poster. She was dressed in nurse's garb and her hands and arms were outstretched. The key word on the poster: "Give." She was proud of it, and kept a copy of the poster on the walls of the apartment that she and her husband occupied decades later in Hartford, Connecticut.
- She died June 25, 1949, in Hartford. An obituary says she had been married three times. Details of her marriages are far from clear, but at the time of her death she was officially Mrs. William L. Anderson.
- The obituary traces her career between 1916 and 1949 on the authority of "friends" who "recalled" that she had studied as a coloratura soprano and sung with Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera. Sometime in the 1920s she settled in Hartford, opened a dancing school and later managed a talent agency.
- A 43-word obituary in Variety also mentioned Caruso, and said Kay had performed in "The Night Boat", a musical that ran on Broadway for most of 1920 before going on tour. (Much earlier, Film Daily in 1918, referring to Kay as "recently returned" from France, said she had been signed to co-star in a movie depicting her war experiences. It would appear that nothing came of that project.)
There you are — a few facts about the young woman who played Sherlock Holmes's love interest and was immortalized in celluloid. Totally absent from the evidence, so far, is any hint of how she got the role in the first place. There is clearly more of the story to be told, and our research is continuing.
If you're unable to attend the screening of Sherlock Holmes at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this weekend, you won't want to miss an opportunity to pre-order the DVD and Blu-ray, which will be released in October.