I'm back from the Golden State and I'm ready to share my experiences at Paula Brown's "Jeremy Brett Memorial Celebration" on September 14 with you. A number of readers wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed my London "travelogue," so I thought I'd share my sightseeing experiences in San Francisco as well. Away we go!
My flight to San Francisco from Columbus was uneventful, except for a nearly missed connection in Dallas/Ft. Worth. (There must be a law that if a flight lands at Gate 3 the connecting flight must depart from Gate 37, and passengers are permitted less than 10 minutes to traverse the terminal, because this seems to happen every time I fly.) Back in the air, I gazed down from my window seat vista upon craggy red mountains and smooth beige deserts and thought, "I don't think I'm in Ohio anymore!" (Prior to this, I'd never been farther west than Indianapolis.)
Getting to my hotel from the airport couldn't have been simpler. I caught the trusty "SFO Airporter" shuttle and was soon barreling down the freeway toward Union Square. My first sights in California included mountains, water--and traffic! We got caught up in a rush-hour jam just before Union Square, but our driver quickly manuevered out of it. And, there we were, at the Holiday Inn, my hotel, and the site of Saturday's "Memorial."
Refreshed by a good night's sleep, I woke up the next morning (Friday) raring to explore San Francisco. But, what sights to see first? My guidebook suggested walking from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf. Okay! Luckily, the hotel is on Sutter Street, right at the corner of Powell Street, which ends up at Fisherman's Wharf. So, camera and purse in hand, I marched up Powell Street.
I thought I'd made a terrible mistake when I suddenly encountered one of San Francisco's famous hills. Now, I'm in fairly good shape and take a walk every day, but this hill nearly "done me in." I was trudging upward so slowly, I think even turtles and snails were passing me. But, I made it to the top, where I met a couple from Pennsylvania who asked me if I knew where Chinatown was. I said, "No," adding that I was a tourist myself.
I dashed across a busy intersection and after I'd gone a few blocks I realized I was in Chinatown. (Hey, where did that couple go?) A man passed me pushing a baby in a stroller. Both he and the baby were wearing sunglasses--ah, California!
I came to end of Powell Street and the beginning of Fisherman's Wharf. I personally think it should be mandatory for everyone to visit this splendid area--there is so much to see and do.
I explored the Pier 39 section of the waterfront. Pier 39 was built in the 1970's from timber salvaged from abandoned piers and boats. Its two levels are stacked with interesting shops and attractions, but the thing which fascinated me the most was San Francisco Bay itself.
The former prison, Alcatraz, stands like a stern sentry on its stony island. It's an "arresting" sight, and a magnet for shutterbugs like me. (When my pictures were developed, I was amused to see how many photos I'd taken of Alcatraz.)
Nearby is the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, this familiar reddish-orange span is also a photographer's favorite, especially when it's dramatically draped with fog.
The soundtrack of the Bay is punctuated by gull cries and freighter horns, and as I strolled down the boardwalk I heard another sound--a guttural "Uh-uh-uh-uh!" I turned a corner and saw the source of the sound: Sea lions--dozens of them! These "boisterous barking pinnipeds" (as a brochure describes them) came to Pier 39's K-Dock after the 1989 earthquake and have remained ever since because of the bountiful herring supply and plentiful dock space. Crowds surround the dock to view the noisy antics of these winsome creatures. As I watched the grinning sea lions I thought, "That's the life, flopping around in the sun all day with a big smile on your face!"
I walked back to the Holiday Inn (all downhill this time) and was chagrined to discover that a day in the sun and wind had left me with a glowing sunburn. I'd forgotten my sunscreen. Oh no--how could I give a speech looking like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?!
As I walked into the room I was warmly greeted by Paula Brown, the hostess of the event. I signed in and put on a name tag. A woman introduced herself--she was Marcia Coates, a Brett fan from Michigan with whom I've been corresponding over the past year. It's always great to be able to meet pen pals face-to-face.
There were twenty Brett admirers present, mainly from California, but also from as far away as Virginia.
I noticed people perusing thick photo albums bursting with photos of Jeremy Brett. I wanted to get a closer look at these, but they would have to wait--the Celebration was about to begin.
Paula welcomed us and introduced the first speaker, Nancy Kopp of Vancouver, BC. Nancy knew Jeremy and has amassed an impressive collection of Brett memorabilia and photos (some of the albums were hers). A photo Nancy took of Jeremy standing at a bus stop in Clapham Common only four months before his death appeared in a recent "Scarlet Street" tribute.
Nancy showed slides of significant places in Jeremy's life--Holly Lodge, where his older brothers were born; Berkswell Grange, his boyhood home; the church in Berkswell where his parents are memorialized; his penthouse in Clapham Common, which was distinguished by the red geraniums in the windowboxes (lovingly tended by Jeremy himself) and which was mirrored by a "twin," a hotel across the street; and "Tea Time," a cafe in Clapham Common which was a favorite haunt of Jeremy's.
Nancy also showed a slide of Baddesley Clinton, the stately home in Lapworth, near Warwick, that was used in The Musgrave Ritual episode of Sherlock Holmes. She explained that Baddesley Clinton was built when people were shorter, and to keep lanky Jeremy Brett from bumping his head, the doors were hung with leather strips to remind him to duck! Nancy added that Jeremy particularly liked this location because it wasn't far from his birthplace in Warwickshire.
Paula read Edward Hardwicke's thoughtful forward to the soon-to-be published Bending the Willow, and, then it was time for the next speaker--me!
I took a deep breath and stepped up to the lectern. I spoke of Jeremy's fans and of the positive effect he has had on my life. I think I did okay--people applauded. :-)
Paula presented slides of scenes from many of the productions Jeremy appeared in over the years. Particularly interesting to me was a slide from the 1961 play The Kitchen--Jeremy in a chef hat! There was a also a slide taken during the Chicago run of Dracula of Jeremy (in full vampire regalia) playfully putting the bite on Helen Hayes (she wasn't in the play, but was visiting). Another interesting shot showed Jeremy posed in a tank top and jeans--light-years away from Holmes' austere "penguin suit"! ;->
Following Paula's presentation, we were privileged to hear a taped message from Jeremy's companion, Linda Pritchard. As two of Jeremy's favorite songs (Bette Midler's The Wind Beneath My Wings, followed by Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers) played softly in the background, Ms. Pritchard spoke movingly of her seven-year relationship with Jeremy. She met Jeremy on September 12, 1988, at the Richmond Theatre in Surrey, England. Linda was planning to run around the coast of Great Britain to raise money for cancer research and asked Jeremy for a signed photo of himself to take with her on her six-month run. Jeremy not only gave Linda a photo, but pledged to help her all he could (his second wife, Joan, had died of cancer). He helped her to get a backup driver and even donated the 3000 pounds he had won as "Pipe Smoker of the Year" to Linda to help pay for expenses. Jeremy told Linda, "This is the first time smoking will help to cure cancer." Linda revealed that her run raised over 75,000 pounds for cancer research.
Linda feared she would lose touch with Jeremy after that, but this was thankfully not the case. She and Jeremy frequently met at Tea Time in Clapham Common. Linda eventually joined Jeremy in his struggle against the ill-health which plagued him during his final years. She told of learning much about manic depression from Jeremy's bouts with the disease. She and Jeremy were able to bring this condition under control, only to have another foe--heart disease--rear its frightening head.
Linda said, "At this point I would like to state that never in my lifetime have I ever met a person so brave as Jeremy. Despite setback after setback, he got on with life and did what had to be done and never in a complaining or self-pitying way. He didn't make a martyr of himself...ever. For me, Jeremy epitomized bravery, fortitude, and all that is good in the human spirit during the time of adversity."
Linda remembered, "[Jeremy] was a joy to live with and was extremely thoughtful and considerate. Laughter came easily. We laughed at anything remotely amusing and even during the darkest times when Jeremy was ill, we would see the funny side of things...Love is the biggest memory I have of Jeremy because he was such an easy person to love. He was the most gentle and sensitive man I have ever met and I continue to thank the workings of fate that brought us together."
The room was hushed at the conclusion of Linda's message, and there were more than a few teary eyes. None too soon, Paula introduced On Approval, the smartly comic play presented on "Masterpiece Theatre." Jeremy played "George, Duke of Bristol," the charming "bounder" who steals Penelope Keith's heart. Our hearts were lifted by watching Jeremy's elegant antics.
When On Approval ended, another Brett fan, Lauren Zust, read a message from actress Stefanie Powers, who worked with Jeremy in Hart to Hart and the miniseries Deceptions. Ms. Powers wrote of Jeremy as a "cheerleader," the kind of person you wanted to have in your corner.
Then, Kay Main of Torrence, California, gave a stunning presentation about her long friendship with Jeremy, a friendship which had its genesis in a tragedy. (You may have read Kay's story in a 1991 Los Angeles Times story written during Jeremy's U.S. publicity tour for PBS and Mystery!) Kay explained that her son, Bob, had been murdered on July 28, 1984. His birthday was November 11, and that year Kay was sad, and frustrated that no progress had been made in the investigation of her son's murder. Kay decided to watch a bit of Rebecca, the miniseries starring Jeremy as "Maxim de Winter." Bob had loved the scenery in the film, especially the flowers, and Kay thought watching some of it would make her feel better. She ended up watching the whole series, and decided to write to Jeremy. She poured out her heart to him in an eight-page letter.
Thus began an enduring correspondence between Kay and Jeremy. Kay was able to console Jeremy when he lost "Joanie" in 1985. Finally, in 1991, Kay and Jeremy met when he came to Pasadena. Kay compiled a photo album labeled "The Story of Jeremy Brett" and bought a teddy bear and some roses to give to Jeremy. She greeted Jeremy by saying, "Hello, Maxim!" He looked at her curiously, and she said, "What's the matter, don't you recognize your Rebecca?" Jeremy laughed, and gladly accepted the roses and the teddy bear (whom he dubbed "Maxim, Jr."). He and Kay talked for half an hour. Many fans had come to see Jeremy that day, and Kay was worried about the dirty looks they kept flashing at her because she was taking up so much of Jeremy's time. However, Jeremy told her, "Don't look at them!"
The story doesn't end there. The last stop on Jeremy's 1991 tour was Boston, and he arranged for Kay to fly there (first class) to watch him host a murder-mystery parody at a gala Mystery! Halloween party. One of Kay's fondest memories of her trip to Boston is getting to share a limousine with two Jeremys--Brett and Irons!
Jeremy sent presents to Kay every month, and Kay showed us a video of all the gifts Jeremy had given to her, including a British flag which Kay proudly flew at her home, over 200 books, over 50 CD's, and numerous teddy bears and dolls.
If anyone is not already convinced that Jeremy Brett was an incredibly thoughtful and generous man, please read further. As he was dying, Jeremy arranged for Kay's presents to continue coming after he was gone. He even sent pre-wrapped Christmas gifts for Kay to open through the year 2001!
Kay told us many amusing and touching stories about her friend Jeremy. Perhaps the funniest (and most bittersweet) story Kay revealed was how Jeremy escaped some of the pain of his final days by watching videotapes he had requested from her--tapes of America's Funniest Home Videos!
We broke for lunch, which was served in the Holiday Inn's Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, located on the 30th floor. I sat with Marcia and Nancy, and we swapped Jeremy stories while enjoying the food and watching cable cars "climb halfway to the stars" from our panoramic perch. Nancy gifted me with several photos she took of Jeremy in Clapham Common--a gift for which I'm eternally grateful.
I was thrilled to learn that several other TBE readers were in attendance, including Jean Pope from Tennessee and Mary and Beth Humphreys from Virginia. Mary and Beth had flown in from a visit to London, and they told me of their shopping experience at the Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company on Baker Street. We got to chat for a while, and then it was back down to Suite 2918 for the rest of the program.
Paula treated us to a long sequence of video clips of many of Jeremy's performances. Included were glimpses of such rarely seen films such as An Aspidistra in Babylon (a.k.a. Country Matters) and The Rivals, in which Jeremy looked terribly dashing in his peruke and captain's uniform. These clips were followed by a choice selection of scenes from the Sherlock Holmes series.
Following this, Paula read a tribute from David Burke. It was, as expected, quite warm and funny.
Next came a recorded tribute from Michael Cox, creator/producer of Granada's Sherlock Holmes. An excerpt from Verdi's Requiem played as Mr. Cox explained this was the music he often heard in the background when Jeremy phoned him on Sunday mornings. (He said Jeremy, on his end, would hear Cox's Cairn terrier barking and never failed to ask how the doggie was.) Mr. Cox gave us an extremely well-spoken and balanced look at his friend and colleague. He told us how Jeremy came to play Sherlock Holmes-- reluctantly, at first; and then coming to see himself as the "guardian of Doyle" on the Holmes set. Cox and Jeremy used to have rows about how much "Doyle" was going to be in the televised stories. Cox said that Jeremy was determined to "play it by the book," even when that wasn't entirely practical.
For example, Cox explained that The Final Problem was too short on its own to make a one-hour teleplay, so a subplot about Moriarty stealing the Mona Lisa was added. Jeremy didn't like this, because it "wasn't Doyle." (But, as we all know, he played these scenes, and beautifully.)
Indeed, despite their occasional differences, Cox remembered Jeremy as "cheerful and positive," a friend full of joy and laughter. Once, when the Royal Opera visited Manchester to present Madame Butterfly (complete with Japanese soprano), Cox managed to wangle one hard-to-get ticket as a treat for for his hard-working Holmes star. The next day, Cox asked Jeremy what he thought of the performance. Jeremy answered, "Most relaxing! I managed to sleep nearly all the way through!"
Cox's favorite memories of Jeremy's Holmes include the "pacing out the steps" sequence of The Musgrave Ritual, Holmes' tears in reaction to Lestrade's praise in The Six Napoleons, and the "gentleman of the jury" speech directed to Watson at the conclusion of The Abbey Grange.
Cox revealed that Jeremy would often close their Sunday morning phone chats with the words "Upward and onward!" He said he felt that Jeremy has gone "upward." Cox quoted English essayist Sydney Smith: "My idea of Heaven is eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets." He said Jeremy probably felt that way, too--preferably with some champagne handy, as well!
The Celebration thus ended, and we went back up to the "Sherlock Holmes" for afternoon tea. Now, as you know, I missed seeing the sitting room at the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London, but I didn't miss the sitting room set up at the Holiday Inn, right up the hall from the restaurant. The hall leading up to the sitting room is lined with artfully constructed shadowboxes representing stories from the "canon" and the room itself looks as if the famed detective has just stepped out for a moment. A Sherlockian explained the items in the room to those of us present, adding that the famous bust of Holmes in the window had been damaged in the last earthquake (his nose was broken!)
Back in the restaurant, I chatted some more with the TBE'ers and then, too soon it seemed, it was time to leave. We all thanked Paula for putting this wonderful event together.
The next morning I sat down in the lobby of the hotel to "people watch" and write postcards, and I glanced outside. Whom should I see but--Sherlock Holmes! The doorman was dressed in a deerstalker and Inverness cape. I ran upstairs to grab my camera. I asked the doorman if I could take his picture, explaining that I was a Holmes fan. He seemed a bit surprised at first, but said "Okay." Someone standing nearby graciously offered to take the picture of me with the doorman. We posed, but, unfortunately, when I got the picture back, it was blurred beyond recognition. Anyway, I got to talking to the doorman, who told me that the original owner of the hotel was also a Holmes fan, which is why he set up the sitting room and the restaurant. The hotel was bought by Holiday Inn, and is now owned by a British company, so, the doorman said, things have come full circle.
I'm sure none of the speakers and writers conferred with each other, but our tributes all seemed to echo the same theme. Whether we knew Jeremy Brett personally or whether we only "met" him through his performances, we all agreed that Jeremy's greatest attribute was not his acting ability or his charm (considerable as these were), but was, rather, his love. And, the way he helped inspire people to new challenges, whether it was Linda Pritchard running to raise funds for cancer research, Melanie Hughes creating a prize-winning essay which took her to London, or myself writing and editing The Brettish Empire.
Jeremy Brett wasn't perfect. No, he was only human. But, he touched people's hearts and lives in a positive way. Not just with his performances, but with his caring spirit. From the day this Berkswell boy gave his best cap as "a birthday present to Baby Jesus" to the days when he planned what gifts to leave Kay Main, Jeremy put love into action. And, when you think about it, that's the kind of love that counts. As the song in The Sound of Music says, "Love wasn't put into our hearts to stay/Love isn't love until you give it away."
I found myself stricken with sudden bursts of grief after returning to Ohio. I was grieved to think of the gap Jeremy left in people's lives with his passing. No more acts of kindness. No more Sunday morning phone calls. No more great performances.
And, there was the sting of lost opportunity. When I told Nancy Kopp that my birthday was the same as Jeremy's and that we had lost loved ones a year apart on July 4, she said, "Oh, Jeremy would have loved you--he put great stock in connections like that. You should have written to him."
Why didn't I write to him? I thought he lived on some sort of actor's Mt. Olympus, remote and untouchable. And, I had never written a fan letter before--what should I say? "Dear Mr. Brett, I'm your biggest fan"? No, I wanted to write something "special," but before I could, Jeremy was gone. I now know that he was surprisingly accessible and open to his fans. He was a man from Clapham Common, not a god from Mt. Olympus. A simple "Thank you, Mr. Brett, and get well" would have sufficed.
But, I don't think Jeremy would want any of us to go around unhappy on his account. I think if, somehow, he knew we were sad, it would make him sad as well. Instead, I think we should do as Linda Pritchard suggested in the conclusion of her message:
"But now one must come to terms with the loss of this wonderful man. For me it has been difficult. Jeremy touched my life in in such a way that my life is now changed forever. I have been through all the emotions one goes through when you lose a loved one and I have no doubt you have all been grieved by Jeremy's parting, too. However, Jeremy was a great soul, a man of love, and I don't believe for one moment that he's departed completely from this life. I am sure he has simply moved to another extension of it and that he is with us anytime we wish him to be...living our journeys and adventures and teaching us about the one thing that matters most...LOVE."
Until next time,
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