The cast of the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles

A childhood passion creates a lifelong memory

Sometimes it's the little things in life that make the biggest and most lasting impressions.

In movies and TV shows that feature crimes, there’s often a moment when a suspect is interrogated by police, and has the question “Where were you on the night of XX?” barked at them. I’ve often thought that if I ever find myself in that position, I will just hold out my hands for the cuffs, because I will probably have no clue.

However, if someone ever asked me “Where were you, and what were you doing, on the night of December 14, 1976?” I would be able to answer immediately. It happened 40 years ago, but the event is as vivid now as it was then.

You see, early in 1976 I discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and immediately became a fan. I gobbled up the four novels and 56 short stories as quickly as I could, then began looking for more. And I found it, because I soon discovered that others not only shared my passion, they had written about it.

I began consuming books about the great detective and his world, and was intrigued to find that movies had been made featuring Holmes and his companion, Dr. Watson. The best of these films, everyone seemed to agree, was a version of The Hound of the Baskervilles made in 1939, starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson.

But how to see it in 1976, when even videocassettes did not exist? Imagine, then, my excitement when TV Guide announced that CBS would be showing the 1939 Hound, which it called “A Holmesian delight” and “The highlight of this network movie week.” The catch? It aired at 12:30 a.m., on a school night. And I was only 12.

But I needed—desperately, passionately, with every fibre of my 12-year-old self—to see this movie; when would the chance ever come again? I spoke with my parents, and eventually a compromise was reached: I would get myself up for 12:30 a.m., watch the movie, go to bed as soon as it was over, and (most importantly) not be grumpy in the morning. I quickly agreed to the terms.

And so it was that on December 14, 1976 I crept through the darkened house to the family-room, accompanied only by Tabitha, our cat. Everyone else was fast asleep; it was almost certainly the latest I had ever been up, and the darkness was delicious. I turned on the TV, and at 12:30 the black-and-white opening credits of the 1939 film I had so longed to watch flickered across the screen.

And there they all were, the characters I already knew so well: Holmes, Watson, the sinister Dr. Mortimer, the dissolute Sir Hugo Baskerville, the querulous Mr. Frankland, the saturnine butler Barrymore (renamed Barryman for the film), the lovely Beryl Stapleton. I was mesmerized. The next day, on the back of the clipping from TV Guide (which I still have), I wrote “Tabby came down with me and was startled when the hound was heard howling across the desolate moors, as it did often. I loved the movie (as did Tabby).”

Countless events in my life have come and gone in the four decades since that date, but few stand out more vividly in my mind. If this story has a moral, then it is a simple one: follow your passion, and allow others to follow theirs. You never know what memories you will create.

 

 

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