Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


ILLUSTRATOR SIDNEY PAGET evidently knew the world’s first consulting detective very well. And for many of us, actor Basil Rathbone came most closely to Paget’s lean intensely hawkish image. However, there have been others who portrayed Sherlock Holmes, even if less definitively as described by chronicler Dr. John H. Watson.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, there were six actors who, at one time or another, portrayed both Holmes and Watson. These were Reginald Owen, Jeremy Brett, Carleton Hobbs, Patrick Macnee, Howard Marion-Crawford, and Edward Woodward. I note Reginald Owen with special interest because I’ve recently enjoyed his portrayal of Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, this 1933 flick recently viewed on Turner Movie Classics.

Here are tidbits about Reginald Owen, a Holmes both affable and portly. 

John Reginald Owen, 1887–1972, British actor with more than 130 roles in British and American films (as recently as Mary Poppins). Image from The Films of Sherlock Holmes.

Owen’s professional debut was in London in 1905. In 1911 he starred, with very good reviews, as Saint George in Where the Rainbow Ends, a play he had urged its author to compose. 

Owen moved to the U.S. in 1920. He first worked on Broadway and later moved to Hollywood where he became a regular in MGM productions. Among them, he portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 filming of A Christmas Carol (although I confess to remember Alistair Sim’s 1951 rendition as more familiar). 

The Sherlockian Canon. Prior to Owen’s MGM career, he was well acquainted with the Sherlockian Canon. In 1932, he played Watson to Clive Brook’s Holmes in the movie Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle’s Master Detective Sherlock Holmes, starring Clive Brook, Miriam Jordan, and Ernest Torrence, Fox Film Corporation, 1932.

You’ll notice that not Owen, but Clive Brook (Holmes), Miriam Jordan (Holmes’s love interest!), and Ernest Torrence (Moriarty) cop the billing.  As described in Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels’ The Films of Sherlock Holmes, “An amorous Holmes demands a worthy object of his attentions; cooly alluring Fox actress Miriam Jordan fitted the bill perfectly…. And certainly Holmes’s love life would curtail his camaraderie with Dr. Watson; consequently, the good doctor’s participation is minimized.” 

Steinbrunner and Michaels continue, “Reginald Owen, who played Watson with mustache, proper suits, and a foolish demeanor, made up for having little to do by grabbing the Holmes role in A Study in Scarlet the following year….”

A Study in Scarlet, viewable in YouTube.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll continue with Reginald Owen, A Study in Scarlet, an Agatha Christie red herring, a Robert Louis Stevenson tale, and accommodations for the Beatles in Bel Air. Talk about variety. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. Howard Ostrom
    May 30, 2022

    Wikipedia not very accurate, it’s more like 30 or 40 actors who have played both Holmes and Watson, considering stage and radio too. For example, on radio Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce actually swapped role on one show, making Nigel Bruce a one time Holmes.

  2. simanaitissays
    May 30, 2022

    A point taken. Note though the Wikipedia piece is inclusionary, not “only six.”

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