Radio theater company honors famed Tryon playwright

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 25, 2019

William Gillette (1800-1933), one of Tryon’s most famous former residents, was honored with a tribute at a recent production of the Pinnacle Falls Old Time Radio Theatre.

It was the noted actor and playwright who brought Sherlock Holmes to life in his play, “Sherlock Holmes,” that opened on Broadway in 1899. Gillette wrote the play at Thousand Pines, his 900-acre estate high above Tryon, in concert with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author and creator of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.

One of those stories, “The Musgrave Ritual,” was adapted for radio and directed by North Carolina playwright Ceille Baird Welch.

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Gillette got off the train in Tryon in 1891 when it stopped to add another engine for the climb up the Saluda Grade. He took a walk up the mountain and fell in love with the area and built a cabin where he could see the mountain ranges.

For 50 years, he was a major star on Broadway and theaters around the world, and his play, “Sherlock Holmes,” brought in $1.5 million in box office ticket sales.

The premiere performance, starring Ralph Johns as Sherlock, was staged at the Bill Amick Lodge in Pinnacle Falls, a gated community in Zirconia, North Carolina.  Johns practiced medicine in Spartanburg for many years.

Other actors in the radio drama were all homeowners in Pinnacle Falls and included Linda Brett, retired U.S. Forest Service executive from Washington, D.C.; Gayden Gauthier, financial planner from Maryland; Grady Nance, former executive with Detroit Edison in Michigan; Jennifer Stickney, former pharmacist from Chicago; Mike Ebanks, former Chicago architect provided sound effects; and Kathleen Nance, a pharmacist from Michigan and Louisiana who did the music bridges and stingers.

The production has been scheduled for a February performance in Columbia, South Carolina, at a meeting of the Hansom Wheels, a Scion Society of the Baker Street Irregulars.