FEBRUARY 4, 1895 – OCTOBER 8, 1953
Born — appropriately enough — in 1895, Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson would color the character for decades, if not eternally. He appeared in 14 films and over 200 radio programs as the Good Doctor, opposite his close friend Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. His insistence, however, on playing Watson as a comic foil earned his characterization the title of “boobus Britannicus,” as coined by Edmund L. Pearson. Bruce’s version of Dr. Watson was frequently graceless and often witless, but not without his own loveable charm. David Stuart Davies remarked, somewhat obviously, that “Bruce’s characterisation bore little relation” to the written Watson, even though the portrayal eventually produced “an endearingly avuncular figure”
Bruce’s performance as Dr. Watson was actually not that far removed from other notable roles he had played, such Squire Trelawney in Treasure Island (1934), Major Giles Lacy in Rebecca (1940), or Beaky in Suspicion (1941). While he had few fans among Sherlockian purists, Bruce’s most ardent fan was his co-star, Basil Rathbone. In his biography, In and Out of Character, Rathbone said:
There is no question in my mind that Nigel Bruce was the ideal Dr. Watson… There was an endearing quality to his performance that…humanised the relationship between Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes. It has always seemed to me that our “adventures” may have met with less kindly public acceptance had they been recorded by a less loveable companion to Holmes than was Nigel’s Dr. Watson.
William Nigel Ernle Bruce was born February 4, 1895 in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. He died October 8, 1953 in Santa Monica, California.