Jeremy Brett, his real name was Peter Jeremy Huggins, is born November 3, in England, at Berkswell, near Coventry, in the Shakespeare country, Warwickshire.
He saw Sir Laurence Olivier at the Cameo Cinema, on Berkswell Road, in many films (as Wuthering Heights) and decided to become an actor. That not pleased his father, lieutenant-colonel Henry William Huggins, a strict officer.
Although he was dyslexic and tongue-tied, he succeeded, by dint of hard work, in overcoming his handicap and he became a very conspicuous young romantic leader. After studying at Eton, he joined the Central School of Speech and Drama and made his debut at the Library Theatre of Manchester (1954-1955) before to join the Old-Vic Theatre of London in 1956 (He toured the United States with the company during the following year, appeared notably in the Winter Garden of New York). After a series of success as Meet me by the Moonlight (1957), The Edwardians (1959), The Kitchen (1961) and especially Hamlet (1961), in which the title role won him unanimity from criticism – and a reconciliation with his father… – he joined the troupe of Sir Laurence Olivier, the National Theatre Company, in 1963, where he played with Anthony Hopkins, Sir Derek Jacobi, Joan Plowright… One can also quote, during his time at the National, the Henrick Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, directed by Igmar Bergman, with Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith (Cambridge Theatre, London, 1970). Brett played also with Alec Guiness in John Mortimer’s play A voyage ‘Round My Father (Theatre Royal, Haymaket, London, 1971) and with Vanessa Redgrave in Noel Coward’s play Design For Living (Phoenix Theatre, London, 1973).
Brett had also great success across the Atlantic ; one can quote the part of Dracula, in the play Dracula (Ahmanson Theatre, Los-Angeles, 1978), John Watson in the Crucifer Of Blood (in 1980, in the same theatre, with Charlton Heston as Sherlock Holmes) or the part of William Tatham, opposite Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert in Aren’t We All (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York, 1985).
He also had a very brilliant televisual career. His performance as Dorian Gray in The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1963), as Bassiano, opposite Sir Laurence Olivier, in The Merchant Of Venice (1970), and particularly Max de Winter in the 1978 adaptation from Daphné Du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (performance that overshadowed, according criticisms, Sir Laurence Olivier’s one, in the 1940 Hitchcock’s film), contributed to make his name. His performance as Macbeth (this play has been filmed in 1981 and its video is used in British and American Schools) presents a real rare naturalness.
But this is for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the series produced by Granada TV (1984-94) that he is the most well-known and the most admired, especially in France. Thanks to his great mastery of the Stanislavsky’s method, Brett succeeds in doing a feat of strength : he gives again to the character all his complexity and brings out his contrasts. He made with the detective a real human being, complete and lively, very faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings, when some other actors played only one side of the character.
One regrets that cinema had not given him more chances. One can quote, for all that, the part of Nicholaï in War and Peace (1956), Mullen in The Wild And The Willing (1963), but also the disturbing Tony Vernon Smith in Mad Dogs And Englishmen (1994), a complex character he played brilliantly.
Serious heart troubles slowed down his career since the beginning of the 90’s and he died at home the 12th September 1995.
Two dramas casted a gloom over his private life. First the death of his mother (she was from the Cadbury family) killed in a car crash when he was 25, and the passing of his second wife. Divorced from actress Anna Massey (with whom he had a son, David, in 1958), he got married again, in 1978, with American producer Joan Wilson. For her he decided to live in Boston, her birthday place. But eight years later, Joan died from cancer ; he lost both his great love and best friend and it was very difficult for him to carry on even if his faith in life and the passion of his job prevent him from sinking in despair. Jeremy Brett created, with Linda Pritchard, his last friend, The Jeremy Brett Memorial Fund For Imperial Cancer research.
There were three things missing to JB for reaching celebrity that his talent and his professionalism may him hope :
- the international recognition from the general public, what can only be done through the cinema,
- becoming director, what often allows actors to recognition and respect from their peers – as if playing, and playing with talent, was not enough to prove one’s intelligence…,
- having a long life, thing that the public often needs to realise how an actor was great.