Nigel Bruce (February 4 1895 – October 8 1953), was a British character actor on stage and screen, best known as Doctor Watson in a series of films and in the radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes).
William Nigel Ernle Bruce
was the second son of Sir William Waller Bruce, 10th Baronet (1856–1912) and his wife Angelica (d. 1917), daughter of General George Selby, Royal Artillery
. Bruce was born in Ensenada
, Baja California
while his parents were vacationing there. He was educated at The Grange, Stevenage
, and at Abingdon School
. Before World War I
, he played first class cricket. He served in France from 1914 as a lieutenant in the 10th Service Battalion - Somerset Light Infantry
, and the Honourable Artillery Company
, but was severely wounded at Cambrai
the following year, with eleven bullets in his left leg, and spent most of the remainder of the war in a wheelchair.
He made his first appearance on stage on May 12 1920 at the Comedy Theatre as a footman in Why Marry?. In October that year, he went to Canada as stage manager to Henry V. Esmond and Eva Moore, and also playing "Montague Jordan" in Eliza Comes to Stay; upon returning to England, he toured in the same part. He appeared constantly on stage thereafter, and eight years later, also started working in silent films. In 1934, he moved to Hollywood, later setting up home at 701 North Alpine Drive, Beverly Hills.
Nigel Bruce typically played buffoonish, fuzzy-minded gentlemen. During his film career, he worked in 78 movies, including Treasure Island (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Lassie Come Home (1943), and The Corn Is Green (1945). Bruce participated in two landmark films: Becky Sharp, the first feature film in full Technicolor, and Bwana Devil, the first 3-D feature. He also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock films Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).
Bruce's signature role was that of Dr. Watson
in the Sherlock Holmes
series with his good friend Basil Rathbone
. Bruce starred as Watson in 14 films (from 1939 to 1946) and over 200 radio programs. Although Watson often appears to be the older of the two main characters, Bruce was actually three years younger than his co-star Rathbone. Holmes purists objected that Watson in the books was an intelligent and capable person (although not an outstanding detective), and that the Bruce portrayal made him seem dimmer and more bumbling than his literary counterpart. (A nickname resulting from this portrayal was "Boobus Britannicus.") For millions of fans, however, Bruce was the definitive Watson; Rathbone spoke highly of Bruce's portrayal, saying that Watson was one of the screen's most lovable characters. The Rathbone-Bruce film series lapsed with the death of producer-director Roy William Neill
Bruce, known as "Willie" to his friends, was a leading member of the British movie colony in Los Angeles, and was captain of the (mostly British) Hollywood Cricket Club. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he never renounced his British citizenship despite his long residence in the United States, and he retained his membership of London's Garrick Club and Buck's Club until his death.
Bruce died from a heart attack in Santa Monica, California in 1953, aged 58. He was cremated, and his ashes stored in the vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.
He wrote an autobiography called Games, Gossip and Greasepaint which has never been published; however, excerpts have been printed in the Sherlock Holmes Journal, and these have been posted online, with permission.
His last movie, World for Ransom, was released posthumously in 1954.
* Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone
- Parker, John ed. (1947). Who's Who in the Theatre. 10th revised edition, London: Pitman.
- Townend, Peter ed. (1970). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage. 105th edition, London: Burke's Peerage.