“Good morning, Mr. Doyle. Good morning. Now come in and sit down and make yourself at home.
“This is your first experience in Hollywood, ain’t it? . . . I thought so. Well, now Mr. Doyle, you’ve probably heard a lot about producers being tough guys that can’t
appreciate good creative writing. You want to get that out of your system right now, because if we didn’t know what we were doing, this industry wouldn’t have grown from a shoestring up into the biggest and most important business in the world.
“Now, don’t be afraid of me, Mr. Doyle. Speak right up and tell me whenever you think I’m wrong. Between us we’ve got to make a good picture. It ain’t, as though we were on opposite sides of the fence. We’re partners. Do you understand what I mean?
“Now let’s take these stories. I’ve read ‘em. You’ve got a character here, this Sherlock Holmes, that might do all right on the screen. There’s a lot to be said for him. I understand the studio readers made some pretty enthusiastic reports.
“Well, now Mr. Doyle, I’ll tell you what this character needs, just a few little touches that you can give him, and he’ll be a Wow! He’ll be Colossal!
“Now sometimes when a studio hires an author to work on the adaptation, the author gets a little sensitive about minor changes, but I know you’re too smart a man for anything like that, Mr. Doyle. You understand that we specialize in knowing what I he public wants and we have to give it to them, you understand.
“Now for instance, this Sherlock Holmes is a nice character. I’m not saying anything against him, but there isn’t any romance. In order to make a character live, you’ve got to give him romance, you understand.
“It’s a shame you didn’t know about this when you were writing the books, ‘cause just a little romance and that character would have taken right hold of people. The trouble is, you didn’t bring any nice, seductive women into your books. That’s it, no sex appeal, just the cold, intellectual approach.
“That gave me a little trouble. I had to read until ten o’clock last night before I found out how to fix it, but I’ve got it now.
“You have this Mrs. What’s-her-name that takes care of the rooms on Baker Street. We can’t use her because she ain’t the type, but what we need is to give her a daughter. Now we’ll let her be a widow and have a daughter. A nice attractive girl with a lot of This and That and These and Those. We don’t want her to sound too high-toned when we bring her in, because, you see, after all, her mother is sort of a lodginghouse keeper, and this girl can’t be putting
on airs. We’ll call her Margery. You get it, Mr. Doyle? MARGERY!
“Now, in order to have romantic interest, you’ve got to have some sort of conflict. You can’t just have two people take each other for granted. You got to have suspense, so the final clinch means something. When they have that clinch, it has to satisfy the audience.
“Well, now I’ve been thinking, this Dr. Watson of yours doesn’t do any particular good in the stories. He just sort of tags along. You haven’t described Watson very much. You get the impression he’s sort of stolid, and slow on the uptake.
“That’s all right as far as it goes, but we’ve got to pep the man up a little bit, give him something so he can be a foil for this Sherlock Holmes of yours. Better make him a natty dresser and make him a kind of a sheik with the ladies — sort of a wolf, you know.
“That’ll give us a good approach for the stories. This Sherlock Holmes is more the intellectual type. You’ll have to change him a little bit to make him appeal to the audience, make him a little more human. But, anyhow, he’s sort of preoccupied with these crime problems of yours and Dr. Watson pretends he’s real interested. But what Dr. Watson is really interested in is Margery. He’s not a chap to overlook a wren like that. Margery’s a nice dish. A young girl, you know, being brought up sort of secluded like and just flowering into womanhood. Her mother doesn’t realize how the gal has grown. She’s been away for a while, out of circulation somewhere — maybe a convent or something like that, and she comes back and she’s all grown-up, lots of curves and all that. Her mother doesn’t realize how her daughter has grown, but Dr. Watson realizes it, you can bet on that.
“And Margery sort of falls for him because Margery doesn’t like to be treated like a child. She’s grown-up and she knows she’s grown-up, but her mother doesn’t know it and this Sherlock Holmes doesn’t seem to see her for a while, and that bothers her. Of course, you can see that she’s really in love with Sherlock all the time, but because Sherlock doesn’t make over her and call attention to the fact she’s grown-up, the way this Dr. Watson does, she sort of goes temporarily for the Watson guy.
“Now, about these crimes — they’re too abstract. You don’t get enough human interest in ‘em. What we’ve got to have is a little of the good old Chandler touch. We’ve got to make Sherlock Holmes more human. In the first place, he’s too aloof from every-
body. We’ve got to give him a few vices. Let him keep a bottle of rye in the bottom drawer of his desk — I see you were sort of groping around for something like this when you had him bitting the hop, but we can’t do that on the screen because of the Hays office and, besides, it ain’t the best angle. The best angle is hootch. People can understand that. You don’t know anybody that jabs himself with a needle. I don’t know anybody that jabs himself with a needle, and the audience doesn’t know anybody that jabs himself with a needle. But you know guys that hit the booze, and I know guys that hit the booze, and the audience knows guys that hit the booze.
“Get the idea, Mr. Doyle?
“But we’ve got to go a little farther than that. We’ve got to make this guy more human. We’ve got to give him some character that the audience can sympathize with. And there ain’t enough action in your stories.
“Now, my idea is that we’ll have Sherlock start out on one of his adventures while Dr. Watson is making a play for Margery. This Sherlock is all wrapped up in the case; and just about the time he begins to get somewhere, he tells Dr. Watson to cover him while he’s making an investigation in an old warehouse. But Dr. Watson is asleep at the switch because he’s making a play for Margery.
“That gives the villains a chance to sneak in without Watson tipping Sherlock off, and first thing Sherlock knows, he’s captured.
“Now there’s where we give the picture a chance to get lough. We have these mugs pretty rough babies. They make wisecracks when they talk, and they’re crisp and up to date. And right away they get tough.
“Sherlock says something to ’em and the leader says, ‘Oh, wise guy, huh?’ and then he smashes him right in the face with a blackjack. Holmes goes down and they all jump on him and start kicking him around.
“Now we can’t have Holmes take all this lying down. He’s pretty athletic despite the fact that he’s sort of slight, so he starts pulling these mugs around, and for a while it looks as though he’s going to make it, licking the whole four of them. But they finally trick him and down he goes.
“Well, then, they’ve got to keep him out of circulation for a while, so they take him to a private nut house and pretend he’s goofy, give the guy a big build-up, and they put him in a padded cell, lock the door on him, and go away and leave him.
“Now that takes care of the first part of the treatment. — Oh, yes, there’s just one other thing. That is about the crimes themselves. Now the audience isn’t going to be interested in a crime that’s just a crime. It’s got to mean something. Now what you’d better do is to have the crimes really important — have, say, a husband and wife and the husband thinks the wife loves him and the wife is a cold little devil, but she puts on the love act all right.
Fools the husband, but it doesn’t fool the audience.
You get me? And all the
time the husband thinks everything is hunky-dory, the wife is all fixed to give him the works.
“Now when she’s going to put this idea across, she needs the help of some other guy that comes in the picture, and the wife starts in getting his help by using sex appeal.
It’s a cold-blooded sex appeal. She shows just as much love as the censor will allow. She pulls the vamp act and he falls for it, but you can see all the time the little devil is just as cold as ice. Back in her brain she’s scheming to kill her husband, and she needs this guy’s help.
“Now, about the time we get this all worked out, Margery begins to wonder where Sherlock Holmes is, and Margery starts in looking for him. That means that the lough mugs have got to get rid of Margery. That’s where this Dr. Watson guy falls down. He ain’t fast enough on his feet. He can’t see the play. So these mugs get Margery and put her in the same hospital where Sherlock is in the padded cell.
“Now, here’s where you got a chance to make Sherlock a smart egg, just like you show him in the books; only this time the way he’s smart means something to the audience. See?
“He learns that Margery is in the hospital. Now he’s in a padded cell and Margery is in danger. Holmes has got to get out of this padded cell.
“Well, I think that gives us enough for our first story conference. You go and block out an outline of the treatment the way I’ve given it to you. Of course, you understand, I’m just hittin’ the high spots. You’ll have to work out the means by which Sherlock Holmes gets out of the padded cell and all that. But remember we have to have him fight his way out.
“There in the first part of the story Sherlock was overcome by the mugs. There were four of them and only one of him, but nevertheless they got him. Now, we’ve got to show the audience that was just sort of an accident, because Sherlock Holmes is really a fit guy to be the hero of this picture. So when we have him break out, we’ll have him lick all of these mugs and, just to show thal the first time was an accident, we’ll throw in a couple more guys. That’ll make six in all. And we can have a great scene out there in the corridor of this hospital, with Sherlock Holmes throwing these boys around. He can trick a couple of them, so he gets them locked in the padded cell. Then he starts throwing the others down a staircase, out through a window, and stuff like that. Lots of action. See?
“While you work out this thing in an outline and submit it. I’ll think it over and give you a buzz when I’m ready to make some more suggestions.
“You see, Mr. Doyle, we producers are pretty human guys, after all. Eh? And we’re going to get something. You bet, we’re going to get something! Don’t worry about that. I’m going to give it all the personal attention it needs to really make it something. I’ve got a lot of screen credits, and I can’t afford to come out with any turkey. It’s got to be good!
“All right, Mr. Doyle, you run along now and get busy on that treatment and after you get the outline in—oh, maybe sometime in a couple of weeks — I’ll read it and give you a buzz. Then we’ll get together and have another conference. By that time we can start on dialogue and gag stuff. After all, you know, we’ve got to have a little humor in the picture. Something like, maybe Holmes is trying to do some trick with a pitcher of water to see how long it will take it to evaporate at a certain temperature. The only place he can find that temperature in the room is high up over the door. So he balances the pitcher on the door, and then this Mrs. What’s-hername comes in, and down comes the water over her.
“But that’s minor stuff. We’ve got some gag men that work on a script and pep it up. What we mainly want out of you, Mr. Doyle, is the plot. You know the characters better than anybody else and
we want you to put ‘em on the screen the way they should be. You did a good enough job in the books, but on the screen your characters have to be convincing.
“But we’ll work together and get it all ironed out, Conan, my boy. You bet we will!”