The role of Watson has not been limited to the small or the large screen. It has also been portrayed on the stage. One of the earliest of these was by Claude King, a man that will become much important in another role in Hollywood years later.
King played the part of Watson in the 1910 play The Speckled Band. This was the play written by Doyle himself in order to save a disastrous situation in which he found himself. He had taken a six month lease on the Adelphi Theatre and started his play House of Temperley. Doyle called it his boxing play and it was not popular with the women because of the boxing scene. Doyle was exceptionally busy at this time between his writing, the play, his support of political and humanitarian changes for the Belgian Congo (his friend Sir Roger Casement was his inspiration) and the development of his “Autowheel” by a company he was majority holder of. (The Autowheel was essentially what we would call a moped; it didn’t catch on.) In the middle of all this King Edward died and the theaters went dark. Numerous plays failed including Temperley. Doyle had a problem; he still had a lease on a theatre with no play. The cost could be ruinous. In days he had a play ready The Speckled Band and it opened on 4 June. Sherlock Holmes was played by H.A. Saintsbury who had played Holmes in the Gillette play; in fact he would play Holmes over 1400 times. Dr. Rylott (nobody seems to know why it changed from Roylott) was played by Lyn Harding. Harding would play the same role in the 1931 movie of the play opposite Raymond Massey and would be Moriarty twice opposite Arthur Wontner.
Reviews of Saintsbury and Harding are splendid with Harding taking the most kudos. Claude King received good reviews but there is little to be gleaned from them except he did a good job. If his later work is any reflection I believe he did an admirable job. In fact, the script makes Watson an essential character to the plot and a strong noble one.
King was born 15 January 1875 in Northampton, England and died 18 September 1941 in Los Angeles, California. He started his acting career in England but in 1919 he moved to the US and the Broadway stage working with people such as Ethel Barrymore. The silent movies had an attraction for King who was a handsome fellow and by 1920 he was on the big screen. He was one of those able to make the transition to talkies and had 137 film credits before his death. He was in the original talking Charlie Chan movie Behind that Curtain (Chan was played by E.L. Park and was in about 10 minutes of the film). His other credits include: Shanghai Express, Sherlock Holmes (1932), Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case, Charlie Chan in London, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and the Philadelphia Story. His greatest achievement in Hollywood was probably as one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild.