top of page

William Hooker Gillette


Born: July 24, 1853
Died: April 29, 1937

William Hooker Gillette


Born: July 24, 1853
Died: April 29, 1937

"I should apologize for being here, but I am a man among Yankees, and they take promises with a grain of salt – in fact they usually take them home and pickle them in brine, so they probably knew I'd be back."
                                                   - William Gillette

William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes –
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center & Connecticut State Library


William Hooker Gillette was born in the Nook Farm neighborhood of Connecticut's capital city, Hartford, on July 24th 1853. William's father, Senator Francis Gillette, was an avid abolitionist and was married to William's mother, Elisabeth Daggett Hooker Gillette. Mrs. Gillette traced her family lineage back to the Connecticut Colony co-founder Thomas Hooker. 

The Nook Farm neighborhood, where William grew up, was laid out and developed by Francis Gillette and his brother-in-law John Hooker. The neighborhood went on to be called home by other celebrities of the era such as Harriet Beecher Stowe
, Mark Twain, and Charles Dudley Warner.

Both the progressiveness of the time period as well as the forward-thinking disposition of his father influenced Gillette's world view, making him open and enthusiastic for learning and experiencing new things. A flair for public speaking and appreciation for the English language set William on a path for theater fame.

Beginnings in Theater

A short stint at both Harvard and Yale, at the age of 20 Gillette began his first apprenticeship as an actor. By this time Gillette had lost two of his brothers, Frank and Robert, so while his father Francis wasn't the most pleased with his son's career choice he supported him nonetheless.

In 1874 William Gillette made his stage debut in Mark Twain's The Gilded Age. Although it was just a small speaking part in his former neighbor's play, it marked the beginning of an illustrious acting career. It was not much long after his debut that Gillette, ever the creative and out-of-the-box individual, realized that a triple role of playwright, director, and actor was the best way for him to be monetarily successful in his career.

This triple role idea became reality in 1881 when he was hired by the Frohman Brothers of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was under their employ that he created The Professor, which debuted at Madison Square Garden and ran for 151 performances.

Personal Life

Mr. William Gillette married Miss Helen Nichols in 1882. Hailing from Detroit originally, Ms. Nichols was an ardent supporter of Gillette and his pursuits on the stage. Unfortunately Helen took ill a few short years after their marriage and she later died in 1888 from complications of a ruptured appendix. The couple did not have any children, nor did Gillette remarry.

To occupy his time, Gillette threw himself into creating new props and devices for work on the stage. Gillette filed and received a patent for an alternate form of producing the noise of a galloping horse, whereas previously it had been created using a coconut shell and marble slate. His creativity was not limited to the stage however: As visitors enter the castle they can take a peek into Gillette's workshop where he designed and created the many unique door knobs, light switches, and other pieces of trim within the castle.

Gillette also invented a unique bar that had hidden latches to keep unwanted guests from drinking his alcohol.

2010 - present
2010 - present
bottom of page