Biography of Pamela Colman Smith


William Gillette and Pamela Colman Smith



Photo of William Hooker Gillette, signed by Benjamin "Jake" Falk, the top theatrical portraitist in New York.

Photograph of the actor, William Hooker Gillette (1853-1937), in stage costume as Sherlock Holmes. This picture of Gillette was taken in 1899.

One of the illustrations that Pixie Smith made in 1900 for a souvenir brochure depicting the famous Sherlock Holmes stage actor, William Hooker Gillette (1853-1937). Gillette was a cousin of Pamela's father, Charles Edward Smith.

William Gillette built a magnificent mansion in a secluded grove overlooking the Connecticut River in Hadlyme, Connecticut, where he spent his final years. He modeled the structure after the medieval ruins of a German fortress on the Rhine. It is perched high above the Connecticut River, south of Hartford. In 1943, the state of Connecticut bought the property and has maintained it as a public park.

William Hooker Gillette (July 24, 1853 - April 29, 1937) was an American actor, playwright and stage-manager in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is best remembered today for playing the Arthur Conan Doyle character, Sherlock Holmes.

Gillette also made substantial contributions to the theater as a dramatist with realistic stage settings and special sound and lighting effects. He was the first American playwright whose wholly American works, based on American themes, were welcomed and appreciated in England as well as in America.

He was not the first actor to portray Sherlock Holmes but he became best known for that role. Gillette's unique portrayals of Holmes caused the use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe to became integral with the character. The Gillette version of the Holmes image is the one that is universally recognized throughout the world to day. In all, Gillette appeared on stage as the character more than 1300 times over thirty years. He even starred in a silent motion picture based on his play, and provided the voice for the character on two radio performances in the early 1930s.

It was through the Hooker family that Pamela Colman Smith possessed a genealogical connection to William Gillette. Pixie's paternal grandmother, Lydia Lewis Hooker (1805-1877) was directly related to William Gillette's mother, Elisabeth Daggett Hooker (1813-1893). There is an excellent genealogical book available on the Internet entitled:  The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker, Hartford, Connecticut, 1586-1908 (published 1909) which describes all of the members of that particular Hooker family and their spouses, including both of Pamela's parents Charles Edward Smith and Corinne Colman. The following information, from that book, pertains to Elisabeth Daggett Hooker:

1625 Elisabeth Daggett Hooker [Edward (6), Noadiah(5), Joseph (4), John (3), Samuel (2), Thomas (1)], daughter of Edward and Elisabeth (Daggett) Hooker, of Farmington, Conn., b. May 1, 1813, at Farmington, Conn.; m. September 10, 1834, Francis Gillette, son of Ashbell and Achsah (Francis) Gillette of Wintonbury, Conn., b. December 14, 1807, at Wintonbury, Conn. He graduated from Yale College in 1829, studied law, but never practised. In later years he removed from Wintonbury (now Bloomfield) to Hartford, having spent his earlier years as a scientific farmer and literary gentleman at Wintonbury. He was U. S. Senator from Connecticut, and in the later years of his life he was very much interested in educational matters. He also took an active part in the anti-slavery question. He died Sept. 30, 1879, at Hartford, Conn. She died Dec. 16, 1893, at Hartford. They are both buried in the Hooker plot, at Farmington.

Children of Francis Gillette and Elisabeth Daggett Hooker:

2974 Ashbell Frank, b. May 17, 1836, at Wintonbury, Conn.; d. Aug. 4, 1859.

2975 Elisabeth Hooker, b. Dec. 7, 1858, at Wintonbury, Conn.

2976 Edward Hooker, b. Oct. 1, 1840, at Wintonbury, Conn.

2977 Robert Hooker, b. Aug. 1, 1842, at Wintonbury, Conn., d. Jany.16, 1865, at capture of Fort Fisher, N. C; he was Paymaster, U. S. N.; Sophie T. Stoddard, who afterward married his brother Edward, was engaged to him at the time of his death.

2978 Mary Hooker, b. June 24, 1845, at Wintonbury; d. Aug. 27, ! 1847.

2979 William Hooker, b. July 24, 1853, at Hartford, Conn.; m. June 1, 1882, Helen Nickles, daughter of David A. and Pamela (Merrick) Nickles of Detroit, Mich., b. Aug. 3, 1860, at Detroit and died at Cos Cob, Conn., Sept. 1, 1888, and is buried at Farmington, Conn. Mr. Gillette has attained considerable reputation as a successful actor and dramatic writer.

Color illustration that Pixie Smith made in 1900, for a souvenir brochure of the famous stage actor, William Gillette.

The following information from the same book, as cited above, pertains to Lydia Lewis Hooker, the wife of Cyrus Porter Smith; Lydia and Cyrus were the parents of Charles Edward Smith, Pixie Smith's father:

1357 Lydia Lewis Hooker [Bryan (6), Asahel (5), Hezekiah (4), John (3), Samuel (2), Thomas (1)], daughter of Bryan and second wife, Nancy (Lee) (Fuller) Hooker, of Bristol, Conn., b. Aug. 8, 1805, at Bristol, Conn.; m. Sept. 6, 1826, Cyrus Porter Smith, son of Edward and Hannah (Chandler) Smith, of Hanover, N. H. He was a merchant and manufacturer at Brooklyn, N. Y., and became the first elected Mayor of the city. He died at Brooklyn, N. Y., Feb. 13, 1877. She died at Brooklyn, N. Y., April 29, 1877.

Children of Cyrus Porter Smith and Lydia Lewis Hooker:

2629 Helen Louisa, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Aug. 20, 1827; d. Brooklyn, N. Y., Oct. 27, 1828.

2630 Bryan Hooker, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Jan. 29, 1829.

2631 Cyrus Augustus, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Nov. 12, 1830.

2632 Edward Noah, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Oct . 18, 1832; d. Brooklyn, N. Y., Aug. 30, 1843.

2633 Theodore Eanes, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Aug. 11, 1835.

2634 Chandler Perry, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., July 31, 1838; d. Brooklyn, N. Y., Jan. 20, 1841.

2635 Ellen Louisa, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., Feb. 10, 1841.

2636 William Chandler, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., May 17, 1843.

2637 Charles Edward, b. Brooklyn, N. Y., May 27, 1846.

The above information, indicates that Pamela's grandmother, Lydia Lewis Hooker shared three common ancestors with William Gillette's mother Elisabeth Daggett Hooker, viz., the Reverend Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), the immigrant ancestor of the Hooker family; the Reverend Samuel Hooker (1633-1697); and the Honorable John Hooker (1665-1746), judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts Colony from 1724-1732.

The above cited book also briefly mentions Charles Edward Smith as follows

2637 Charles Edward Smith [Lydia (7), Bryan (6), Asahel (5), Hezekiah (4), John (3), Samuel (2), Thomas (1)], son of Cyrus Porter and Lydia Lewis (Hooker) Smith, of Brooklyn, N. Y., b. May 27, 1846, at Brooklyn, N. Y.; m. Sept. 28, 1870, Corinne Colman, daughter of Samuel and Pamelia* (Chandler) Colman. He died at New York, Dec. 1, 1899.

Child of Charles Edward Smith and Corinne Colman:

4208 Corinne Pamelia*, b. Feb. 16, 1878.

* Note that the name "Parmelia" is essentially interchangeable with the name "Pamela"

In 1900, Pamela Colman Smith provided the illustrations for a William Gillette souvenir book. However, I am not aware of any other art commissions that she might have received from him. However, it is known that Gillette collected several examples of her works painted in gouache; they are prominently on display in the permanent collection at his castle (see photo at the top of this page) in East Haddam, Connecticut.


References:  1)  Stuart R. Kaplan, The Artwork and Times of Pamela Colman Smith (2009), pages 5-6.

                         2)  Edward Hooker, The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker, Hartford, Connecticut, 1586-1908 (1909).



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