Toast to Chris Steinbrunner (The Return of the Priory Scholars NYC)
(What follows was originally posted on Always1895.net back in July 2012. We hope to collect more toasts from our past two PSNYC events (and future events) and post them on the PSNYC Blog for posterity as well as inspiration to would-be Sherlockian toasters.)
By Matt Laffey
On June 30, 2012 I had the honor of co-hosting an event which marked the re-birth/re-boot of a venerable and storied Sherlock Holmes scion society, originally founded in 1954, called The Priory Scholars of NYC. One of my duties was to give a toast to the group’s original founder Chris Steinbrunner. Though I hope over the coming months to delve more deeply and systematically into the life and times of Mr Steinbrunner - and formally report those findings here, on the PSNYC webpage and/or in articles for Sherlockian journals - my toast was meant to evoke the spirit of a man who not only founded the PSNYC, but who also set the precedent for what it meant (and will mean) to be a Priory Scholar.
For more information about the history and future of the Priory Scholars, please visit the recently launched webpage at PrioryScholarsNYC.com, join the Facebook page and/or follow @PrioryNYC on Twitter.
The following is a toast given by Matt Laffey on June 30, 2012 for The Return of the Priory Scholars of NYC.
Katherine Karlson (ASH, BSI) in her Summer 1993 The Serpentine Muse obituary* for Chris Steinbrunner wrote that his “love of the cinema, mystery and fellow Sherlockians had no peer, but his memory can serve as a beacon for us all to see by…”
Since 1954 that beacon has been powered by the scion society he founded, whose name eventually became known as The Priory Scholars of NYC. Simply looking around the room today serves as a testament to the luminosity and efficacy of that beacon as we eat, drink and converse together.
I am honored to be party to re-stoking that sometimes blazing, sometimes just barely flickering fire that Steinbrunner first started all those years ago on the Fordham campus. Designed to light the way for a few New York-area Sherlockians seeking the safe harbor of friendship, scholarship and canonical revelry, The Priory Scholars meetings/projects of the past embodied these three essential characteristics. Though times have changed and the world (Sherlockian and otherwise) is a radically different place after 58 years, safe harbor is still sought after and Steinbrunner’s legacy is a well-lit path to the friendship, scholarship and canonical revelry which I hope we will all experience today and during future PSNYC happenings.
Though the Reichenbach inevitably claims the mortal bodies of even the most pre-eminent among us (as it did Steinbrunner almost 20 years ago), it’s comforting to know that the spirit of those that came before can still light our way and inspire us as Sherlockians. It is to Chris Steinbrunner that we graciously dedicate this triumphant return of the Priory Scholars of NYC.
To our founder and ever-present beacon, Mr Peter Christian Steinbrunner!**
* Katherine Karlson, “Stand with me here upon the terrace”, The Serpentine Muse, Vol. 12, No. 1, Summer 1993, pp. 7-8. Also, check out Ms Karlson’s book Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes for a look at “the changes and challengers real women faced in the nearly half century during which the famous detective stories were published.”
** Stay-tuned to Always1895 as well as the Priory Scholars of NYC websites for a full event review as well as the deliciously difficult quiz given by PSNYC quizmaster Nick Martorelli as well as opening remarks by PSNYC’s headmistress Judith Freeman, and depending on how the recording turned out an mp3 of the singing of The Priory Scholars Song led by songstress Mickey Fromkin!
Review: The Films of Sherlock Holmes by Steinbrunner & Michaels
When not producing radio shows and starting scions, Chris Steinbrunner* wrote the occasional article or book. One of his best known Sherlockian offerings is the over-sized tome The Films of Sherlock Holmes, which he co-wrote with fellow Priory Scholar Norman Michaels**.
[Cover for the hardback version of The Films of Sherlock Holmes.]
The first edition of The Films of Sherlock Holmes came out in 1978 (Citadel Press) and features pretty much every major Sherlock Holmes film ending on 1976’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. This fact alone makes Films a fascinating historical ‘snapshot’ of a time before Granada’s Jeremy Brett won over legions of fans and cemented a new image of Holmes in the minds of viewers at a level even greater than the Rathbone years (c. 1939-1946). Out of 252 pages, 120 are given over to a discussion and photographs of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s take on Holmes and Watson.
Steinbrunner and Michael’s approach is, in their own words “a lighthearted chronicle of [Holmes’] film career.” Each chapter begins with a thorough synopsis of one of the films and then describes it’s reception by audiences and critics. For the important films the authors provide light yet insightful analysis, often citing a wealth of insider information that helps to contextualize a film as both the product of the times and/or as a novel approach to adapting the life and times of Sherlock Holmes.
[Cover for the paperback version of The Films of Sherlock Holmes.]
The final chapter, ‘The Future’, though only a few paragraphs in length, is interesting both for it’s prescience in imagining what the future might hold for the cinematic union of Holmes and the movies as well as some rather odd predictions. This book was also written in those antediluvian days immediately proceeding the ‘home video’ revolution (VCRs, DVDs, digital recorders and now internet streaming) when everything would change in regards to the availability of obscure and semi-obscure Holmes films. Still, there’s a certain charm to a world where high priests of media (like Steinbrunner and Michaels) would track down, curate and then show individual films in a communal setting. Twenty-five years later, even though we view and interact with these films in an entirely different way than Sherlockians did in the proceeding six decades, we can still appreciate the enthusiasm and critical engagement felt by viewers who kept the silver screen green.
Perhaps one of the most gratifying little gems in Films is the ‘Acknowledgements’ blurb hidden on the copywrite page: “Many, many Sherlockians opened their treasures of rare materials to help the research and the reconstructions found in this book, but we must especially thank Peter Blau, Robert Watson Douty, John Cocchi, Ray Cabana, Jr., William K. Everson, Ricahard Katz, Jon Lellenberg, Tyke Niver, Donald Novorsky, and the Baker Street Cinematograph, as well as the pioneering groundwork done by the Priory Scholars.”
* Chris Steinbrunner: is an executive involved in film acquisition for RKO Television. He has also written and produced many TV specials including The Incredible James Bond and The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes. He has contributed frequently to film study journals and radio talk shows, directs a film club called the Armchair Detective Cinema, and is the editor of The Third Degree, the journal of the Mystery Writers of America. Among his published works The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection and Cinema of the Fantastic (both in collaboration with Otto Penzler). Mr Steinbrunner lives in New York City, where he is now working on an Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
** Norman Michael: is a member of the Priory Scholars of the Baker Street Irregulars, the group dedicated to keeping green the memory of Sherlock Holmes. He has one of the most complete collections of Sherlockian film and lore, including a voluminous still library. For many years he and Chris Steinbrunner have presented screenings of nearly every Holmesian film player for the Irregulars. (from ‘About the Authors’ on the dust jacket.)
[By Matt Laffey]
The Return of the Priory Scholars of NYC!
Welcome to the online home of The Priory Scholars of NYC, a Sherlock Holmes scion society. Founded in 1954 by the venerable Sherlockian Chris Steinbrunner (1934 - 1993) and others, the Priory Scholars (or PSNYC) have been an active group for the better part of half a century - going on hiatus only twice for the years: 1970 - 1983 and then 2007 until 2011.
Just like “The Empty House” heralded the return of the Great Detective, we are happy to announce the resurrection of the Priory Scholars of NYC. Hoping to rekindle the energy and enthusiasm that historically marked PSNYC gatherings, we plan to stay true to PSNYC’s legacy while also exploring what it means to be a scion society in the 21st century. Currently we are planning events for 2012 in Manhattan (our first formal dinner is at the end of June!) with the express intent of reuniting with previous members as well as attracting a new generation of dedicated Sherlock Holmes-enthusiasts interested in partaking in traditional scion activities as well as exploring the potential of the future of Sherlockian culture.
In order to write a new chapter in the story of an old society, we will draw from the wealth of experience of older/experienced Sherlockians while simultaneously employing some of the more useful tools that that 21st century has to offer:
On the Web:
The post that you’re reading is the first from the PSNYC’s new website which can be found at: PrioryScholarsNYC.com which is currently hosted via PrioryNYC.Tumblr.com - so if you use Tumblr, feel free to ‘Follow’ us and ‘Like’ our posts. You will also be able to access us (in a slightly different way…) using PrioryNYC.com.
Many Sherlockians the world over can be found Keeping the Memory Green on Twitter and there is a growing, informal, Sherlock Holmes-centric scene composed of loosely associated twitter users (e.g. check out ‘followers’ and ‘following’ on my personal twitter account @always1895). The PSNYC’s twitter account can be found here: @PrioryNYC.
Sometimes you want to express yourself in more characters than a twitter post but with less effort than a blog post, hence the usefulness of the ubiquitous Facebook. Please ‘Like’ and leave comments on our Facebook group PrioryNYC.
If you would like to contact us privately please send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
In future posts, along with news and announcements, we will delve into the history of The Priory Scholars of NYC - like the time in 1985 when Jeremy Brett attended a PSNYC dinner (!) - and meet the myriad of Sherlockians who participated in PSNYC meetings, dinners, film viewings, radio plays, publications, etc. With so much in store for the society that was founded all those years ago by Chris Steinbrunner, it seems only natural to dedicate our first post to Mr Steinbrunner’s memory and end on a quote from his obituary written by Katherine Karlson, ASH, BSI (“The Evening Standard”):
“[Steinbrunner’s] love of the cinema, mystery, and fellow Sherlockians had no peer, but his memory can serve as a beacon for us all to see by.” (“Stand with me here upon the terrace.“ The Serpentine Muse, 12, No. 1 (Summer 1993), 7-8.).
[By Matt Laffey]