JB Fact File: Joan Wilson
Joan and Jeremy married on the 22nd of November 1977. Her death on July 4, 1985,
eventually led to major turmoil in Jeremy's life. "We had a decade together," he said of
his soul mate. "I loved her dearly, she was so beautiful and gutsy."
They shared a birthday - November 3 - and a common bond.
"We had a once-in-a-lifetime love" he has said. "She was an incredible person, the best
wife a man could have. This was the kind of relationship where I would start a sentence
and she would finish it. Sometimes you can see behind somebody's eyes and feel as if you
have known them all your life. That's how it was."
Joan had gone to see Design for Living in 1973 in London and saw Jeremy on stage.
She declared, "That's the man for me!"
Later, she interviewed him for Classic Theatre -- to introduce his performance in The Rivals
when it aired on PBS. According to Joan, it was love at first take: "My audio man put
together a video cassette and you could see the chemistry."
Here's some background information about Joan from a Boston Globe article, Joan Wilson bids for Masterpieces, Dec. 13, 1980:
She was executive producer of public television's Masterpiece Theatre as well as Classic Theatre, Piccadilly Circus and Mystery! Her
official bio listed her as "a Scorpio born in Wisconsin." A believer in
the occult, her black Mustang ... bears a plate that reads "WITCH." She
has been married three times ("four, if you count another relationship
that was never formalized") and has two children -- Caleb and Rebekah.
regarded Caleb and Rebekah Sullivan as his children -- a legacy for him
from Joan -- and kept in touch with them after her death, as well as
Joan and Jeremy thrived on work,
and their absences from one another must have made their hearts grow
fonder! During one span in 1980, Joan recounted, "I spent a week with
Jeremy in January. In February, we got together when Mobil threw a
party for Masterpiece Theatre. In April, I saw him in London.
Mostly, he stays in Los Angeles and I'm here in Boston. We see each
other in different places -- wherever we happen to be."
Joan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1984, when Jeremy was working on the first Sherlock Holmes series.
In a 1991 interview on NPR,
Jeremy said: "I knew at the end of The Final Problem in '84
that she had cancer, and the lights really went out in my life. ... We
were going to do all the treatment in England and then we decided to do
it in Boston because she ... worked for WGBH."
be near her and keep working, Jeremy took on two projects in New York
City -- co-starring inAren't We All? and serving as a narrator
She died on July 4, 1985, and
Jeremy continued in Aren't We All? through July 23. "I dont
know how I did those performances," he told NPR. "And I was contracted
to start [Sherlock Holmes] again on September the 3rd of that year. And
they said, 'Well, Jeremy, it may help if you get back on the bike.' ...
And I did the next five films with the most appalling ill grace Im
afraid. I mean, I just didnt want to do them.
then I had ... an almighty breakdown. And when I came through that,
thanks entirely to my darling son, David, who was a valiant friend to
me through that ... I got back on the bike again! (chuckles) And I
remember saying, 'If I can get to Manchester [where Sherlock Holmes was
filmed], Ill be all right.' And then I made The Sign of
Four and I began ... to feel better with Holmes, and I wasnt
quite so ... cross with him, 'cause I blamed him a little. I was
working, you see, so far away from Joan, and it had taken up so much of
... our last few years. And ... you know, time is the great healer. And
now ... actually, Caleb, my eldest, my legacy from Joan, says that Im
looking much better than hes seen me in years.
"So, slowly, slowly, slowly. You never get over a loss like that. You get used to it but you never get over it."
American television and radio personality, Robert Aubry Davis, recalls witnessing Jeremy's grief at first hand:
|We planned a fund-raising event on television, and a two-hour long version of the popular BBC radio |
program "Desert Island Discs" (the guest chooses the five recordings he would take with him to a
island, the music being a means to explore the subject's life and
personality). [...] the choices ended with the piece of music Mr.
Brett and his wife danced to on the last New Year's Eve before her
death, indeed, on her last "good" day.
The fact that both
Mr. Brett and his wife shared a birthday (November 3rd), and their bond
was forged in the context of Mr. Brett portraying Sherlock Holmes
(all explained in the program), only intensified
for the other two of us in the radio studio (my producer, Juliette
Weinstein, was a witness to what is about to be revealed).
Brett began to tell us as he listened to the music every detail of that
last happy night together. Suddenly (shocking even us), he fell into a
complete collapse, doubling over in pain. He began to shudder with
sobs. Juliette and I exchanged glances--there was more to the show,
after all... and then, Mr. Brett fell to the floor. He began first to
crawl towards the door. Then--in an unprecedented occurrence in my
professional career-- fell into a prone position, as a soldier does
when under fire. Pulling himself along in this manner, he squeezed out
of the door to the studio.
being Saturday, the building was nearly empty. The record ended.
Juliette and I snapped out of a trance-like state, sprang to the
door...and he was gone. Literally. From the studio, from our lives.
Joan Sullivan, Producer, Classic Theatre Preview and Classic Theatre: the Humanities in Drama (from Viewer Guide):
world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities;
but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and
who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for
us an inhabited garden." I associate these words of Goethe with the
communion I have experienced, the joy I've shared, the consolation in
sadness and loneliness I've felt, and the insight I've gained from a
variety of experiences with great plays of our theatrical heritage. As
I screened over one hundred dramas available for this series, I based
my choices on the degree to which the intent of the dramatic material
was fulfilled through excellence of performance and presentation. I had
no preconceived idea of choosing "classic" plays, which for me are
simply the very best that survive. But as the choices narrowed down to
dramas not considered "contemporary," I also saw the opportunity to
make some contribution to the revival for a larger public than is
within the reach of "live" theatre in this country of a tradition of
literature that eloquently and powerfully speaks to the guts and minds
of humanity in any age. I invite you to watch the television previews
that precede each drama. These half-hour programs were designed to
complete the theatre experience for you. They are your theatre
playbill. Each program offers an intimate conversation with an
individual who has devoted his professional life to the study,
teaching, translating or performing of this great literature. These
conversations, with highlights from the plays, as well as short
pictorial essays about the playwright and the social and theatrical
history of his time, are for your further enjoyment of the drama. You
will also share conversations with leading players in the productions,
videotaped in London settings historically associated with the plays.