In a Perfect World

flemingMost of us have experienced or heard about “coincidences” that seemed so mysteriously maneuvered that they took our breath away. On such occasions, it seemed that God was alive and well and still concerned about the universe. At such times, we might have thought that, despite millions of indicators to the contrary, there was order, justice and harmony in the world.

Looked at another way, we might have been reminded of Freud’s famous dictum that there are no accidents in life; or viewed from a third perspective, that all things happen for a reason.

I have experienced several such moments, but they pale in comparison with the marvelous old and true story which follows, a tale which might well satisfy proponents of all three of the perspectives mentioned above.

* * * * *

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while working on his near-barren land, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.

There, mired up to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly-dressed man stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said the man. “You saved my son’s life.”

“I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?” the visitor asked.

“Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.

“I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my son will someday enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.”

And that he did.

Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, then went on to become Sir Alexander Fleming, known throughout the world as the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same boy who was saved from the bog was gravely ill with pneumonia.

What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the father? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name?

Sir Winston Churchill.

* * * * *

Another “mysteriously maneuvered” series of events, this one fictitious but nevertheless inspiring: Small-town America, around the beginning of the 20th century. A man yearns for adventure and travel to exotic places but circumstances keep him mired in what he thinks is an utterly unrewarding existence. Finally believing that his life has never touched another soul, he descends into deep despair and attempts suicide.

But the man is saved from drowning and is taken back in time to realize just how much he actually did to benefit the lives of so many other people. One example was his once saving the life of his younger brother, who later saved the lives of hundreds of sailors during World War II. (Movie buffs will recognize the plot of the great Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.)

Yet such heroics cannot compare with those of Sir Winston Churchill who perhaps more than any other single person was responsible for once saving nothing less than Democracy itself.

Sometimes it seems that Divine Intelligence itself is writing the scenario.

“Behind Every Great Achievement Is a Deep Wound…”

peanutsErnest Hemingway once said that the one absolute requirement for becoming a good writer is to have had an unhappy childhood. The eminent playwright Arthur Miller put it like this: many successes in the arts were done by people who had lost a beloved parent early in life, and had spent their careers in trying to metaphorically replace that lost father or mother.

Along that same line, I remember a long-ago moment when my nine-year-old niece told me how lucky I was that I was a writer. Her reason: because I could take all the bad things that had happened to me, put them in stories and make them come out more interesting or more positive than they had been in real life.

I was reminded of this in recently reading a book by David Michaelis called Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography. If ever an artist used misery and romantic agony as his “tools” and hurt and anger as the taproot of his work, it was Charles Schulz, who considered himself as bland, boring and luckless as his comic-strip Freudian alter ego, “Charlie Brown.”

Freud believed that a person’s basic personality is determined by the age of five. From that early age on, we see life as either something to be enjoyed or something to be endured. Schulz’s dark outlook was conditioned by a cold, aloof mother. Early poverty also left him psychologically pockmarked. As a boy, he sometimes went hungry, a deprivation that would years later surface in a line in one of his cartoons: Security is knowing there’s some more pie left.

Like many artistic people, Schulz found grief more inspiring than happiness. The conviction that he never got what he deserved energized his sense of injury and was the inspiration for “Charlie Brown.” Another was the loss of the great love of his life, leaving him with a feeling akin to Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, who died still looking for the “green light at the edge of the pier.”

Could Schulz have been helped by a psychiatrist? He didn’t think so, figuring that while a shrink might make him happier, psychoanalysis would also take away his talent — and the famous cartoonist knew which side of his psyche the butter was on: by the 1990’s, he was earning almost $40 million dollars a year.

What chord had he magically struck that created such resonance in the hearts and minds of people all over the world? In the ‘50s, it hit those who felt guilty over their vague discontent amidst postwar prosperity, and later the cartoons expressed the struggle of young people pondering the meaning of existence. (“Snoopy,” wondering why he was put on Earth: I haven’t the slightest idea.)

Sadly, even at the end, Schulz was still angry: at God, at his friends, at his fate. He died the day before his last cartoon was published. As “Peanuts” ended, so did his life — but how lucky we are to have had Charles Schulz and his beloved characters for as long as we did.

You’ve Come a Lot Way, Nena!

womanIn the past ten years, Mexican women have come farther than even the most optimistic of them could have imagined. Here at Lakeside, women now hold responsible positions at several banks and many important businesses. In Guadalajara, women can be found in the executive offices in virtually every industry and organization. Moreover, the modern Mexican woman has even created a vital place for herself in the world of politics, one of the last all-male bastions to finally fall.

This success has changed the way many women in Mexico now view their country, children, and husbands — a switch in viewpoint and attitude that has filtered down to a younger generation. The message is clear: no longer will the Mexican woman place her deepest dreams and fondest hopes on indefinite hold. The right to self-fulfillment is no longer reserved only for the men of Mexico.

And yet, both the men and women of Mexico still have a long way to go. Consider the following true story. Only the names have been changed (as they used to say on the old Dragnet TV shows) to protect the innocent; and in this case, the guilty, as well.

Maria is in her late 20’s, was born and raised in Ajijic, and as a young girl often migrated north with her family to work in the apple orchards in the state of Washington. Maria married while still in her teens, and today has two young children. She also has a husband, Ektor, who thinks honest work should be outlawed, and who wastes most of his ample free time swilling beer and chasing skirts. Maria has been the sole support of the family for the past several years, usually working as a domestic here at Lakeside.

But Maria has a dream. Two years ago, while up in the States, she enrolled in a trade school and soon mastered shorthand and typing, graduating first in her class (out of a class of 36) and was thought by her teachers an ideal candidate for a good secretarial job. It probably also didn’t hurt that Maria is a very pretty and slim young woman, with a marvelous personality. (Already I can hear the “politically correct” crowd starting to grumble.)

Her husband, however, has other ideas, and recently eloquently conveyed his wishes by breaking Maria’s nose. She is now seeking a divorce. But the first lawyer she went to consented to take her case only if she would have sex with him. Another lawyer in Guadalajara, this one middle-aged and slightly more subtle, advised Maria that he would commence legal proceedings against her husband the moment she was safely settled in his “casita,” that euphemism for a second dwelling, well away from the main house and the not-so-understanding wife.

Yet the biggest disappointment has been Maria’s own mother, who when she first learned of the beating, took sides with her daughter’s husband. It was Maria’s fault! She had given her husband only two children, and he had every right to punish her. The mother had herself given birth to ten kids, and could not understand why Maria had not tried for the same even number. Moreover, as of late, the mother has become convinced that Maria is possessed by a demon, and has asked a local padre if Maria should submit to (ready for this?) an exorcism!

If all this sounds like something out of the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials, that’s also part of the problem. It has been said that in Mexico, the past, present and future always sit facing each other like hostile neighbors.

Maria’s story is as yet without an ending — and another somber reminder that while the women of Mexico have made great strides in the recent past, they still have (to paraphrase the poet Robert Frost) miles to go before they sleep, and promises to keep — mainly to themselves.

My Most Embarrassing Moment

chimpMany years ago and seemingly in someone else’s lifetime, soon after graduating from SMU, I married into a prominent family in Dallas. My wife was a wonderful person and so was her father, who invited me to come into the family business. But I was hell-bent on making a career in the movie industry — an aspiration he thought indicative of mental instability.

For a while, it seemed he was right. But three years later, while still working for an insurance company in Los Angeles, I set out to co-write, produce and direct my first feature film, even though I had never even seen a movie being shot. The film, No Return Address, would eventually make a profit — but the money did not come in time to save my marriage.

Over the next 15 years, I made several more low-budget movies, some warmly received by the critics but most tanked financially. Then, the past reappeared in the lovely form of my ex- wife. To my surprise, she was still living in LA, but would be finally moving back to Dallas in the next few days.

She suggested we have a farewell dinner, and mentioned Chasen’s, a restaurant I had never been in but knew as once having been favored by Humphrey Bogart and many other of filmdom’s rich and famous.

Hey, dinner with a woman who had once meant so much to me, Bogart, Chasen’s, great, right? Wrong — because at that moment in my heavily checkered career, I had some seventy five dollars in my pocket — which might, from all current indications, have to last me for the rest of my life. But the money should be, I thought, enough to get me through the evening with my pretentions unperturbed.

Wrong, again. One look at the menu prices and I immediately considered bolting for the door. Instead, I feigned a slight discomfort that had “robbed me of my appetite.” My comely companion said that my spirits would improve after I’d had a drink — and promptly ordered an expensive bottle of wine.

For the next hour, she sweetly asked me about the state of my film career and personal life — to which I blah-blahed about how wonderful everything was. In reality (a place I occasionally visited but never stayed for long) I had recently lost my Mark VII Jaguar sedan and apartment in Hollywood and had been living with a friend for the past few weeks.

When the check came, it was some $72. Miraculously, I could cover it! But when I got my change, the fair lady whispered that the few dollars on the tray would not be nearly enough to cover the tip — to which I confidently confided that I was a regular customer and would settle the matter after I had escorted her to the parking lot.

Outside, when she asked about my car, I politely said that we should get her car first. Another surprise: for a petite, demure and still svelte woman in her mid-30s, her car was a growling Corvette, more the kind that an Indy 500 driver might have been driving.

As we said goodbye, she kissed me and said how happy she was that everything had turned out so well for me — and with that she roared away. I turned to the young valet. The parking was free, but patrons were expected to tip the help. I had just started to go through my song and dance when the punk sneered, “Forget it, pal. You need the money worse than me.”

I must have turned beet red before starting the long walk back to my friend’s place. He had recently rented a sparsely-furnished house, and having but one bed, he had put blankets and a pillow into a long, empty window flower box — and that very same embarrassing night, a would-be burglar opened the window and easing himself into the house planted a foot right in my face.

Ah, but that’s another humiliating story.

Life Can Be a Bitch

Ajijic ManI first arrived in Chapala some twenty-five ago with a motor home, two cars, two dogs and a distinctly dismal-looking future. I was coming off a couple of years in Hollywood where I had developed an acute case of the Midas Touch in Reverse and had finally decided that if I couldn’t change my luck, at least I would change my location.

Quite by accident, I found a lovely little trailer park right down by the Lake Chapala where a space cost only sixteen dollars a month. The park was owned by a Mexican family that had been there since 1936, and in accordance with ejido law, was still farming a small portion of the property. The family’s youngest grandson, Carlitos, was in charge of the park. He was an industrious, fun-loving young man and because I knew no one else at Lakeside, we soon became good pals.

Then one day, two attorneys arrived from Guadalajara to inform the family that they were squatting on private property. Stunned, the family quickly collected legal documents going back several decades. Undeterred, the lawyers came again, this time with a pickup truck brimming over with black-shirted police. When one of the cops poked a pistol against the head of the matriarch of the family, the matter was “legally” settled. The lawyers brusquely informed the park’s gringo tenants that they had 15 days to move out.

Many of them, elderly and living on Social Security, didn’t know what to do or where to go. In desperation, they petitioned the American Consulate in Guadalajara, and a young officer happened to arrive at the trailer park just as the lawyers were berating the remaining residents. When the young consul officer voiced a mild objection, the attorneys yelled at him, as well, saying he had no authority to intervene.

I’ll never forget what came next. The young man, in a cool, measured voice, said that where he did have authority was in the US Consulate, where he was in charge of approving all visa applications to the United States filed by residents from the state of Jalisco — and perhaps someday the lawyers or their families would be standing before his desk.

Had he slapped them across the face, their expressions could not have looked more startled. Instantly, contempt turned to cordiality as the shysters did everything but fall to their knees and ask for forgiveness. At that moment, I was very proud of the good ole US of A.

But the retort only stalled the eventual final outcome. Carlitos, along with the rest of his family, was thrown off of his own property. Later, he made a shack down by the water and became a fisherman. He also became addicted to alcohol in its crudest form (this included mixing rubbing alcohol with various ingredients) and only a few years afterward suffered a severe stroke which left him while still in his 20’s with a shuffling gait and garbled speech.

Today he can be seen limping along the highway in his big straw hat, his black dog trailing behind him. I often stop to talk to him, though he does not remember me. But I remember him. He was the first friend I made at Lakeside and I have often wondered how things might have otherwise turned out, had those lawyers not arrived that afternoon of so many years ago to completely blacken out his future.

Years ago, an American president with enormous power and prestige nevertheless observed that life is unfair. I can’t imagine what my old friend Carlitos must think, if indeed he can still think?

The Mexican-American Soldier

When the United States first entered WWII in December of 1941, there were more than two and a half million people of Mexican descent living in the US, eighty-five percent of whom resided in five states: New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California and Texas.

But in early 1941, an order had already been issued by the commander of the 36th Infantry Division that a new unit be formed, comprised only of Hispanic-Americans. The mandate included both officers and enlisted men.
Whether the order was discriminatory cannot be easily judged. What is indisputable is that it gave rise to what later became one of the most highly-decorated fighting units in American history.

The new unit, called E Company, became part of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division, later to be known as the Texas Volunteers. The all-Hispanic rifle company quickly drew many recruits from every part of the Southwest, including many men who had long been members of the National Guard in their home-states.

The rifle company soon became noted for its excellence. The remaining question was how well it would do in actual combat, a doubt that was resoundingly settled when the Texas Volunteers stormed the Italian beach at

Salerno and began blasting up toward its ultimate goal: the Eternal City of Rome.

But then came several elements which in combination dealt the American forces a stunning counter-punch. The Germans held the high-ground at Monte Cassino, from where they could shell the US troops below with shattering accuracy. The terrain had also grown steep and rocky, and with the driving sheets of rain, the entire area became a swamp. Hundreds of Sherman tanks sat stalled alongside washed-out roads.

The Italian campaign had boiled down to that most basic element in any army: the foot soldier. It was now his war to either win or lose. The first major objective was to successfully cross the raging Rapido River. To accomplish this, the 156 men of E Company were ordered to make the crossing first, though it was known they would be facing more than 3000 Germans on the other side, armed with heavy machine guns, mortars and even light cannons.

Why such a pitifully small group of men, all of whom had been in combat for three straight weeks and some of which could barely walk, was sent out on such an impossible mission is something that even now, some 70 years later, is still hotly debated. Of the original striking force, only 23 men made it back to their own side of the river and of those, a dozen later died.

Even so, by the end of the war, E Company had won more medals for bravery than some entire regiments, while overall, Hispanic soldiers had been awarded more Congressional Medals of Honor (in ratio to their numbers) than almost any other ethnic group.

Yet despite their outstanding combat record, these same heroes were initially denied membership in both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. But that history of outstanding achievement has had its way over the past several decades and today every branch of the US military is packed with high-ranking Mexican-American officers.

Moreover, the leadership of both the VFW and the American Legion has often been held by Mexican-Americans.

The philosopher who once said that “the wheels of fate grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine” was not wrong.

If Life Could Only Imitate Art

ChristArt must always — if it is to have any claim to legitimacy — imitate Life. Yet how sad that life cannot more often imitate art, which can sometimes contain a higher truth than reality itself. I was reminded of this recently when I saw (for the fifth time) one of the most inspirational movies ever made, the monumental 1959 version of Ben Hur.

The film is subtitled “A Tale of the Christ,” and like its earlier silent version was adapted from a novel written more than 140 years ago by General Lew Wallace, who had fought in the American Civil War. The story, set at about the time of the birth of Christ, is about a Jewish nobleman, Ben Hur, and his closest childhood friend, Messala, a Roman. When Messala is later given an important post in Judea, he savagely turns on Ben Hur and sets out to destroy him and his family.

But Ben Hur miraculously survives years of brutal labor — first in the salt mines of Abyssinia, later as a galley slave in a Roman war ship — to eventually return to Judea to join forces with an Arab to vanquish Messala in a chariot race (perhaps the most spectacular action sequence ever filmed, which purportedly resulted in serious injuries to several stunt men). His victory is vitiated, however, when he learns that his mother and sister, after enduring years of confinement in a hideous Roman prison, have become lepers.

Cancerous with rage and haunted by spiritual emptiness, Ben Hur later learns of a young Jewish prophet who has been condemned to death by crucifixion. Standing among the crowd as Jesus of Nazareth finally expires, Ben Hur ruminates that “even as he died, I could feel his voice take the sword from my hand.”

Consider these two elements — all the more relevant in these current days of slaughter and strife in the very part of the world where the story is set: A Jew links his hand and destiny with that of an Arab to defeat the despicable Roman (i.e. terrorists), then this same Jew finds inner peace through the example of a martyr whose life and death become the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Yet the film was made by Jews: William Wyler (director), Sam Zimbalist (producer), and Karl Tunberg (screenwriter).

Consider also that the film itself is today greatly admired by Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Jews and Christians alike. One reason is that the film-makers chose to keep Christ’s miracles to a bare minimum, in effect saying that even if Jesus had not performed the many miracles mentioned in the New Testament, indeed was perhaps not really the Son of God, His was a life and death that nevertheless should inspire men for all time.

But take the case one step further to ponder whether Jesus ever actually existed, for most of what we truly know of Him was written much later by men who never knew him. The film’s answer (and mine as well) is so what? Those who wrote about Him were nonetheless inspired, for they have left us with what tens of millions of people have always regarded “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Those same millions believe that story gave the world the most beautiful blueprint for living that has ever been put to paper — and for me, that is more than good enough.

Now if only life could, for a change, imitate art.

A Triumphant Failure

GauginMany years ago, I was commissioned to write a screenplay about the life and career of the painter Paul Gauguin, a task I approached with some reluctance. I had seen the movie Lust for Life, a terrific film (which was more about Vincent Van Gogh than Gauguin), but one which (in Anthony Quinn’s Oscar-winning performance) depicted Gauguin as a brutish lout and world-class egotist.

My aversion was not relieved as I began to read several books about Gauguin, including a not-so-fictitious novel about him, The Moon and Sixpence, written by Somerset Maugham. Then I studied the so-called masterpieces which Gauguin had painted but they struck me as intellectually simplistic and technically primitive. Yet here I admit to a personal quirk: the past masters whose work I greatly admire (Millet, Monet) led lackluster lives, while the painters whose work I don’t especially like (such as Van Gogh) had lives that were the blistering stuff of memorable drama.

Paul Gauguin was no exception.

Born in 1848, the year of the Second French Revolution, he later married a Danish woman related to the Royal House of Denmark. Anxious to support his growing family, he became a stockbroker and an instant financial success. He also began to paint. Becoming obsessed with painting, he deserted his wife and children, and with a mistress in tow, went to Tahiti where he hoped to reconcile in his work the barbarous character of the native idols with the sensitivity of European tradition. Returning to France, he was injured in a brawl and was unable to stop his mistress from fleeing to Paris — with all his work.

Nearly penniless and in failing health, he returned to Tahiti, where he did another 44 paintings. A subsequent showing in Paris was, however, a crushing defeat for him, though with one sublime moment: The painter Degas, as famous as Gauguin was unknown, told him that “someday the name of Gauguin will be remembered long after my own has been forgotten.” It was a supreme act of kindness from one artist to another, though the gesture reflected more favorably on Degas than Gauguin, who was still a self-centered albeit ailing manipulator.

However, in reading about his last few years I changed my mind about both Gauguin and the project at hand.

Considering himself an abysmal failure, he returned to the South Seas, where he established a small newspaper which he used to expose corruption among the ruling French elite, as well as their brutal treatment of the natives. He also fought against the prejudices of the Catholic Church, angrily vowing that he wanted to be buried anywhere but in a Catholic graveyard.

Gauguin died at age 55, and (of course) the French buried him in a Catholic cemetery. There a handful of bureaucrats gathered to gleefully ridicule him. But as a stiff wind came up from the sea (as legend has it), the tall grass moved toward the other side of the hill — and there stood more than 1000 Polynesians, heads bowed in a silent salute for the narcissistic European who nevertheless had become their courageous champion. Gauguin had failed to be recognized in his lifetime as a great success, but in his last year he found something far greater than fame. He had finally found a cause bigger than himself.

(I tell this story because I hope it will resonate with many of our readers who also have come to live out their remaining years in an exotic foreign country, hoping to discover some sublime, selfless activity that they have never found before.)

The Freedom Train

CollectionRecently I saw an old newsreel about “The Freedom Train.” Originating in Los Angeles shortly after the end of the Second World War, the train started east with three box cars loaded with food donated by the public for the malnourished children in war-torn France and Italy. By the time the train had made dozens of stops across the heartland of America, and finally reached Staten Island, where the food would be loaded onto freighters bound for Europe—it was pulling more than 300 box cars loaded with food. As I watched the film and the food being unloaded before thousands of emaciated European children, all cheering and waving American flags, I got a lump in my throat.

But I had to wonder: Whatever happened to my beloved country, once the most admired nation on the face of the Earth, today under GW Bush the most vilified. Poll after poll taken throughout Europe, as well as all over Latin America and much of Asia, show that the United States is today one of the most despised countries in the entire world.

So what the hell happened?

A personal recollection: I first visited Lakeside in 1963, and in several humble dwellings, I was amazed to often see, right next to a photo of Pope John XXIII, a photograph of John F. Kennedy. Today, can you imagine a picture of any recent US president gracing the home of a poor Mexican family?

I also remember Kennedy once saying that the US was at a critical juncture in its history: it could become either another Greece or another Rome. Kennedy hoped it would be the former. An avid student of history, JFK had a prescient notion of what eventually might happen to a modern-day imperial dynasty.

The American people must suspect the same thing, for almost every recent poll shows that close to 75% of them today believe that the US is “headed in the wrong direction.” And yet 25% continue to fervently believe that America can do no wrong; worse (remembering Santayana’s dictum about how those who ignore history are bound to repeat its mistakes), that America has never done anything wrong!

But here are just a few mistakes which have so severely soured world-wide opinion of the United States. Items:

• Its dismantling of international treaties which had remained in force for several decades.

• Its role as the world’s worst polluter, while hogging a wildly disproportionate amount of the world’s energy.

• Its failure to remain an honest power broker in the Middle East — thus engendering hatred toward the US among hundreds of millions of Arabs and Moslems.

• Its political evolvement into a theocracy with a holier-than-thou attitude which implies that it alone is doing God’s work here on Earth.

• Its failure to address the monumental problem of global warming, hence putting the entire planet at risk and gaining for itself the unenviable reputation of an “anti-science” government.

• Infuriating much of the world with its “for us or against us” black/white mentality whose simplistic attitudes are right out of a grade-Z cowboy movie.

Oh, maybe I’ve lived abroad for too long. But I still love America and deeply resent that its former image as The Shining Beacon on the Hill is now a tarnished memory. Like most Americans, I yearn for the day when I can again be fiercely proud of my country.

History’s Most Fascinating Fictional Hero

doyleImagine a character so interesting that when his creator tried to kill him off, waves of dismay came from English-language readers all over the world. This same character would give rise to exclusive clubs in dozens of major cities, organizations whose sole purpose was to keep his memory alive. The British government would even create a museum in his honor, situated at the fictional address of his home in the heart of London. Finally, envision someone so compelling that many books and thousands of articles have been written about him as if he was an actual person.

If you guessed this imposing personage to be Sherlock Holmes, chances are that you’re as huge a devotee of his as I am. I became hooked on the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy growing up in West Texas — about as far from the dark and enigmatic late 19th century backgrounds of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories as it was possible to get — and I was always especially thrilled by that moment in some of his stories when Holmes would awaken Dr. Watson in the middle of the night to whisper, “Come Watson, the game is afoot.”

The stories started in the late 1800s, when Conan Doyle, a newly-licensed young eye doctor, began to sketch out a story about a “consulting detective,” while he waited for patients that never came. That story, A Study in Scarlet, brought into the fictional world a detective like none other before him. Doyle’s genius was in giving the reader the same clues that were given to Sherlock Holmes — which added to our amazement when he deduced things we “saw but never perceived.” The author sold the copyright to the story (which was as long as a novelette) for a mere 25 pounds, but no matter. Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes were off on the ride of a lifetime.

Before that ride came to an end, Doyle had become an immensely successful author (he, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, among the most celebrated Irish writers of that entire century), and so famous for his own strong deductive powers that he was sometimes called in by Scotland Yard to help with especially difficult cases. But deductive reasoning aside, there was so much more to the character of Sherlock Holmes (most always written about by his faithful companion, “Doctor Watson”) that often the prologues of the stories, presenting Holmes — the obsessive, cynical man — were as interesting as the crimes he solved.

And what mysteries they were! Often set in exotic locales, with an unforgettable cast of characters and villains that made those in the James Bond stories seem like cardboard cutouts — attributes that would inexorably lead Holmes to the movies.

Eventually, some 180 (!) Sherlock Holmes films were made (the best feature the British actors Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett). One entirely original film (written and directed by Nicholas Meyer) had Sigmund Freud help the master detective overcome his addiction to cocaine, as well as resolve some deep-seated psychological problems.

Doyle, in the second half of his life, would turn his formidable intellect to the greatest mystery of all: what happens to us after we die. Never a dilettante, he became world-renowned as an expert in paranormal psychology. He would also, over the course of a long career, write critically-acclaimed novels, among them The White Company and The Refugees.

Yet for me, none had that spell-binding late-night moment in the Holmes stories in which I used to imagine him whispering to me, “Come, young man, the game is afoot.”

(By the way, my belated thanks to all those potential patients of Doctor Doyle’s who never came to see him.)