Sunday, November 14, 2021

Interesting Interview: Mickey Fromkin

This week's Interesting Interview might be the most beloved Sherlockian out there: Mickey Fromkin.  Anyone who's met Mickey knows that my words can't even come close to capturing how delightful she is!  Half of one of the true power couples in Sherlockiana with her late wife, Susan Rice, Mickey has been a fixture in so many things: The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, the whole New York Sherlockian scene, The William Gillette Memorial Luncheon, and more scholarship than you can shake a stick at.

But Mickey is quick to give everyone else the credit for all of her involvement.  Truly, if you look at anything big in Sherlockiana from the past 40 years, you will probably find Mickey's name somewhere in the fine print.  And that's because she doesn't want the credit.  Mickey contributes so much to our hobby because she really enjoys it and chooses to spend her energy creatively.  (Side note, she even responded to my initial email about being interviewed this week by saying she didn't know if she was interesting enough!)  I think you'll agree with me that this interview is long overdue and Mickey Fromkin is way more than interesting, she's a Sherlockian treasure.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it, and the subject of much debate. First of all, I subscribe to the notion that “all Holmes is good Holmes,” and that anyone who self-identifies as a Sherlockian is a Sherlockian. It’s rather like religion. In fact, I list “Orthodox Sherlockian” as my religion in my Facebook profile. 

It’s not just a hobby or a literary preference, but a way of life. We have our Sacred Writings, our scholarship, our rituals (Musgrave and otherwise), our music, our fellowship. As in other religions, some of us are strict fundamentalists, some dogmatists, some ritualists, some exclusionary (tsk), some welcoming (yay!), some simply social. I had a friend who called himself a back-door Sherlockian; he absorbed Sherlockian knowledge by osmosis from hanging around with Sherlockians. Another friend of more than 55 years became a member of the Sons of the Copper Beeches and ASH within the past couple of years. We do recruit!

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was a late bloomer. Unlike the fortunate souls who discovered Holmes around the age of eleven or so, I didn’t have any real Sherlockian experience until I was in my early thirties. Oh, I suppose I read a story or two in schoolbooks, and saw a few Rathbone/Bruce movies on the television.  I even bought a deerstalker in London in 1965, but I just thought it was a practical winter hat. 

I first read the Canon In its entirety when I acquired Baring-Gould’s Annotated in college through the book club that advertised in the New York Times, but no bells rang. Like almost everything good in my life, I owe becoming a Sherlockian to my beloved late wife, Susan Rice. When we met and fell in love in 1980, she swept me into her Sherlockian world, and dragged me to a life-changing and never-ending series of happy gatherings with Our Tribe. By May, 1981 we had both joined ASH; by 1994 we had both been invested in the Baker Street Irregulars, and the rest is history. 

What is your previous profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I’m a retired civil servant, so other than a fellow-feeling with Mycroft, my profession was largely unconnected to my Sherlockian life. I worked for 30 years in the Social Security Disability program, which involved evaluating medical reports, so I suppose I also had the Watsonian connection as well. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I know this isn’t an earth-shaking choice, but it’s hard to beat The Hound of the Baskervilles, though choosing one story is a bit like choosing one’s favorite child. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

It’s glib to respond by saying there are no uninteresting Sherlockians. It’s also false, but fortunately the uninteresting ones are few, far-between, and still generally lovely people. Many of the most interesting Sherlockians have been the subjects of previous interviews here, but one notably interesting person has not been (unless I’m very much mistaken): Evelyn Herzog. 

Evy has been the Principal Unprincipled Adventuress since 1968 (!), and it’s almost inconceivable that women would have the place we now occupy in the Sherlockian world without her. She’s smart as a whip, startlingly funny, a true scholar, and the warmest, most welcoming friend one could imagine. She, deservedly, became a Baker Street Irregular in 1991, along with my Susan, as part of the first group of women to be invested by Tom Stix. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

May I punt by saying everything except chronology? Chronology makes my head hurt. Seriously, I have a great fondness for Sherlockian verse and music. I know, there’s a lot of bad examples of both floating about, but the good stuff is very good indeed. I’ve contributed a few examples of what I hope are good songs to the ASH and Priory Scholars repertoire, which accounts for my BSI investiture being The Missing Three-Quarter. Tom Stix told me it was a reference to musical notation; I don’t play rugby. I also collect, in a small way, Victoriana, in tribute to my ASH investiture, A Certain Gracious Lady.  

Every time I come across a big Sherlockian research project, your name seems to be attached somehow.  What is it about the history of this hobby that interests you so much?

My blushes, Nunn!  Frankly, I’ve always considered myself a sidekick rather than a principal player. If it hadn’t been for Susan, a true force of nature, I would still be that shy person at the back of the room, if I were in the room at all. I’ve always said that I was the Alice B. Toklas (cooking) to her Gertrude Stein (writing). It was always a joy, however, to help Susan with her research (I love research) and to be her first editor. Sherlockian history is a never-ending trove of delight. I can’t think of many other subjects that yield as much personal and intellectual stimulation. Susan introduced me to the most fascinating people.  And aren’t Sherlockians the best? But remember: it’s not a hobby! 

You and Susan oversaw the William Gillette Memorial Luncheon for a very long time.  What are one or two highlights from your tenure with such a large event?

It was thirty years, quite a run. Here’s the history: Susan and I had been happily attending the Gillette Luncheon together since 1981. It was run, then, by Lisa McGaw, who took over from Clif Andrew, the founder of the feast. In 1989, being aware that Lisa, who lived in North Carolina, might be happy to have someone in New York to provide local assistance, Susan wrote to Lisa and asked if she could be of any help. To her surprise, Lisa, who was in poor health, asked if Susan would be willing to take over running the luncheon entirely. Susan was hesitant, but I encouraged her, promising to handle all of the paperwork. 

So for all those years, 1990 through 2020, Susan dealt with restaurants and programs, while I handled the mailing list, record-keeping, and money. The luncheon is now in the capable hands of Jenn Eaker, who was hugely helpful to us in the past few years, when Susan’s health was failing. The best part of checking everyone into the luncheon, while Susan took care of last-minute details with the staff, was that I got to be able to put faces to names. My favorite part of the luncheon was the yearly entertainment by The Friends of Bogie’s (Andrew Joffe, Sarah Montague, and Paul Singleton), endlessly creative and enjoyable. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Must I pick just one? The Canon goes without saying. Every time I read a story, even after all these decades, I find something new. Anyone who hasn’t read Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow, to my mind the single best novel-length pastiche, is missing a treat. Mattias Bosrtöm’s From Holmes to Sherlock is simply brilliant. And, if I may add one more, rather solispsitically, Susan’s Dubious and Questionable Memories: A History of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual 2004).  

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I always say that it’s obvious that I’m an optimist, because I’m a Democrat and a Mets fan. I feel fully justified in my optimism about the Sherlockian future, however. When I became involved in the 1980s, there weren’t many young faces in any Sherlockian crowd, and there was much moaning from the elders that they would die off and leave little behind. It’s very different now. Bright young things are animating our ranks, and former bright young things, now moving into middle age, are bringing in new bright young things, and some bright and not so young. Popular culture and the internet have been great resources. When we were forced by the pandemic to meet online, we lost some of the immediacy of personal contact, and sometimes suffered from Zoom fatigue, but gained the ability to interact with fellow Sherlockians around the world without the expense or hassles of travel. 

One of the secret weapons of New York Sherlockians, a source of bringing in and welcoming new faces when groups around the country seemed to be faltering, is the institution of ASH Wednesday.  M.E. Rich, back in the 1990s, came up with the idea of Sherlockians meeting informally on the first Wednesday of each month for dinner and camaraderie. Because there is no program, and importantly no quiz, first-time attendees can relax and not be worried about having to prove themselves. And once Sherlockians meet other Sherlockians, the hook is set. 


  1. A delightful sketch of a most deserving subject!

  2. Made me get out my dictionary with this one - SOLISPSITICALLY - but that is a good thing.