7 January 1936
THE STRANGE LIFE OF WILLY CLARKSON:
AN EXPERIMENT IN BIOGRAPHY. BY HARRY
J. GREENWALL. (John Long. 18s.)
For half a century or so first-nighters were familiar with the sight of a very short, thick-set man, with fair curly hair and beard, almost grotesque to look at, but dressed in a manner which implied that he liked being looked at. In the intervals he would be heard talking volubly, with a crisp and strong Cockney accent, about great people, and not only the great people of the theatre, and what they said to him and what he said to them. This was Willy Clarkson, the best and the most famous wig-maker ever known, a genius at his art, a master at organizing a great business, and as clever as any actor at using his personality for purposes of advertisement. The substance of his life, now told by Mr. Greenwall, was some 60 years of unremitting labour, begun at the age of 14 and continued till death suddenly struck him down. There seem to have been some secret places in that life which his biographer leaves unexplored; but the decoration of it was the half-contemptuous amusement with which "everybody" made a pet of Willy Clarkson. He was petted and laughed at in the highest circles, to which private theatricals brought him admission. He was petted and laughed at and made use of by Sarah Bernhardt, whom he was proud to believe his friend; he was petted and laughed at by all who could enjoy listening to his endless stories. Mr. Greenwall has seen that in those stories lay the only part of Clarkson's life that could make a readable book; and (with a good many trivial errors in detail) he has set the queer little man talking in the proper setting of Victorian and Edwardian London and the theatrical productions for which he made the wigs. Not the least interesting part of it all is Clarkson's connexion with other than theatrical disguises. He may have-he was almost certain he had-disguised Jack the Ripper himself, besides the detectives and medical students who went to search for him. He claimed to have disguised Ronald True; he certainly disguised Crippen, and Charles Peace, and the murderer Bennett.