The wonder of Jessica Fletcher and “Murder, She Wrote”

In honor of Angela Lansbury’s birthday, I’m rerunning my ode to Jessica Fletcher and “Murder, She Wrote.”

I LOVE “Murder, She Wrote.” It has to be my longest TV show crush, although “Supernatural” is creeping up on it. But Jessica Fletcher (aka Angela Lansbury) is the best. Although I probably wouldn’t hang out with her too much: if you’re friends with Jessica, you’re either going to get murdered, be blamed for murder, or actually be a murderer.

There’s something soothing in the rhythms of the show, the formula of it all. Although the writers had to get really creative to think of a million and 50 ways for people to die (that show was on forever!!!). But it all reminds me of my mom and my aunt, and easier, more carefree time. A time when I was pretty much a child, a time when America was only worrying about the USSR and I was worried about whether my legwarmers matched my headband.

It was a time when old B actors actually got a chance to act again, or new B actors started up the acting ladder on network shows. Before reality TV and Dancing With The Stars, it was shows like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Love Boat” where stars went to die, or where young stars caught the eye of someone bigger. There was an excitement over seeing the washed up actor playing a murderer, or remembering seeing a new star as a murder victim on “Murder, She Wrote.”

And Angela Lansbury?! What a professional. You wonder if she went into her trailer and rolled her eyes a lot, but she did a great job as Jessica week after week. And she was Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast!” What more is there to say, except that if you haven’t seen the original “Manchurian Candidate,” you should. Lansbury was brilliant. She’s a great actor, and quite fetching back in the day.

But back to Jessica Fletcher. That woman rode a bike around Cabot Cove, Maine like a boss (although it the streets should have been littered with dead bodies and the jail overburdened with murderers). She published her first bestseller in her 50’s, and moved MSWS01E02to Manhattan in her 60’s from small town Maine. She took everything in stride, even the solving of the most convoluted of killings. She had an old school teacher way of getting even the rascally-est of rascals to be embarrassed by their actions, and her scandalized faces were to die for.

 

 

Before she was a writer, Jessica was a teacher. And she never stopped teaching. Here are a few of the valuable life lessons we all should remember:

Lesson: Keep it to your self. I think JB got a lot of play with the men, but she didn’t kiss and tell. Unlike her CC (Cabot Cove) friend Eve Simpson, who acted like a slut and got branded as such. Do the romance thing, but do it circumspectly and with some dignity. Boys, and people, will think better of you.

Lesson:  Be a good friend. Seth Hazlett, the CC doctor and Jessica’s best friend, was a grumpy curmudgeon and either hopelessly in love with her or gay. But Jessica was always ready to help him and others in any way possible (including solving their relative’s murders or getting them out from a bogus murder charge).

Lesson: Keep in touch. Jessica kept in touch with EVERYONE. Sorority sisters, her husband’s army buddies, distant nieces and nephews, every cop in every town. Once you were in Jessica’s world, she wasn’t letting you go (especially if you were well off). And that was hard to do pre-Facebook and e-mail. I wonder how she actually did any writing, because her (home) phone must have been ringing CONSTANTLY. And, if you kept in touch with Jessica, you were sure to have someone who would come save you in a time of need (like you or your husband was accused of murder).

Lesson: Dig deeper. JB (her writer name) was always looking deeper than the surface, and she always found the real truth. Unlike the cops in most of towns she visited . . . (most of the cops she met were either inept or overworked).

And there were so many other lessons Jessica taught me. Shop local. Eat more seafood. Stock up on antiques. Use a typewriter. Keep up with the newest fads. Don’t trust the slick rich guy or the gold digging woman.

And always ask one more question.

Thank you, Jessica ‘JB’ Fletcher. Your lessons reinforced everything my mom, my grandma, and my aunts taught me.

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CRM Review: Alice Hoffman’s “The Rules of Magic”

The Rules of Magic

Alice Hoffman

October 10, 2017 | Simon & Schuster

Literary fiction | Magical realism fiction

In 1620, Maria Owens was charged with sorcery because she loved the wrong man, turning love into a curse for the Owens family that would be passed down for hundreds of years.

But the Owens family does have a magic in their blood. Even as later generations scatter and avoid it in an attempt to escape the curse, their magic comes through.

Hundreds of years after Maria, Susanna Owens has does her best to avoid the curse. Living in New York City as the 60’s begins to peak around the corner, she attempts to raise her three children with rules to avoid magic.

No walking in the moonlight. No red shoes. No wearing black. No cats. No candles. No books about magic. And NEVER, ever fall in love.

The three Owens children scoff at these rules. Headstrong, difficult Franny, with wild red hair and pale skin. who begins calling the birds at an early age. Shy, beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts. Charismatic Vincent, who charms everyone from birth without even trying.

When Franny turns 17, all three children are sent to visit their Aunt Isabelle, a right of passage observed for generations. In the small Massachusetts town where it all began with Maria, they start to understand who they truly are. Back in Manhattan, the three try desperately to avoid the family curse.

But can you escape love? Can you ever avoid the pull of love and fate?


Sigh (of deep contentment).

I needed this book.

The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman’s revisit to the Owens family (or introduction to them, since Practical Magic was released more than 30 years ago–EEK!) is perfectly timed, at least for me. I needed to reacquaint myself with the clan, and October is the without-a-doubt, exact, ideal, and precise time for a story of a witchy family.

–And, a little movie aside for me, every time I picked up The Rules of Magic  to read I heard Faith Hill singing “This Kiss.” It was such a strong, romantic scene in the movie, with that song in the background, that the Owens women and “This Kiss” go hand in hand, even if The Rules of Magic is not about Gillian and Sally.

Here’s the scene, in case you’re unfamiliar or just miss it:

 

Okay, back to the book.

The Rules of Magic is perfect storytelling, taking readers back to a different time, showing us the changes in the world while keeping us very involved in the lives of Franny, Jet, and Vincent. All three vow to never fall in love, but each finds love in their own time and in their own way. Readers watch them grow and learn, living through the heartbreak and heartaches, all of which are exacerbated by their magic abilities and the family curse.

Yes, the three Owens followed in The Rules of Magic are witches, but a lot of what happens to them is just the magic of ordinary life. Growing up. Falling in love. Avoiding love. Experiencing loss. Rebelling against family rules and absolutes in order to create a world that’s wholly theirs.  And finally, circling back to family and knowing what is important after all the adventures of youth.

After about three quarters of the book I started thinking that not much had happened, other than ordinary (although magical) life. But I couldn’t put the book down. And then, just a little a few pages later, I found myself crying. CRYING! (It’s not a surprise I was crying. I’m a crier. But it was surprising that I was crying when I was just thinking that nothing had happened). These characters got right under my skin and worked their way into my heart.

And it is a very character driven novel. Through these characters, Hoffman shows us life is magical, whether we have magic or not.  Rather than telling, she uses Franny, Jet, and Vincent to SHOW readers all the ups and downs of human existence — some brought to us by our own doing, others by fate and chance.

If you’ve never read Practical Magicdo not fret. Both books stand very much alone. The Rules of Magic is the story of three siblings, two of whom grow up to be the aunts in Practical Magicand it does explain how they came to raise Gillian and Sally.  At best I would say these books are related. Reading one is not contingent on reading the other, although it does add some enhancement!

I highly recommend The Rules of MagicIt’s a book that will leave you with a smile and a sigh of pure contentment.

Sigh.