Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Jessica Fletcher Brooch: Why I Love Murder She Wrote

Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod! I am now the coolest person in the whole wide world, for I have found... The Jessica Fletcher Brooch!! I have been a Jessica fan since my early teens and she still remains my television version of comfort food, so you can only imagine my excitement.

Here's Jessica wearing her brooch.

And here's mine! They are identical and I am plotzing.

Everyone knows I love Murder She Wrote. Beau got me this key chain for Hanukkah and it always makes me smile. (Here, it's hanging on the bakelite handle of my Art Deco, waterfall dresser. Thanks for asking.)

So just why do I love Jessica so?

Dress: Mod Cloth; Hair clips: Stylized; Blazer, brooch, earrings, and bracelet: vintage
Why am I so excited to find a way to emulate her? My reasons are many.

For one thing, Murder She Wrote is a pretty darned camp program.

We're really not meant to take it too seriously.

Any show that would take the ethereal, beautiful Kathryn Grayson ...

... and turn her into one of the silly, funny denizens of the Cabot Cove beauty salon, is a show with tongue firmly in cheek.

Murder She Wrote is rife with tantalizing appearances by stage and screen actresses that would have been instantly recognizable to its elderly viewers. For instance, all tongues started wagging in Cabot Cove when Leslie Neilson showed up as a once (and possibly future) flame, and promptly kissed her on the lips, right there on the main street!

Jerry Orbach, with whom Lansbury had performed on Broadway, and whom younger viewers will know as the father in Dirty Dancing, had a recurring role as an old-school, simile-spewing, private dick. It was good practise for his future role as a tough homicide detective on Law and Order.

Mary Wickes, who reminds me of my maternal grandmother and her sisters, and is therefore one of my favourite character actresses, makes an appearance as a too-rich-for-her-own-good widow.

Van Johnson shows up as a kooky inventor of a driverless car, which becomes a kooky murder weapon.

But not all guest stars were of older vintage. Several guest stars were known to a younger generation from the shows of their own childhoods. Here's the former Joanie and her former father from Happy Days.

That's the former Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

This sort of thing alone makes Murder She Wrote great fun for a vintage lover like me.

But wait, there's more!

The list of guest stars on Murder She Wrote includes more Broadway and screen queens than you could possibly count. Together with Lansbury, they camp it up to their heart's content, their characters so thinly veiled as straight that it's as if the whole cast and crew are winking at us and inviting us to join in on the joke. This is a particular coup, given that the show had and still has such a loyal following of conservative Christians.

That's George Takei there, playing a janitor who saves the garbage of the famous.

The gravel voiced, Harvey Fierstein plays a comic book artist with four ex-wives... and a bevy of young, male acolytes.

Not every queen of stage and screen was actually out when on Murder She Wrote. These were the 80s and 90s, after all. But, even if we can't say for sure that actors like Roddy McDowall were gay, I think it's safe to say he was just a tad queeny. In this episode, he plays a man in love with an accomplished woman but repelled by the mere thought of a vulgar "physical expression" of that love.

Angela Lansbury on a break from shooting a  film. This may be my favourite photo of her.
Hollywood and Broadway have always been like that: pumping out material that, if taken straight (pun intended), imparts good, old-fashioned, supposed family values -- while, at the same time, introducing whole generations of gay men (and their pals) to the joys of camp, drag, and queenliness.

Tee hee.

But wait. There's still more!

Murder She Wrote is also rife with future stars, including those on the cusp of coming out. That's a very young Neil Patrick Harris playing a young man with writerly aspirations, aspirations his jock father finds too "sissy" for any real man.

That's Cynthia Nixon, who would later marry a woman and become a huge advocate for queer rights. Here she plays a woman afraid of love because of a partially repressed memory of a childhood trauma.

(More than once, the show represents repressed childhood memories as a completely normal way for children to bear the unbearable. This was at a time when the "false memory" idiots were getting a lot press, so this, too, is a reason to love the show.)

Now who might that be? Why, it's only my major childhood crush, Kristy McNichol, playing a young woman who learns the hard way that she can't always trust a handsome man. McNichol too would come out of the closet years later.

(Fun fact: along with Matt Dillon, McNichol and Nixon were both in the movie Little Darlings, which made my little queer heart go pitter-pat. It did so for a great many queer girls too. To us, that movie always read more lesbian than straight.)

Of course, Murder She Wrote also featured many straight future stars as well. That's Andy Garcia playing such a minor part that his character didn't even have a name.

And there's George Clooney too, fading into the background of the much older and more established actors in the episode.

Speaking of handsome men, while remaining true to the memory of her beloved husband, Jessica Fletcher never lacked for suitors, including younger men, like the enigmatic fellow in this bizarre episode. If you've seen this episode, tell me what you think. Was he just a con man, or was he also genuinely attracted to her?

And let us never forget the famous cross-over episode with the studly Magnum, who just happens to walk in on Jessica when she's about to get in the bath. He compliments her bathrobe. Is it just me or did those two have real chemistry?

Then there was that beautiful friendship with Seth (whose hat I covet). He was the only one who ever dared talk tough with Jessica, frankly telling her when she was being a fool. Plus, he loved her apple pie. They would have made a great couple, but they also made great friends and I think that's just as good.

Jessica never had children and never re-married but she had warmth and love to spare, often taking the maternal role for those whose own mothers would not or could not do so. (And, yes, that is indeed the very young Courteney Cox.)

This brings me to another reason Murder She Wrote is comfort food for me. Despite all the murder, adultery, and greed, we always know that, if Jessica's there, everything will be alright. She will be polite, but firm, and ever so clever, but never rough of scary. There is nothing frightening about Murder She Wrote. In fact, I find the show gentle and soothing.

There is no grit or grime or gore on the show. I call it "murder most genteel" (as opposed to "murder most foul," as Shakespeare would have it). Agatha Christie creates the same warm, cozy world in her mysteries. How odd to say that I enjoy immersing myself in these murderous settings, but I do. I feel safe there.

Remember two things: I was raised by hippies, and I was still being terribly abused when Murder She Wrote hit the small screen in 1984. I took to the show right away. It was so mainstream and "straight," or "square," as the hippies would say, that it was utterly foreign to me. It made me feel cradled and comfortable in a world so far from my own reality that it was exotic to me.

No-one in my world dressed the way Jessica dressed or knew all the social niceties the way she did. Nobody was polite like that.

And, in my world, justice never ever prevailed.

I wanted a mother like that, someone who could make me feel safe and cared for, in whose company I could know that everything was going to be okay. I still do want a mother like that.

I watch Murder She Wrote almost every night while I sip a martini and lie on ice to soothe my back, still and forever aching from the damage my many rapists did to it when I was trafficked child.

So of course I was excited to find my Jessica Brooch! How nice to be reminded of that comfort simply by wearing a brooch. It's playful and it puts a mind at rest, if only just a little bit.

Here it is again, paired with one of her many, smartly tailored blazers.

Though I'll admit that her style is generally too conservative for my own taste, there is no doubt that she is a sharp dresser. And Jessica Fletcher wears a lot of brooches. I mean a LOT of brooches. That's one thing we have in common.

She also wears a lot of wonderful blazers, the classy, tweedy likes of which I can never find for myself, especially since my bosoms took on their current proportions.

It's a look she rocks to this day.

Naturally, I simply had to wear a blazer for the Jessica Brooch's inaugural outing.

This one ain't too shabby ...

... if I do say so myself. I love what it does for my waist.

And I think it does bear a passing resemblance to my all time favourite Jessica blazer: this green, collarless, asymmetrical number. It's pure class and remarkably restrained, given that it was 80s. Do let's compare it to the painfully, comically 80s blazer of the other woman in this photo.

I showed my outfit to my elderly friend, Mario, and asked him what he thought of it. "You look like you're ready to go off to war," he said. He meant that my blazer reminded him of the military influence on women's fashions in the 1940s, fashion he is old enough to remember.

Sal looked at this photo of my outfit and said I looked like a woman in her day clothes in London in 1947, picking up the literal and metaphorical pieces after the war.

Their reactions to my outfit were perfect because a 1940s look was exactly the look I was after. Thus the 40s-style dress ...

... and shoes ...

... (which I love) ...

... and an understated, 40s twist in my hair.

Do note her dress clips!
You see, Angela Lansbury arrived in the United States from England as a slim slip of a thing in 1940 and was an immediate success in the movie Gaslight. She's been working steadily ever since.

I wanted to tip my hat not only to her Jessica Fletcher character, but to the beginning of her incredibly accomplished career.

I tried to make my look as authentically 1940s as possible (with a little nod to Betty Grable's famous pinup photo).

The 1980s were, in fact, a period of revival of some 1940s looks, as evidenced by this dazzling number Jessica wore to a youthful but swank affair.

Lansbury still looks smashing in red dresses, here on stage ...

... and here, looking incredibly elegant at an awards show. Do note the brooch. She wears it often these days. If anyone can tell me about that brooch, I'd be most grateful. Does it have any symbolic significance for her? Was it an award? A gift? I'm very curious.

Man, I hope to rock brooches for as many years as she has!

Red dresses, brooches, blazers ... We're exactly the same, right?

There is one way we're alike. We both know what it is to be truly loved. See that impossibly handsome, tall drink of water, looking at her with pure, adoring love? That's the way my Beau, himself an impossibly handsome, tall drink of water, looks at me. Almost every time a friend meets Beau, the first thing they say to me afterward is, "He loves you a lot. I can tell by the way he looks at you." It's a wonderful feeling. By all accounts, Angela and her husband loved each other like that till the day he died. I can't even imagine how she endured and endures that loss. It must be devastating.

But she still receives the adoration of the masses, though, of course, that's not the same as the love of a life partner. Still,  I imagine that, for a stage actress, the love of her audience is a very sustaining thing.

I am just one member of that audience. Though she doesn't know it, she receives my eternal gratitude for bringing life to a character who made me feel safe and comfortable in a world where danger was everywhere.

Thanks, Angela.

A slightly campy but most sincere bow ...

... and curtsy to you, my dear. There will always been a martini ready for you at Chez Charlotte.

(I'm sharing this tribute on Spy Girl, the delicious Style Crone's Hat Attack, and Throw Back Thursday at Happiness at Mid-Life.)


  1. Twins! Definitely! :-D
    You should send this to her. What a fabulous tribute.
    And your dress, blazer and shoes rock!
    Doesn't she look amazing in red?
    I never took to the show but now I see it through your eyes I might have another go.
    Xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Ah, Jazzy, you're so great! You always read my posts right away. I'd love for Angela to see this but I'm not sure how to get it to her. If you find out, let me know.

      You may not like the show. Sometimes something -- a book, a food, an album -- hits you at just the right time in your life for you to love it forever, but, if it didn't hit you at just the right time, you never get that sensation from it.

  2. i loved that show - translated for the german TV - as a kid too, for the same reasons i love agatha christie now - a sophisticated world where the justice wins.
    love you tribute look and would wear it too - if i can find such a beautiful red dress! :-)
    very cute hat!!!! xx

    1. I can't help you with the hat, but I got the dress on Mod Cloth and I think it's still there. It comes in a good range of sizes.

  3. Your dress is so pretty and how awesome that you found the brooch! I have never seen an episode of Murder She Wrote and will need to watch one of these days.

    Thank you for joining TBT Fashion link up and hope to see you Thursday.


  4. A beautiful tribute, written with passion! I adore your accessories, but of course my favorite is the hat that you chose to wear with your floral patterned dress. Thank you for sharing with Hat Attack!

  5. I've enjoyed this! I love Murder, She Wrote! Such a great show & I think this post is terrific!