[Dorothy Lamour Blogathon] Welcome to the Old Stars’ Retirement Home: Murder, She Wrote Edition

It is a winter morning in New York City. Sidewalks are tightly stamped with greyish footprints from the previous night’s snowfall. The air is still, but figures fly by in an intricate choreography of mufflers and coats, hats and gloves. They whirl in shades of red or blue, black or orange. They are humans–city humans late for work. Office jobs, retail jobs, factory jobs. A variable soundtrack accompanies their undulating moves: honks, whistles, screams, grunts. How nimble! How determined! How practiced in the art of the commute. A typical day, then…

Winter in NYC

Winter in NYC

The sandy-haired gentleman rushing out of the corner store is having a typical day, too. But a typical day for him is, well, not so typical for even your average hardened New Yorker. Within 48 hours of this moment, he’ll almost get flattened by numerous vehicles whilst crossing an intersection, find the dead body of his boss, deal with an intrepid IRS agent accusing him of tax fraud, bumble his way through flirtatious encounters with a sexy secretary, meet with an eccentric client, encounter a “ghost”, and be arrested for and cleared of murder. Welcome to the life of Grady Fletcher, Mr. Hapless.

Grady at the start of his newest misadventure

Grady (Michael Horton) at the start of his newest misadventure

Thanks to his famous aunt Jess (Jessica “JB” Fletcher, mystery writer and crack amateur sleuth) he’ll make it out of yet another potentially catastrophic scrape. He owes unfathomable amounts of gratitude to the twist of fate that matched his late uncle Frank with this bright, unflappable, and tenacious ex-schoolteacher. Left to his own devices, he’d be vilified and dead. So dead.

Let’s recap his latest debacle.

***

No Accounting For Murder

No Accounting For Murder

Or, as I like to call it:

Mr. Hapless in the Big Apple

Job-hopping  Grady is currently a drudge in a large accounting firm.

Boss  Number One says:

"You've earned this responsibility."

“You’ve earned this responsibility.”

Oh, Grady. You’re so naive.

Mrs. Ellis (Dorothy Lamour) is ready for her appointment

Mrs. Ellis (Dorothy Lamour) is ready for her appointment

She’s not quite sure how the whole tax itemization thing works, but she’s about to be the least of Grady’s problems.

Even blondie is destined to be a lesser distraction:

Sexy secretary Connie Norton (Kate Vernon)

Sexy secretary Connie Norton (the always excellent and under-used Kate Vernon)

The trouble really starts as visiting aunt Jess  steps out of the elevator and is greeted by this sight:

Once a sap, always a sap

Once a sap, always a sap

The IRS has reason to believe that Grady’s firm is up to some good old tax fraud!

Mr. Grinshaw of the IRS (Geoffrey Lewis)

Mr. Grinshaw of the IRS (Geoffrey Lewis)

Aunt Jess meets Boss One and the Governor from Benson Boss Two:

James Noble and Michael Tolan as Shady CPAs

James Noble and Michael Tolan as Shady CPAs

Things escalate quickly:

He's not sleeping

He’s not sleeping

There’s an Irish NYPD Detective (Barney Martin)

"Calm yourself, ma'am!"

“Calm yourself, ma’am!”

and it’s totally not a vagrant a “ghost” in the walls:

The ghost is all-seeing and gets the best camera angles

The ghost is all-seeing and gets the best camera angles

A carousel of minor characters:

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Jess does some Nancy Drew-worthy sleuthing:

Crawling through the walls

Crawling through the walls

Grady and his aunt try to get to the bottom of his firm’s tax troubles. He almost looks smart here. Then he opens his mouth:

"Tax shelter! I missed that semester!"

“Tax shelters! I missed that semester!”

Things go from bad to worse:

Grady is arrested, because of course he is

Grady is arrested, because of course he is

Mrs. Ellis is back:

It seems like Mrs. Ellis is always waiting for Grady to return to the office

It seems like Mrs. Ellis is always waiting for Grady to return to the office. Good luck with that!

The murderer Boss Two shows up wearing a hat that in no way clues us into his villainy:

Naw, this hat practically screams "I murder people for fun and profit!"

Naw, this hat practically screams “I murder people for fun and profit!”

The apparition finally appears:

The vagrant to the rescue

The “ghost” vagrant (Paul Comi) to the rescue

Grady regains his freedom! Thanks wall-ghost.

***

 If you’re wondering why I co-created the Dorothy Lamour Blogathon only to focus on a late television role that gave her two scenes, I don’t blame you. The short answer is sexism and ageism. The long answer is also sexism and ageism, with approximately six hundred other words thrown in for clarity and explanation.  

The Artistic Impulse Does Not Come with an Expiration Date:

Dorothy Lamour was talented and versatile. She possessed humour, intelligence, and, like most women movie stars at the height of their fame, then as now, soaring good looks, a wonderful figure, and youth or its illusion (dewy or otherwise). After the studio system weakened, and long-term contracts became scarce, many stars of Dorothy’s generation parlayed their film fame into television and theatre roles. In the 1950s, small screen opportunities were often interesting and varied, but as time went on there was considerable competition for fewer and fewer worthy roles. Cliches do not dissipate with the years; they become deeper. Keeping a career going whilst aging out of the best parts was a stinging reality that all but a charmed few faced. (Nothing much has changed.) Not everyone wanted to, or could, rest on their cinematic laurels. And why should they?

Enter episodic television’s version of the dinner theatre circuit: the hour-long, guest-star heavy programs of the 1950s-1990s. Think: Perry Mason, Burke’s Law, Love, American Style, Love Boat (perhaps the apogee of the form), Fantasy Island, and, of course, Murder, She Wrote.

It is customary to overlook these shows, or to dismiss them as kitsch unworthy of serious performers. Whether they represented a much-needed paycheck, a last-ditch effort to stay in the saddle, or other unknown factors, they are a legitimate and sometimes substantial part of many storied careers. Ignoring them does a disservice to many fine actors, including Dorothy. Giving them appropriate consideration and context offers us a fuller accounting of classic movie stars’ filmographies, talents, and contributions to our collective pop culture consciousness and heritage, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the many limitations placed on mature women’s participation and visibility in the arts.

Dorothy Lamour’s rendering of Mrs. Ellis in the 1987 Murder, She Wrote episode No Accounting for Murder was her penultimate role, and her last  time on episodic television. She features in two scenes. Her character is in no way central to the plot; in fact, she is entirely unnecessary to any of the action. If her footage had ended up on the cutting room floor, there would be no holes and we’d be none the wiser. We’d also be a bit poorer for it, because what a beautiful bit it is!

On paper, it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Ellis read like anything but the generic, slightly doddering and eccentric old lady we’ve had shoved in our faces so many times across every conceivable platform. This, dear readers, is why you hire a star! In Dot’s impeccable hands, she’s quirky, yes, but also witty, elegant, and playful. She is also the recipient of several loving close-ups, which is only fitting.

This head-in-hands pose is heavenly, and is the best moment of the episode:

A classic Dorothy pose

A classic Dorothy pose

She is still enchantingly beautiful (not that it matters) and chic (not that it matters). What does matter is that she’s as incredible as ever and is obviously having a good time. Good times and fine performances should be celebrated and commemorated, whether your’e 22 or 72. A puzzle is not finished until all of the pieces are in place, including the seemingly unimportant ones. In other words: in order to have a beginning and middle, you must also have an end.

Rock on, Dot!

***

Murder, She Wrote

No Accounting For Murder

Originally aired: 22 March 1987

Starring: Angela Lansbury, Michael Horton, Dorothy Lamour, Geoffrey Lewis, Barney Martin, Ron Masak, Patricia (Patty) McCormack, Tom McFadden, James Noble, Michael Tolan, Kate Vernon, Paul Comi, Peggy Doyle.

My fave phrases and lines from this episode:

“You arrogant horse’s patootie!”

“this amateurish boondoggle”

and

“I’m a CPA, detective, not a sentimentalist!”

***

This post has been brought to you by:

Dorothy Blogathon

Dorothy Blogathon

Thanks to my co-hostest with the mostest, Ruth of Silver Screenings!

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8 thoughts on “[Dorothy Lamour Blogathon] Welcome to the Old Stars’ Retirement Home: Murder, She Wrote Edition

  1. What a wonderful tribute! I’m always delighted to see any of my favorite actors show up in television episodes – sometimes I watch them just for them (recently saw a Columbo featuring Ray Milland). It is so unfortunate that such great performers as Dorothy Lamour didn’t (and still don’t) get better roles, but I intensely admire them for keeping on!

    Like

    • Thank you!

      I love these old shows just for the “actor watching” opportunity. Ray Milland on Columbo sounds fab. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for Dean Jagger on both Columbo and the Twilight Zone. Both shows air where I live, so fingers crossed I don’t miss them.

      I think it is brave and wonderful of them to keep on working the best they can. Sometimes “old age” performances are just amazing, even with their limited opportunities for great roles.

      Like

  2. Loved, LOVED this! Fabulous tribute to Dorothy – and many aging stars.

    You raise a very good point about the guest-star-studded television shows back in the day. I have a habit of dismissing them, but they really are doing a disservice to those stars. They are worth of respect, because the performances themselves are GOOD.

    Thanks for opening my eyes in this regard. And thanks for being a fab co-host!

    Like

    • Thanks SO MUCH!

      I’m glad you get where I am coming from! Sure, some of the shows themselves are silly (Love Boat, Fantasy Island) but the actors can still act. It’s not like they hit 70 and their talent just disappeared. The only thing that diminished was the opportunity for roles.

      Thanks so much for hosting this with me. You always do an amazing job.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Dorothy Lamour Blogathon: Day 3 – Silver Screenings

  4. Pingback: So I Wrote This Thing About Dorothy Lamour, Sexism, and Ageism! It’s Funny, Though, I Promise! | A Small Press Life

  5. I’m going through all of last years blogathons I participated in and make sure I read and comment on all the hosts posts, something I often forget to do.

    Last year when this Blogathon was held I hadn’t seen any of “Murder, She Wrote,” which is why I didn’t comment. I started watching the show however in November. Unfortunately I only finished season 1 before Netflix took it down January 1st. My library does have the dvds however and I plan to slowly check them out. It will be a while thought before I reach this episode!

    Thanks again for hosting this Blogathon 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks for stopping by again. Let me know what you think of MSW/the DL episode, when you finally get there. It’s a formulaic show, but a fun one. And the guest stars are amazing.

      Like

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