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…
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.
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.
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:
Oh, Grady. You’re so naive.
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:
The trouble really starts as visiting aunt Jess steps out of the elevator and is greeted by this sight:
The IRS has reason to believe that Grady’s firm is up to some good old tax fraud!
Aunt Jess meets Boss One and
the Governor from Benson Boss Two:
Things escalate quickly:
There’s an Irish NYPD Detective (Barney Martin)
it’s totally not a vagrant a “ghost” in the walls:
A carousel of minor characters:
Jess does some Nancy Drew-worthy sleuthing:
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:
Things go from bad to worse:
Mrs. Ellis is back:
Boss Two shows up wearing a hat that in no way clues us into his villainy:
The apparition finally appears:
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:
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”
“I’m a CPA, detective, not a sentimentalist!”
Thanks to my co-hostest with the mostest, Ruth of Silver Screenings!