Wednesday, April 17

A crime has been written | Why do we keep remembering Jessica Fletcher?


Angela Lansbury in ‘Murder She Wrote’. / CR

The character of the mystery novel writer from ´Murder has been written´ accompanied us on Sundays at noon for years. In her time it was exceptional in many ways and it still is today

Mikel Labastida

We have all had Jessica Fletcher sitting at our table at some point. The older ones because we met her when there were only two or three channels and the young ones because they may have come across her while inspecting the Prime Video catalogue, the last platform that, at least in Spain, has had the broadcasting rights for ‘Se he has written a crime’.

There is no doubt that television -more before than now- has an enormous capacity to penetrate our homes. Few media can, with such efficiency, sneak into our living rooms and kitchens in this way. Perhaps for this reason, viewers generate that fondness for some television characters, to the point of considering them part of the family. Jessica Fletcher was one of them. Although her series ended more than twenty years ago, we still have it in a photo frame on one of the shelves of our memories.

Because there are aspects of that fiction and its protagonist that were unique in their day and that still remain in the collective imagination of several generations, who have now mourned the death of the actress who was in charge of that project, Angela Lansbury. Like, for example, how extraordinary it was for an older woman to star in a detective series in the ’80s. Well, then and now. At this time it is not often that fictions stop at characters over 60 years old, but it is to fill them with topics or to act as secondary with clichés.

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Fletcher with other inhabitants of Cabot Cove. /

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She managed to stand out in a world of investigators plagued by Magnums, by Colombos, by Kojaks. And she did it without giving up the usual characteristics of women her age. It was not necessary to transform or distort the character. She liked her just the way she was: methodical in her habits, knowing at times, gossipy when she had someone to listen to her. She dressed like most women her age. And she expressed herself like them too. But, of course, Jessica was much more than that. It was ahead of her time. She was independent, she was on her own and she didn’t need anyone. She was required for presentations and conferences in any corner of the world. She sometimes fooled around with some men, but she didn’t end up with any of them precisely because of her independence. She took care of herself, played sports (she always rode a bike) and protected the environment.

There was a clear (and effective) reference for writing this role, Miss Marple. And she did not hide when building it. It cannot be said that ‘Murder She Wrote’ was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s creation, but it was built around a very similar character: an old woman who is not supposed to have detective skills and who ends up solving any case. Fletcher, we were told, had been an English teacher, and when her husband dies, she becomes a mystery writer.

12 year success story

Nobody was too confident in the idea as a weekly procedural series and, in fact, NBC premiered it in 1984 in a hitherto cursed time slot for the network, on Sunday night. The series achieved millionaire audiences around the world. It arrived in Spain in November 1986 and was broadcast on Sundays at noon. It lasted until 1996, when it was decided to withdraw it from the antenna because the station was no longer interested in the public that watched it. Once the series ended, four special telefilms were recorded. There was even a spin-off (‘The Law & Harry McGraw’) starring detective Harry McGraw, who appeared in the first seasons, but did not get much impact.

The scheme of this fiction was simple: Jessica Fletcher used to go as a guest to an event organized by a friend or relative (she had many nephews) and someone would end up dying there (perhaps she was jinxed and I don’t understand why it didn’t make me more courageous to have her in acts). She always stood out for being more cunning than the police and for quickly finding out who had been the author of the crime. It did not vary in twelve seasons and 264 chapters. she didn’t need it. The secret of success, possibly, was there, in that she did not need to touch anything to engage in each episode.

There is no doubt that the actress who played him contributed to the character’s success. In New York theaters he starred in musicals like ‘Mame’ or ‘Gypsy’. In the cinema, she precisely played Miss Marple in ‘The Broken Mirror’ (with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, among others) and other successful films such as ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ or ‘The Rookie Witch’. She was not the first choice to embody her but as soon as her role fell into her hands it seemed impossible that they would have considered that someone could do it better. Even she herself must think so. For this reason, when the rumor arose that a ‘reboot’ was going to be shot with Octavia Spencer as the protagonist, she Lansbury expressed her discomfort. And the project was not carried out.

‘A crime has been written’ will be remembered for many things. Two of the most characteristic were its catchy tune (impossible not to hum the work of the British composer John Addison) and the place where it took place, the fictional Cabot Cove. According to the indications in the scripts, it was located in the state of Maine, in New England, but in reality the town does not exist. In Lansbury’s biography it is said that the writers were inspired by Castine, a small town of just 1,300 inhabitants, which is located in Maine. But the filming took place in California, specifically in Mendocino, a small town two hours from San Francisco. A Victorian house called ‘Blair House’ served as the exterior locations for Fletcher’s home. Today it is a Bed & Breakfast. Mendocino, by the way, has been the filming location for films such as ‘Karate Kid III’ or ‘Choose a Love’.

‘A crime has been written’ board game. /

CR

Fletcher managed to attract fans when the fan phenomenon was understood in a very different way than it is now. His popularity was such that there was even a board game based on his character and real mystery novels, which imitated the ones he wrote in the series.


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