Murder She Wrote: Cabot Cove, the Murder Capital of the World

We are kicking off a new series: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Perhaps no person represents this theme better than Jessica Fletcher, the crime solver behind Murder She Wrote.

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Airing on CBS from 1984-1996, Jessica (Angela Lansbury) is one of our longest-running sleuths on television, averaging more than 30 million viewers a week in its prime. The series produced 264 episodes and four made-for-television films. The title was a play on words from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple story, Murder She Said from 1961.

Although it’s hard to picture anyone else in the role, Lansbury was not the first choice for the part; both Jean Stapleton and Doris Day turned down the role.

The creative team who worked on Murder She Wrote was the same team behind Columbo—Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter S. Fischer. While Columbo’s tag line is “Just one more thing,” Jessica’s is “I couldn’t help but notice.”

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Jessica lived in Cabot Cove, Maine. (Spoiler alert: the show was actually filmed in Mendocino, CA.) She was a widow and retired English teacher who becomes a successful mystery writer. Her first novel was The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Although she has no children, she has a network of friends and extended family in her small hometown. She had four siblings but only Marshall, a doctor, was seen on the show.

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We get to know many of the town folk. Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom) is the local doctor and one of Jessica’s best friends and a potential romance. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) works with Jessica often on crime cases. Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak) takes over when Tupper retires and moves to Kentucky. Jessica’s nephew Grady (Michael Horton) seems to get in trouble with the law often despite his aunt’s influence. Jean O’Neil (Madlyn Rhue) is the local librarian. Sam Booth (Richard Paul) is the mayor and is voted in every year because he promises to do nothing and that is exactly what he does. Eve Simpson (Julie Adams) is the local realtor and gossip extraordinaire. Loretta Speigel (Ruth Roman), keeps up with Simpson’s gossiping and is a hairdresser. Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins) is a fisherman.

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Of course, none of us would want to live in Cabot Cove because there was a huge number of murders occurring there over a twelve-year span. In fact, the term “Cabot Cove Syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. During season eight, Jessica rents an apartment in New York City to teach criminology and participate in more murder cases.

The police around the town never seem to learn. They are always ready to arrest the wrong person until Jessica solves the case. Some officers appreciate her help, knowing her skill for deducing the murderer while other officers dread seeing her show up at a crime scene.

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Several characters who Jessica worked with regularly included insurance investigator Dennis Stanton (Keith Mitchell); private investigators Harry McGraw (Jerry Orbach) and Charlie Garrett (Wayne Rogers); British agent Michael Haggerty (Len Cariou); and NYPD detective Artie Gelber (Herb Edelman).

Cabot Cove was almost another character on the show. Viewers loved getting to know the charming town with a population of 3650. Jessica never drove a car around town; she biked or took a cab.

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With twelve years’ worth of shows, it is not surprising that the guest star list is formidable. Just a smattering of stars include Ernest Borgnine, George Clooney, Neil Patrick Harris, Buddy Hackett, Janet Leigh, Julianna Marguiles, Leslie Nielsen, and Joaquin Phoenix

In its final season, the show was moved from its Sunday night slot with loyal viewers to Thursday night against Mad About You and Friends. The show went from 8th to 58th in the ratings and was cancelled. Although Lansbury considered retirement several times during the show’s airings, she was blindsided by the move. In a Los Angeles Times article, she was quoted as sharing “I’m shattered. What can I say? I feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn’t mean anything. It was like gone with the wind.”

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Obviously, the show was popular with viewers staying on the air for twelve years, but it was also popular with critics. Lansbury received an Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a drama every single season the show was on the air. Unfortunately, she never won.

Often when you picture a crime solver, it’s someone who is young and sexy, such as the cast on Charlie’s Angels or Magnum PI. Jessica Fletcher does not pretend to be young or anything other than a middle-aged woman from Maine. But she does like to travel, she has romantic relationships with men, and has interests and a career. What you see is what you get. Perhaps that was the biggest reason for her popularity during those twelve years.

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The show continues to do well in syndication, appearing on WGN mornings and the Hallmark Mystery and Movie Channel at night. Spend some time with the good folks in Cabot Cove and watch Jessica Fletcher solve a few murder mysteries. No one embodies murder, mystery, and mayhem more than she does.

A Cut Above the Rest: Television Hairstyle Awards

Happy National Hair Day.  I’m not sure why we need a National Hair Day, but it gives me a good reason to discuss hair styles on my blog.

Hair is pretty amazing. Black is the most common color, and red is the most rare color. About 90% of the hairs on your scalp are growing and 10% are resting. Each of these hairs has a lifespan of five years or so. And, if you decide to grow this hair out, it takes three years to reach your shoulders and seven to reach your waist.

Hairstyles are easy things to change compared to eye color, nose shape, or cheekbone structure. We also have a very personal feeling about our hair style. A bad hairstyle can make or break our day. Most of us can relate that if we think our hair looks sloppy, it can make us feel dowdy no matter how well dressed.

Hair, along with clothing styles, can easily date a look. Take a glance at the photos below. Most of us will be able to immediately recognize the time period they represent.

 

 

I thought it would be fun to give out some hair style awards to deserving tv celebrities. There are a ton of television stars who inspired us to change our looks. Before we get to the awards, I wanted to recognize some honorable mentions.  These people are stars, but they are not necessarily television stars; however, they have all appeared regularly on television.

Honorable Mention 1: Tiny Tim.  If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably remember Tiny Tim marrying Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, playing his ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

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Honorable Mention 2: Dorothy Hamill. When Dorothy Hamill appeared in her new wedge haircut, it created a national sensation. I can’t tell you how many people rushed to their salon to mimic the look.

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Honorable Mention 3: Fabio.  Parents were appalled when their sons grew their hair long in the 1960s, but by the 1990s when Fabio came along, it was considered sexy.

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Honorable Mention 4: Clay Matthews. After Fabio, long hair began showing up on sports stars. One of the athletes who commanded a lot of attention for his hair was our own Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews.

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So, let’s get on with the awards.

Award 1: The Elegant But Fun Look – Carol Burnett. Carol always kept her red hair, and her style typically featured a shorter cut. I’m sure this worked well for her show, so she could easily don a wig to appear as different characters in skits. However, she always managed to look elegant no matter what type of pratfall she was taking to get a laugh.

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Award 2: The Natural Look – Keri Russell. Keri inspired many copycats on her show, Felicity, with her curly locks.

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Award 3: The Most Recognized Cartoon Hairstyle – Marge Simpson. Her look truly is unique. I don’t know of anyone else sporting a bright blue beehive hairdo.

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Award 4: Best Bad Boy Haircut – John Travolta. During his time as a sweathog, John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino looked exceptionally handsome  . . . until he opened his mouth. Looks aren’t everything, but apparently, they are something, because he sold a lot of posters.

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Award 5: Most Unique Hairdo Worn With Confidence – Katey Sagal. Ok, I admit, this one did not inspire a lot of look-a-likes, but Peg carried off her style with flair.

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Award 6: Best Short Male Style – George Clooney.  There is a reason that George Clooney was chosen Sexiest Man of the Year numerous times. His haircut helped in that choice.

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Most Recognizable Female Star’s Hairstyle: Whoopi Goldberg. Whether her hair was long or short, whether she was appearing in a movie, a television series, a talk show, or a commercial, Whoopi was always recognized by her hairdo. She varied it a bit, but was pretty loyal to her look.

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The Character Whose Hair Continued to Evolve with the Role: Marlo Thomas. As That Girl, Marlo changed her hair style each season. You can see just by looking at the two photos, she started life on her sitcom a little naïve and expectant of great things and ended the show more sophisticated and wiser. She still expected great things, but she now understood she had to work hard to get them.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Was the Talk of the Water Cooler: Jennifer Aniston. Jen, as Rachel Green on Friends, had a lot of cute hairstyles, but the famous “Jennifer cut” in this photo was discussed ad nauseum and copied by thousands.

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The Television Character Whose Hair Created the Biggest “Buzz”: Kaley Cuoco. When Penny in The Big Bang Theory cut her long hair, everyone had an opinion. Some loved it; some hated it.

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The Television Cast With the Best Haircuts for Everyone: The Partridge Family. Yes, people loved Marcia Brady’s hair and lots of people wanted Laura Petrie’s style, but the entire Partridge family  had a cool haircut.

 

The Star Who Had the Most Different Styles: Oprah Winfrey. During the decades her talk show was on the air, Oprah featured many different looks. Here are a few of them.

 

The Cast With the Most Beautiful Hair of All Time: Charlie’s Angels. While Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, and Cheryl Ladd all had beautiful hair, the addition of Farrah Fawcett to this cast, meant it is the runaway for best hair on any show. John Travolta may have sold a lot of posters, but his are not in the Smithsonian. Farrah had the best hair of anyone featured on television, no comparison.

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I realize there were a lot of stars left out of this blog, but I only have so much room. Share your thoughts on your favorites who did not make the “cut.”

One thing I realized putting this topic together was the lack of style occurring on television currently. I could not really find a star whose haircut stood out the way a Rachel Green or Jill Munroe did. Most decades seem to have that look that parents abhorred and kids loved, but I don’t see that style in the 2010s. Everyone seems to have similar hair. I’m still trying to decide if that is good or bad, but it is fun to look back at television history to see what was popular at different times.

A Tribute to Rose Marie

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Rose Marie had one of the longest-running careers in the entertainment industry – more than 90 years in the business. During her career, she was in vaudeville, on the radio, in the movies, performed in live concerts around the country, did some Broadway, and became most famous for her television performances.

 

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Born in 1923 as Rose Marie Mazetta, she won a contest at 3 and began performing as Baby Rose Marie. On her official site, she mentions she was born the same day the Broadway show Rose Marie opened. In 1927 at the age of 4 she was featured in a Vitaphone short that opened with Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer.

 

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By age 5, she had her own national radio show. She worked in vaudeville with Edgar Bergen and Milton Berle. She made several records, and the first one released was with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. By 1933 at age 10, she was starring in her first film, International House. During these years, she performed at the White House three times—for Presidents Coolidge, Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt.

 

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It was during her vaudeville stint that the doorman informed her and her father that a gentleman wanted to see them in the back alley.  The “gentleman” was Al Capone who called her father Happy Hank and told them that “the guys” wanted to meet Rose Marie. She was taken to Capone’s house the next day where she performed for about 24 guys.  Al gave her a ring with three diamonds which she still had when she passed away. He said they would always take care of her.  He was true to his word. Even after he was incarcerated, Rose Marie was met and protected by the mob for her entire career.  Decades after the most notorious gangsters were gone, men showed up at her shows checking on her just to make sure she was doing okay, getting work,  and not in need of anything. Later she learned that her father, who was an actor by trade, was Capone’s arsonist, the one who burned down buildings of men who disappointed the gangster. There is an article about her meeting with Capone on The Mob Museum’s website. (The Mob Museum is located in Las Vegas.)

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As a teenager, Rose Marie transitioned to clubs, touring the United States. In order to make her sets longer, she began to add comedy to her singing acts.

 

In 1946 she met Bobby Guy who as with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. They were engaged within a week, and he remained the love of her life until he passed away in 1964. They had one child, Georgianna. Guy would become the lead trumpeter on The Tonight Show.

 

It was also in 1946 that Rose Marie opened the Flamingo with Jimmy Durante. Jimmy Durante mentored her earlier in her career and she loved him. He was always mentioned as one of her favorite people.  At that time, the only other hotels in Vegas were the Last Frontier and El Rancho. Bugsy Siegel owned the Flamingo, and Rose Marie received work in clubs from her mob connections. She also had a 40-year friendship with Frank Sinatra that was also probably tied to some of their mob connections.

 

In 1951, Rose Marie tried her hand at Broadway, appearing in Top Banana with Phil Silvers. She knew Silvers from appearing on his radio show with Alice Faye. She played their daughter and Sheldon Leonard (who would hire her for The Dick Van Dyke Show) played their son.

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In 1954, Top Banana was made into a film. Once again Phil Silvers was in it. Rose Marie recorded her musical numbers. The producer tried to manipulate her to have sex with him. She said no in front of several people, and in retaliation he cut all her numbers from the film. In 2017 before her death, she shared the incident on Twitter to help support the women who have been exposing the sexual assault in Hollywood. She appeared in ten movies after that, most of them in the 1980s and 1990s, but she quickly became disillusioned with the film industry.

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Tired of the Hollywood politics, Rose Marie embraced the new television culture. She appeared in Gunsmoke in 1957 and would continue to receive roles in the new medium through 2011. During her career, she appeared on 48 different shows.

In the 1950s, she had a recurring role in The Bob Cummings Show as Martha Randolph and she appeared in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The first sitcom she had a permanent role in was My Sister Eileen; she played the sisters’ friend Bertha. The show ran for 24 shows during 1960 and 1961.

 

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In 1961, Sheldon Leonard cast Rose Marie in the role of Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. She recommended Morey Amsterdam for the role of Buddy Sorrel whom she had known since age 9. The show was originally to star the office cast with the home life coming in second; however, as things changed, Mary Tyler Moore became the costar with the home life dominating the scripts and Sally and Buddy were featured less. The show produced 158 episodes and is undoubtedly one of the best written sitcoms ever produced. She and Morey received the same salary despite her being a woman. That sounds only fair today, but at the time it was not the normal practice. She loved working on The Dick Van Dyke Show. When asked about her time on the show, Rose Marie said, “We loved each other, we helped each other . . . We were really very close.”

 

After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Rose Marie took roles on several shows including The Monkees and My Three Sons. In 1969, she received a role as Myrna Gibbons on The Doris Day Show, playing Doris’s friend and coworker.

 

She showed up in many series during the 1980s and 1990s including The Love Boat, Mr. Belvedere, Suddenly Susan, Wings, and was a cast member in Hardball, about a struggling baseball team.

 

In the 1990s, Rose Marie would take on the role of Frank Fontana’s mother on Murphy Brown. Later she would appear in S.W.AT. as Hilda providing doughnuts and coffee, as well as comic relief, on the show.

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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rose Marie transitioned to voice overs for such shows as Hey Arnold and Garfield.

Rose Marie also liked game shows and was a regular on Hollywood Squares through all the different versions.

 

From 1977-1981, she performed across the country with Helen O’Connell, Rosemary Clooney, and Margaret Whiting. They called the show 4 Girls 4. Rosemary’s nephew, George drove their bus for them.  At some point they made enough money to afford airfare, and George Clooney went on to create a little career for himself.

 

Rose Marie received the 2184th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000. Her baby shoes, along with 40 other items, have become artifacts in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.

Her hobbies included cooking Italian meals, knitting, and reading; she especially loved Stephen King novels.

 

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When she first appeared as Baby Rose Marie, someone handed her a bouquet of roses, but she needed to take her bow, so she handed them off and said, “Hold the Roses.” That became the title of her autobiography that was published in 2002.

 

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She was the subject of a documentary Wait For Your Laugh in 2017. Dick Van Dyke said that was her catchphrase, and whenever they were anywhere something funny happened, even a waiter dropping a tray full of food, she always repeated the phrase.

 

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She accomplished so much in her career you wonder how she could have had any regrets, but she was denied two accomplishments.  She received three Emmy nominations for her role as Sally Rogers but never won an Emmy.  She also wanted to direct and never had an opportunity to do so.

 

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Sadly, Rose Marie passed away in December. Happily, she left an amazing legacy of performances in a variety of mediums for us to remember her by. While she was so much more than a television star, Sally Rogers will always be one of my favorite characters. Thank you Rose Marie for so many fond memories.