What do Gabe Kaplan and Lynn Redgrave have in common, they both were guest stars in the first season of Murder, She Wrote. Murder, She Wrote was the story of a women named Jessica Beatrice (JB) Fletcher who was widowed and instead of just sitting around starts to write mystery novels. Jessica lives in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine and is surrounded by a group of colorful character including Seth Hazlett the local doctor.
You know her story, or if you don't you need to watch or refresh your memory. Jessica also seems to find murder wherever she goes, whether its in her small home town or in New York, Paris, Montana, New Orleans, and many of her other exotic travels destinations. While many could view the show as a bit out dated/campy today there is something to said about a show like this that remained on the air for 12 years. I think part of the show's success was the simple formula, and a class act star, Angela Lansbury.
Prior to being on the show Angela Lansbury was a major star on screen and stage. Many people probably do not know that this woman is a three time Academy Award nominee; she was was nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress category for the films Gaslight (1945), The Picture of Dorian Grey (1946), and her most famous film role in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Unfortunately she did win for any of these roles, but I would have picked her to win for The Manchurian Candidate; she is brilliant in that film. Throughout these years Lansbury had roles in both film and television. My first memory of her was in the 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks where she played a witch named Mrs. Price. This was one of my favorite films growing up and I remember loving Ms. Lansbury even as a small child. In her post Murder She Wrote days many people probably know her as the voice for Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast (1991).
Lansbury's real pride and joy has appeared to be theatre; she has worked on plays musical from 1957 through the present day. Lansbury's first play was Hotel Paradiso. In 1966 she took the lead role in the musical Mame, and received her first Tony Award win. Lansbury's second Tony win came from the 1969 musical Dear World. In 1971 Lansbury won her third Tony for playing Rose in Gypsy, one of the most iconic roles in the history of musical theatre. Lansbury's fourth Tony came from originating the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd in 1979. Lansbury has never stopped and up to this day she is still performing on Broadway. In 2009 Lansbury tied the record for the most Tony wins (5) for her work in the revival of the play Blithe Spirit.
Lansbury has clearly had an incredibly transcendent career, and the culminating tie in to all of this is a television show on CBS that last twelve years, Murder, She Wrote. With its clever theme music, and sometimes predictable plot the show was a charming reminder of simple quality television during its time. The only thing that makes me mad about this is that Lansbury was nominated for her performance every year, but she never won for this show; she has had to settle for a few Golden Globes, and the show won Best Drama at the Golden Globes as well.
My favorite part about this show and the 80s was that executive producers, directors, and writers knew how to create vehicles for people who were 50 plus years old. During this decade we had the rise of other shows (including this one) like The Golden Girls, Matlock, Newhart, and many more. There are very few shows today that know how to incorporate or build shows centered around this population as though they were actual people. Murder, She Wrote took a woman and made her an incredibly active heroine.