IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Part of the Forest - 1948



Another Part of the Forest (1948) is one of the finest movies made in this era, and Ann Blyth displays her ability to inhabit the role of a lusty, complex conniver so thoroughly that her film reputation as a meek good girl of only a few years later, mentioned in this post, is an almost shocking contradiction. 

The film is currently not available for sale either in VHS or DVD, and this is a shame.  I think it’s time to take a large battering ram to the Universal vault.  Where are all those rampaging village idiots with the flaming torches and pitchforks when you really need them?  Off chasing Frankenstein's monster when they should be here.

Long post.  Oh, stop crying and pull yourself together.

All three elements of acting, writing, and direction come together so perfectly, so intensely that the movie stands as a remarkable work of art—truly, and timeless.  The screenplay by Vladimir Pozner is based on the Lillian Hellman stage play.  The story is of the Hubbard family, a prequel to her The Little Foxes, which had been wildly successful both on Broadway and in the 1941 film starring Bette Davis.  Another Part of the Forest takes us to the earlier years of the three inscrutable Hubbard siblings and how they got to be that way. 

The second element is the flawlessly creative and evocative direction by Michael Gordon, which we’ll get into in a little bit.  It is, I think, the best filmed version of a stage play I’ve ever seen, because it takes the intimacy and the dynamics of a live stage setting and yet implements those tricks and nuances of film to make it a kind of hybrid film-play.  Some stage plays are filmed with a static camera and so we are left with what appears to be an authentic image of the play, but it seems stiff on film.  Conversely, some stage plays are adapted to film in such a manner that we forget they ever were on stage; the director applies superfluous action and settings that draws away from the intensity of the literary drama. 

But in Another Part of the Forest, we have a director who understands the subtleties of the finest elements of film and stage, and combines them in a beautifully artistic way. 

The third basic element to the making of any great film, of course, is the acting and here we have an ensemble cast who simply could not be better.  We see on the opening title card the unusual setting of the four main players all listed equally above the title and they deserve it.  They are a well-oiled team.  I wonder how long these scenes, particularly the dining room scene, was rehearsed, because it looks for all like they’ve been playing it on stage for months.

The story is set in 1880.  Fredric March plays Marcus Hubbard, patriarch of this dysfunctional clan.  His real-life wife, Florence Eldridge plays his wife Lavinia.  He is a storekeeper and up-and-coming businessman in a sleepy southern town, and he has been branching out into different investments that have been profitable for him.  He gives loans, he takes over mortgages, growing his tiny economic empire.  He is a shrewd and cunning man, and not at all likable.  He is rude and blunt, and openly displays his disdain for his customers, his family, his community.

He is also something of a pariah in his town because of an incident that happened fifteen years earlier during the Civil War.  He was a merchant even then, and he was accused of profiteering from the war by securing a supply of badly needed salt and then charging high prices for it to a war-torn townspeople who couldn’t pay for it.  Marcus is proud, defiant, and totally uncaring in a kind of Scrooge-like way about the needs of others.  He is focused on his own advancement.

His wife, Lavinia, a soulful, gentle, frightened woman is his whipping boy in the sense that she carries the burden of his guilt because only she feels it.  But there is another secret between them, and another secret in the town of a terrible betrayal that occurred during the war leading to the ambush and massacre of several local boys in the Confederate army, and it isn’t until the end of the movie that we discover the traitor. 

Fredric March is riveting.  The character alone is intriguing. Marcus had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, emerged from a hardscrabble boyhood through very hard work.  When he was still a boy, he took his first hard-earned dollar and bought a card at a lending library.  While he was still a child in the fields and driving a mule team, with what little free time he had he taught himself to read and then he taught himself languages: French, Latin, Greek.  He read the classics and he desired what he saw in those classics: a sense of beauty and grace that was denied him in shabby poverty.  There is much to admire in Marcus.

But like those ancient Greeks and their tales and fables, he bears a fatal flaw, and that is his avarice.  Though he has a deep love of beauty and literature and music, there is a very strong strain of the acquisitor in him, so much so that like all acquisitors, his main joy is not in the appreciation, but in the simply possessing, the controlling.  Fredric March is stunning in this role, and we at turns can despise him, can feel sorry for him, and yet also can admire him for his clear thinking.  There is a certain nobility about him.  If it weren’t for his weaknesses, he could be a great man. 

His three children are the sins he created and also the burdens on his back.  Edmund O’Brien plays Ben, the eldest, a man about thirty years old who is taking after his father, inheriting his father’s intelligence, shrewdness, and acquisitive acumen, and also his hardness of heart.  But he has something his father hasn’t, and that is a true sense of graciousness.  It is a false graciousness in many instances.  He is able to speak to people, to make people like him, to ingratiate himself when he needs to, to close a business deal, where his father is just rude.  Edmund O’Brien does not have his father’s arrogance, but he is double the monster because, like his father, he has no heart or feelings for others.  Any display of affection or kindness is merely a tool he uses to get what he wants.  The wheels are always turning in that sneaky mind.

I think it is one of Edmund O’Brien’s best roles and he commands most of the scenes he’s in.  It makes you wish he had done more leading man parts instead of character roles, but in a role like Ben Hubbard he gets to do both, and he’s quite good. 

The second son is Oscar, a weak-willed sniveling creep, who has the position in this film as a kind of comic relief.  He’s played by Dan Duryea in whimsical casting because Mr. Duryea earlier played Oscar’s son in the film The Little Foxes.  Oscar’s son Leo in that film was very much like his father is in this film. 

Duryea does not have that sinister sneer he wears in other villain roles.  Here he is helpless in his petty self-absorption, and we can even feel sorry for him, particularly in the luncheon scene when he says something stupid and his father makes a sarcastic reply.  Duryea looks down, wearing an expression of pain, because he knows he put his foot in his mouth again. 

He just can’t please his father, lacking shrewdness, and he is the most despised by his father for his ignorance.  Duryea is also an undisciplined hothead, much more so than his father.  He is easily led, and by the end of the movie, Edmund O’Brien will do the leading. 

The youngest sibling is Regina, played Ann Blyth.  Here she has one of her best roles and one of her most complex and sinister, even to rival Veda Pierce.  In the movie The Little Foxes, Regina is played in middle age by Bette Davis.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, Ann Blyth in this period of her career was being called a young Bette Davis.

Regina is attractive, sexy, and her moods rise and fall--coldness to her mother, a beguiling charm to those who can do most for her.  She is shrewd and intelligent like her elder brother and her father.  She also bears their flaw of avarice and the need for power, but she has another need which neither father nor elder brother seem to share: she juggles a strong sexual longing, where the other two men appeared to be asexual.  They lust only for money.

John Dall plays Capt. John Bagtry, a man in his thirties who left the best part of his life behind him in the Civil War.  He is the cousin of Miss Birdie Bagtry played as a delicate flower by Betsy Blair.  Betsy and her mother still run the old plantation and are struggling financially.  John lives there on charity, not able or willing to contribute to his support.  He just loafs and dreams of the old days when he was a gallant soldier.  When we first see him, he is still in uniform, having attended a Confederate Day service.  He is the pathetic object of Ann Blyth’s lust, and though John Dall is happy to let himself be captured for stolen liaisons, he does not want to marry her.  He does not want to do anything but live in the past, and it takes a while for her to see that. 

Another sticky relationship she juggles is the one with her father.  Fredric March has only one weakness—and that is his daughter.  He loves her more than his wife, more than his despised sons and his relationship with her is somewhat incestuous.  Not literally of course, but emotionally.  He splurges on her and when he arranges to go for a walk with her, it looks for all as if he is courting her.  She refuses an invitation to spend the afternoon with her mother, who suddenly looks like a wallflower losing her beau to a more glamorous rival.


In one scene, several boxes of dresses have arrived that she ordered from Chicago, and she takes them out and shows them off to the family, like a child trying to make her brothers jealous that her father is spending money on her.  She lifts one gown out of its box and goes to sit on the arm of her father’s chair.  She spreads the skirt of the dress over her lap and over his, and he is obviously delighted with her, and she knows this, and she’s using it.  She’s manipulating him, and in certain scenes, seems to coyly dangle herself before him.  They are always “Darlin’” to each other.

But she’s playing with fire, as her older brother Edmund O’Brien teasingly reminds her.  She and Mr. O’Brien walk up the stairs, a promenade-cum-plot exposition, while she gloats about her ability to control her father and O’Brien suggests that one day she will be a forty-year-old woman and will still be taking care of her father because he won’t let her go.  

Edmund O’Brien is in the background, a calm look of command on his face.  In the foreground, we see Ann’s expression has turned from gloating to one of cold fear.  Staying with her father until she is forty is just the thing she does not want, and knows that she must not let her father get too great a control over her.  She spends the better part of the movie walking a tightrope in her unnatural relationship with her father.

She wants the pretty things he buys her, but she wants to be in John Dall’s bed.  Controlling him.

Late in the film, a climactic scene occurs when the Bagtrys come to a train wreck of a party at the Hubbard’s house, along with a floozy girlfriend Mr. Duryea has invited, played by Dona Drake, and we see a smashing of wills, intentions, and the worst of these people come pouring out.

John Dall has a plan to take borrowed money and travel to Brazil where they are having a revolution.  He wants to be a soldier again.  As Betsy Blair explains, the “radicals” are trying to abolish slavery down there and “ruin the country” and her cousin is going to fight for his “ideals” to preserve slavery.  Fredric March is the only courageous one in this polite bunch who dares to snub the "quality" folk and tell the once-and-future Confederate to his face that he's a jerk.  But his reasons for doing so are only partly because of his admiration for the vox populi of his heroes of Ancient Greece.  Mainly, he just enjoys telling people off.

He is also jealous of the man who appears to have turned his daughter's head.  He refuses to lose her to anyone.

Ann Blyth, in a profile view, stands silent during the discussion while a leaden epiphany sneaks up on her, her eyes curiously roaming on John Dall as her father berates him.  We see the truth is settling in that John Dall will never be anything than what he is—a boy in his thirties who can’t give up playing the soldier, a job that was never really more than an ego trip for him and if he were fighting for as ideals, his ideals are pretty shabby.  And yet she wants him for the sexual hold he has over her, which she imagines is reciprocal.

However, she gets another grim surprise that evening when the floozy that Duryea invites also appears to know John Dall intimately.  Clearly, he is not as obsessed by Ann as she is with him.

The intricate plot flip-flops constantly in the tricks the siblings and father play on each other, like kids playing keep-away with somebody’s hat on a schoolyard, only it is bits of information they toss around and keep from each other, and tell lies instead. It is all a lovely, literate, shell game.

There is so much to admire in the staging of the film, in the camera blocking where characters in the background are as much as part of the intensity of the scene, and where mirror shots allow for a larger grouping.    March’s store is filled with goods and items and trinkets and you could spend the whole movie just looking at everything. 

There’s a comic scene where Dan Duryea, afraid that a lynch mob might be after him for something he did, walks through the store and bangs his head on a pair of men’s riding boots hanging from the ceiling.  He looks up and we see instantly it is like an image of a man being hanged, and we see only his boots dangling from a tree.  It’s sinister, but it’s also funny. 

Another fascinating sequence is where Duryea and his gang of KKK friends chase down a Yankee visitor and beat him up.  There’s a scene where a horse rears and we see the horse’s mouth open and his sharp teeth parted in a grimace. 


Immediately we cut to the local saloon where Duryea’s floozy girlfriend is dancing a can-can.  In a flirtatious toss of the head to her audience, her teeth are parted in the same manner as the horse. 

We cut back to the Yankee being dragged to the ground, trampled in the forest of legs around him.

Then cut back to the can-can where the floozy drops to the floor of the stage looking submissively at the audience, tauntingly, seductively in the forest of legs of dancers around her.  The shots of the brutal beating and the dance are erotic mixture of violence and pleasure. 

The camera work flows beautifully from the very beginning of the movie.  There is a Confederate memorial celebration where a speaker refers to an act of betrayal and he points to a far hill to discuss an event of the past.  But the past becomes instantly the present, as the camera swoops to the hill and we see Florence Eldridge hiding with a bouquet of flowers waiting to place it at the memorial. 

We hear a train whistle, and she looks over her shoulder at a distant passing train and the camera swoops to the interior of the train and there is her son, Edmund O’Brien.  It is so flawless and keeps the action moving wonderfully.

The costumes, the hair, the makeup, the men’s full sideburns and muttonchops are historically accurate and not caricature.  There is no cartoon campiness of the Old South, here it is all very real and unblinking. 

We see the mother has a good relationship with their three black servants, especially with Coralee, played by Libby Taylor, who finds small and clever ways of protecting Lavinia from her family’s meanness.  In the play, we are told that Mrs. Hubbard actually goes to the black church because she feels more at home there.  She feels the congregation is more spiritual; besides, she is the wife of Marcus Hubbard and so she is ostracized from the white townspeople, the "quality folk." 

At the end of the film, Edmund O’Brien has wrested his father’s business and fortune from him through blackmail.  Fredric March wants to run away with his daughter, and tells her he will continue to find a way to provide for her.  But Ann Blyth has had enough of this cloying “suitor”.  She considers her options, pouring herself a cup of coffee on the patio while Edmund O’Brien announces his plans to invest his father’s money and make still more, that they will all be rich.  Her father, beaten and begging her attention, asks her to pour him a cup of coffee too.  In a priceless image of nasty survival instinct, Ann Blyth, one eyebrow raised, walks away from her father and sits down by her brother.  She gleefully agrees to let Mr. O’Brien plan her marriage to his future business partner, Horace Gibbons.  She gives up her lust for the fleeing John Dall in exchange for a profitable, and loveless, marriage.

She, Edmund O’Brien and Dan Duryea will continue to squabble and play tricks on each other the rest of their lives and become the people we know from The Little Foxes.  Part of our enjoyment of this film is knowing where they ended up.

It’s difficult to pick out favorite scenes because they’re all so very fine, and the dialogue crackles, especially when Fredric March rises to sarcasm.  Then there is the delectable cagy sparring between Edmund O’Brien and Ann Blyth.  Dressed in her new finery, showing it off for O’Brien, she taunts him, “I just wanted to show you what you’ve been paying for.  How do I look?”

He replies, “Bright and shiny, honey, like a new two-bit piece.”  A lovely backhanded compliment, and we see the insult is not lost on her.

And when the Yankee carpetbagger, a guest at the Confederate memorial ceremonies, responds with surprise, “In Boston, we stopped fighting the war fifteen years ago.” 

To which the old Confederate soldier, a town pillar, replies, “You won it.  You can afford to forget.”

And I love Dan Duryea's nervous Woody Woodpecker laugh, that Fredric March even imitates at one point. 

Today we have many sequels and prequels of films.  It’s become kind of a standard practice, but it is not done for the storytelling—it is for the merchandising, and we know that. Yeah, I’m looking at you “Star Wars 23”.  Another Part of the Forest was created by Lillian Hellman for the excitement of discovering more about the characters, knowing with a writer's instinct that there really was more to the story she had left on the table.  This film was one of the first times a prequel was created and some of the critics didn’t seem to know how to take a prequel.

Lillian Hellman, unfortunately, did not really have any part in the making of this film.  At this time, she became blacklisted in Hollywood for her refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Lillian Hellman, who wrote the play Watch on the Rhine, which Ann appeared in on Broadway as a child, discussed here in our intro post, proved to be good luck again for Ann.  She shows again how adept she is at playing complex women, not simply females who were dastardly. 


Louella Parsons announced in December 1946 that Ann, “…that marvelous child actress, who did so well in Mildred Pierce,” had won the role of Regina.  It was a splendid opportunity for Ann Blyth to work as part of a top-notch ensemble cast, and so demonstrate an ability to stand out among them.  Syndicated columnist Dorothy Manners wrote, “In spite of her tender years, she is one whale of an actress…When Fredric and Florence March were here, they said they would like to do a show with Ann on Broadway.  That’s real praise, because the Marches do not usually like anything in Hollywood.”

The columnist Sue Chambers wrote, “Fredric March, who doesn’t usually go overboard for the young and unsophisticated told me, ‘She’s a great actress,’ when he was doing Another Part of the Forest with Ann.”  Apparently March wanted her for his upcoming film Jupiter’s Wife, but according to this columnist, William Powell snagged her for Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (For which she took time out from Another Part of the Forest to fabricate the mermaid’s tale, which we discussed here), and Chambers commented, “How about all this for a girl who isn’t yet twenty?” 


I’ll go one more and say that, as regards her portrayal of Regina Hubbard, if Gone with the Wind had not made it to the screen until 1949, instead of having been made ten years earlier in 1939, Ann Blyth would have been a top contender for Scarlett.

Ann remarked of Fredric March and Florence Eldridge in a 2006 interview with Eddie Muller: "To watch both of them so impressed upon me. They were so good at what they did. He was terrific. It was just electric to be on the set even if I wasn't in a scene with him. He was wonderful."
Another Part of the Forest was also made as a Lux Radio Theater presentation, with Ann as the only cast member from the film.  Walter Houston played her father Marcus and Vincent Price played her brother Ben.  You can hear it here at the Internet Archive website.  Unfortunately, the quality is a bit muffled, but it will give you an idea of the story.  Later on in November 1948, Ann also re-teamed on radio with Edmund O’Brien in the Suspense story “Muddy Track.”  The quality is quite good and you can listen to it here.  She plays a woman who is not all what she seems to be, and he is a man in trouble and on the run.  At the end, the announcer reminds us that she can now be seen in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.

The copy of Another Part of the Forest I managed to obtain was in poor condition, but I was lucky to be able to find it at all.  This film badly needs to be restored and released for sale, not only because it is one of the best films of the era, but because it is an example of stellar American playwriting of the twentieth century, and about distinctly American themes.   I don’t know about the complex legal machinations involving the Universal vault and what keeps so many Universal films, thereby of course, several Ann Blyth films, from not being widely shown again, but I certainly hope that TCM is able to use its influence and free these films from that stupid vault.

I still think a battering ram is a good option.

Come back next Thursday when we jump ahead to 1957, the year Ann’s last three movies were released, all very different and showing, not surprisingly, her versatility.  However, her film career was winding down as good roles were getting harder to come by for a 29-year old in an industry that was changing.  Her second-to-last film was The Buster Keaton Story, the last time she was paired on film with her first co-star and old friend, Donald O’Connor.


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The Deseret (Salt Lake City, Utah) News, syndicated article by Dorothy Manners, February 4, 1949, p. F-3.
The Evening Class Blog, July 28, 2007, transcript of Eddie Muller's interview with Ann Blyth July 2006 at Castro Theater, San Francisco.

Milwaukee Journal, syndicated article by Sue Chambers, February 29, 1948.

Milwaukee Sentinel, syndicated article by Louella Parsons, December 27, 1946, p. 10.

*********************************

UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Murder She Wrote - "Reflections of the Mind" - 1985




In an episode of Murder She Wrote, Ann Blyth got to go nuts, stab her husband with scissors, and be accused of murder.  It must have been a swell gig.  Certainly, it was a deviation from the good girl image we discussed in our last post, here.  (As were two murder mystery episodes of Quincy, M.E. that we’ll discuss down the road.)  Not that there weren’t opportunities for more wholesome assignments in the 1970s and 1980s for an actress who had more range than her wholesome reputation seemed to indicate, but wholesomeness trailed her like a long shadow. 

The makers of Hostess snack cakes made good use of that image in a series of television commercials.  Have a look below for these commercials now on YouTube:





There is a collection of Ann Blyth’s Hostess cupcake commercials in the Library of Congress.  I don’t know…that just makes me smile.  And crave Crumb Cakes. 

Becoming a television spokesperson for Hostess may have been only a lark for Ann, especially as it gave her a chance to work with some of her children in front of the camera, but she did have her weather eye out for TV roles, even if she was selective.  In an interview with syndicated columnist Vernon Scott in 1976 she remarked,

“Rather than just appear on television for the sake of it, as many do,” she said, “I’d rather wait for things that appeal to me.”

One role she apparently would have liked was a part as Amelia Earhart’s mother in the 1976 NBC-TV movie Amelia, based on the life of aviatrix Amelia Earhart, played by Susan Clark.  Miss Blyth was 48 years old at the time, but according to columnist Marilyn Beck, was not chosen because she looked too young to be the mother of a grown daughter.  We should all have such a problem.  She lost out to Jane Wyatt, then 64 years old, who had once played Ann’s mother in One of Our Own (1950), which we’ll discuss later in the year.

By 1985, the year she did the Murder She Wrote episode, Ann Blyth was still active in a long stage career, performing the role of the Countess in Song of Norway in March at the Long Beach (California) Convention Center for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera.  She played opposite Bill Hayes, with whom she had appeared in Brigadoon in 1968 in St. Louis, would later team in a series of musical variety cabaret performances. 

Just before the show opened, in the decade after she lost the role of Amelia Earhart’s mother for looking too young, Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Hawn remarked, interviewing her at the Brown Derby restaurant, “At 57, she verily glowed.”

The Murder She Wrote episode, called “Reflections of the Mind”, was telecast November 2, 1985, the sixth episode of the second season of what would become a long-running and much beloved series, due mainly to the talent and likeability of its star, Angela Lansbury as the intrepid mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher.

The show would be a reunion of sorts: between Ann and Martin Milner, who played the sheriff in this episode who accuses her of murder, and who appeared with Ann in the above-mentioned One of Our Own as her sister’s boyfriend.

Ben Murphy, who plays Ann’s younger second husband (14 years her junior in real life), was also a regular in the late  TV 1960s show The Name of the Game when Ann did a guest star role on that series in an episode called “Swingers Only” in 1969.

Most especially enjoyable to fans was the matchup of Ann and Angela, who four decades earlier were both nominated in the same Best Supporting Actress category for the 1945 Oscars.  Ann, 17 years old, had been nominated for Mildred Pierce, which we discussed here.  Miss Lansbury, 20 years old, was nominated for The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Both lost out to veteran actress Anne Revere.

A fond and teasing reference to their earlier careers must be the framed photograph we see at the very beginning of the episode of a young Ann and Angela standing together before what appears to be a microphone.  The occasion is clearly not the Oscars, but if anyone knows of any radio show they did together, I’d love to know about it.  It looks like early 1950s to me.  I haven’t been able any to track any information about that photo yet, but I’ll let you know if I do.
This comes from the fun fan blog The Definitive Guide to Murder She Wrote.

Speaking of intriguing images, there’s a large oil painting in one of the rooms of the mansion (the setting of the story is the home of Ann’s character, who is wealthy).  The painting depicts a young and glamorous Ann lounging seductively in a chair in a long gown with the figure of a man standing behind her.  I’d love to know more about that painting.

The episode starts with a slow pan across family photos, including the pic of Ann and Angela in younger days, and then we see Ann lying on her bed, having nodded off reading one of Jessica Fletcher’s books.  Ann plays Francesca Lodge, a really rich lady in Ohio with a grown daughter and a younger second husband.  She and Jessica are old pals from days gone by.  For those of you familiar with the series, you know that Jessica has friends and family all over the country, all over the world, and they are frequently murdered, have committed murder, or were somewhere on the premises when a murder was committed. 

It’s not really a good idea to be a friend of Jessica Fletcher’s because of this.  But Ann is, so you know there’s going to be a murder.

Ann is troubled lately with forgetfulness, delusions, and seems to be haunted by images and reminders of her late first husband.  She is especially plagued by a music box he had given her years before, that plays unexpectedly by itself.  We hear it, too, so perhaps she’s not really nuts, maybe somebody is driving her nuts, “gaslighting” her, as it were.

Still, she flips out during a thunderstorm, hears things, sees things, and when her second husband, Ben Murphy arrives home, she attacks him with a pair of scissors.  A manic fit of hysteria is always a good way to start an episode, and we see Ann is in fine form, tearing around the house, staggering down a palatial staircase, and swiping at Ben Murphy like a nervous Zorro.  Anyone who can slap Joan Crawford and send her sprawling down a few stairs is certainly going to be pretty handy with a pair of scissors.

Ann ends up in the psychiatric ward of the city hospital, where Jessica, who has been summoned (you always go to writers for help), arrives at her private hospital room and offers sisterly comfort.

Ann is released (because even Jack the Ripper would be released into the custody of Jessica Fletcher), and Jessica bunks at Ann’s house while we settle into story. 

Mysterious reminders of her first husband continue to terrorize Ann, whose screams rouse Jessica into action.  Funny how on TV people roused in the middle of the night always look perfect in attractive robes. I’d stagger into the hall, disheveled  and  far less articulate than Jessica Fletcher in ascertaining the problem at hand.  My interrogation would be more like, “Huh?  Wha…mmpfh...z-z-z-z-z.”

But I digress.


Ben Murphy runs his wife’s family business, and it turns out his secretary is also his mistress.  There’s a lot of suspicious characters around, including that secretary; Ann’s grown daughter who is a former drug user and runaway; a creepy gardener who keeps peering into windows; and the family doctor with the in-your-face manner of a creepy child’s party clown.  The aloof housekeeper played by Esther Rolle also seems suspicious—I still don’t get how the switcheroo with the dead canary could be done so quickly. 

The only two people we trust are Angela Lansbury and Martin Milner as the sheriff.  I love Martin Milner.  He’s been on Murder She Wrote a handful of times as different characters.  The innocent open-faced boy we saw in Life with Father (1947) here, and I Want You (1951) which we discussed here, grew into a frank and confident and no-nonsense guy you’d want on your side.  You can almost smell the Old Spice.

I’ll not give away the details, this being a mystery, but it’s a treat to watch Miss Lansbury and Miss Blyth together as a couple of pros who grew up in the business.  Ann Blyth here is fragile, high strung, at the breaking point.  Regrettably, the climax occurs when she is out of the room.  Our last image of her is back in the psychiatric ward screaming at that weird doctor.

It’s the last time we saw her play a character on television.  Only in her late fifties, she seems too young not to have done more TV, but it had already been an over 50-year career for this woman who started as a child of six.  Nor was the career over, for there would be more live appearances on stage doing what she started out doing as a six-year-old child: singing.

We’ll take that up another time.  Come back next Thursday when we jump back to 1948 and one of Ann’s finest performances as a dramatic actress, playing the sultry and devious young Regina in Lillian Hellman’s Another Part of the Forest.


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The Definitive Guide to Murder She Wrote blog.

Karr Collection Television Commercials, Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/findaid/karr/karr16.html

Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1985, article by Jack Hawn.

The Milwaukee Journal, January 27, 1976, syndicated article by Vernon Scott p. GS1, also April 12, 1976, syndicated article by Marilyn Beck, p. 3.

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UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.