I watched a lot of television as a child. One of my deepest memories is lying on the living room couch, sick from school, and watching Happy Days. It wasn’t this particular episode, but I actually watched live as Fonzie jumped the shark. I wonder when my own teenagers use that phrase if they know where it came from or if they realize that Mom and Dad were there when history was made.
Consequently, when I think back on my childhood television watching it is blended together. I can’t distinguish how old I was when I watched certain things. Was it in elementary school? High school? College? And the plethora of genres and actors are infinitely uncountable.
I went through an Abbott and Costello phase. A Claudette Colbert phase. Katherine Hepburn. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. Harrison Ford. Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys. Simon & Simon. Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. Lou Grant. The list goes on and on. I even wrote Star Wars fan fiction, which I hope is buried deeply in an abyss somewhere never to be found again.
I was especially drawn to shows about detectives, lawyers, and writers. If they were all three, well, that was the ultimate trifecta jackpot.
One of my favorites was Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. I have always continued to admire her and follow her career as much as possible. In reading celebrations of her life, I’ve learned new things, although while they sound new, they also sound familiar. Perhaps I’ve heard them before and they sit in the back of my brain waiting for the reminders.
Two stand out in particular. Her daughter had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was abusing drugs, being encouraged to steal from her family. Angela moved the entire family to Ireland. The person influencing her daughter? Charles Manson. The second to stand out was that Angela hired, and even wrote specific characters for specific actors so that they would get their acting hours in to remain eligible for their union benefits. She was good people.
I was much younger than the core demographic for the show, but I was drawn in, to the stories, the characters, and the writing – both Jessica Fletcher’s writing as well as the writing of the show itself. I would find myself being able to anticipate plot points and guessing who the murderer might be and why I thought that. This is one of the reasons I love Only Murders in the Building so much. It gives me the same interactive feeling of being a part of the show.
With Murder, She Wrote since I was so much younger than Jessica, I had something to look forward to; something to attain, to reach for. She started writing later in life – a middle age that was far off for me – and so it was never an impossible dream, but something to sit on in patience; to strive for.
The picture I’ve used of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher epitomizes my idea of a writer. I sit at my dining room table right now, clicking and clacking my keyboard as the words form on the screen. Where the sink and window are behind her, mine are within my field of vision, a tea kettle quietly bubbling, its blue light illuminating its base in place of Jessica’s tall, silver coffee pot. Next to me, there is a cup and a straw of Diet Coke, but it is often hot tea. I have papers and pens, pencils, and markers strewn about the surface of the table, a three-hole hole puncher, a pencil case, a church bulletin, a handful of bills, and of course, I’m wearing my glasses. It’s as if the fantasy life of Jessica Fletcher has come alive for me here.
And it is alive. I’m teaching a writing class, I’m writing a book, among other things, I’m drinking something full of caffeine, and I’m moving onto the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter.
I’ve been thinking a lot about chapters lately, but that needs another sheet of paper, and the groceries need buying. Maybe I still have a little Jessica Fletcher in me after all.
Thank you Jessica. And thank you, Angela Lansbury. Rest well.