Tuesday, March 31, 2015

3/31/1989 Heathers is released

March 31, 1989.  How to get ahead in high school?  Kill the popular kids.  Gives a new meaning to the phrase "mean girls."  Heathers, directed by Michael Lehmann and written by Daniel Waters, won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Film of the year.

Monday, March 30, 2015

3/30/1936 The Red Box is opened

March 30, 1936.  The action begins on this date in Rex Stout's fourth novel about Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe is hired to find who killed a model with a poisoned box of chocolates (and no,, in spite of the illustrations on many editions of the book, that is not the red box of the title).  For the first time in the series, Wolfe breaks his rule by leaving the house on business.

The Red Box was filmed twice for Italian television and last year a version adapted by Joseph Goodrich became the first play based on any Nero Wolfe tale.  The world premiere was at the Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul.  

 In my opinion this is the first true Nero Wolfe book.  Until this one Stout was still poking and pushing his characters into their final form.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

3/29/1959 Some Like It Hot

March 29, 1959.  On this date Billy Wilder's classic comedy Some Like It Hot was released.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon starred as two musicians who accidentally witnessed a mob killing  and have to go on the run in drag.  Among the other members of the all-girl band: Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe.

The flick was nominated for six Oscars and won one.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

3/28/1966 The Avengers conquer America

March 28, 1966.  The Avengers actually started in 1961, and was about a doctor trying to find the people who killed his wife.  But after a year the doctor left and his assistant, John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee) took over the show.  By 1966 when ABC brought it to the United States, it had turned into a stylish spy program.  And the large influx of American bucks allowed them to move from video to 35mm film, giving it the beautiful look we all remember.

Steed had several partners over the year but the one Americans all remember is Mrs. Emma Peel played by the wonderful Diana Rigg.

I remember hearing an interview with Macnee a decade ago in which he was asked what it was like to be in Swinging London in the mid-sixties, starring on the hottest show on TV.  He laughed and said he had no idea.  After fourteen-hour-days filming they all went straight home to sleep.

Friday, March 27, 2015

3/27/1908 Joan Fleming is born

March 27, 1908..  Joan Fleming was born this day in Lancashire, England.  Her narrative career started with telling stories to her children, so she wrote five juvenile books before producing her first adult mystery, Two Lovers Too Many in 1949.

The Crime Writers Association awarded her the Gold Dagger twice.  Her most popular character was Nuri Bey Izkirlak, a Turkish philosopher.  Some of her titles are too wonderful not to mention.  For  example: Dirty Butter For Servants, A Daisy Chain For Satan, Young Man I Think You're Dying, and Too Late!  Too Late!  The maiden Cried....

Thursday, March 26, 2015

3/26/2000 American Beauty wins Best Picture

March 26, 2000.  The Oscar for Best Picture went to American Beauty, a movie which begins with the protagonist telling you has been murdered.  Even then, it manages a surprise ending, with lots of delightful twists along the way.  Five Oscars, including Kevin Spacey's second Best Actor nod.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

3/25/1982 Cagney And Lacey premieres

March 25, 1982.   When Barney Rosenzweig read that Hollywood had never created a buddy picture with two female buddies he tried to create one.  Unable to sell it as a flick he adapted it to television and, after a lot of hit-and-miss (Loretta Swit played Cagney in the TV movie, Meg Foster in the first season, and then Sharon Gless took over)  the show ran seven years.  It garnered 20 Emmy nominations, winning nine.  Tyne Daly was the other half of the team of NYPD detectives. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3/24/1956 Dick Francis falls down

March 24, 1956.   In the 1950s Dick Francis was a famous jump-jockey, with more than 350 wins to his credit.  But he is most famous in the sport for riding the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch, in the Grand National Race on this date.  Close to finishing, the horse fell for no apparent reason.  Not long after that Francis left the track for writing, amd millions of mystery fans are glad he did.

Monday, March 23, 2015

3/23/2003 Chicago wins the Best Picture Oscar

March 23, 2003.  The movie of a musical comedy about women in prison for killing their men won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.  John Kander wrote the music, Fred Ebb wrote the music and, with Bob Fosse, the book.  A lot of people don't realize it was based on a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. based on actual criminals she had met while working as a reporter in the 1920s.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

3/22/1988 The Butcher's Theatre opens

March 22, 1988.  The Butcher's Theatre was published on this date.  It was Jonathan Kellerman's fourth novel, and the first without his series character Alex Delaware. 

The book is about a serial killer in Jerusalem, killing young Arab women. The L.A. Times called it a "long ambitious thriller," with "many pleasures."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

3/21/1980 Who Shot J.R.?

March 21, 1980.  There have been few times that more people in America were desperate to know Who Done It.  Dallas was a hugely popular show and its 1980 season finale ended with J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, shot by an unseen assailant.  All summer people buzzed and "Who shot J.R.?" t-shirts sold like Ewing petroleum.  When the answer was revealed on November 21, more people were watching than voted in the presidential election weeks before.

Friday, March 20, 2015

3/20/1990 Tony Hillerman honored by Interior Department

March 20, 1990.  Today Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr. presented the Department's highest civilian honor, the Public Service Award, to Tony Hillerman.  "In his book, A Thief of Time, Tony Hillerman graphically portrayed the vulnerability of the thousands of archaeological sites being pillaged by unscrupulous pothunters," Lujan explained.  "He has ably advanced the goals of the Department in increasing public awareness of the need to preserve the richness of native American traditions in the face of modern life."  He also wrote a heck of a good novel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

3/19/1938 Cleve Adams' Punk

March 19, 1938.  The Detective Fiction Weekly issue with this cover date featured a novella by Cleve Adams titled "Punk," and you can read it here, starting on page 62. It's the story of three boyhood friends who take different paths in life.  One's a cop, and one's a gangster.   What could go wrong?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

3/18/2006 Cast Adrift takes the Lefty

March 18, 2006.  Left Coast Crime is a conference that normally takes place west of the Mississippi but in 2006 it occured on the Left Coast of England, namely Bristol.  Go figure.

The winner of Lefty Award is chosen by conference participants every year for the best funny crime novel of the year.  And this time it went to Cast Adrift,  about a journalist who gets involved in the making of a pirate movie and finds real life pirates. 

One reviewer called it "Agatha Christie on laughing gas."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

3/17/1978 Bill DeAndrea becomes a novelist

March 17, 1978.  Happy Saint Patrick's Day!  On this day Killed In The Ratings was published.  It was the first novel by William L. DeAndrea, and it won the Edgar for Best First Novel.  The novel introduced Matt Cobb, a TV executive, who starred in seven more novels.  DeAndrea went on to win Edgars for Best Paperback Original and Best Critical/Biographical Work. 

For many years DeAndrea wrote a column for The Armchair Detective, with the provocative name "J'Accuse!"  He was politically conservative and not afraid of a fight, so the column was extremely lively.

Monday, March 16, 2015

3/16/2010 FX gets Justified

March 16, 2010.  After several attempts to base a series on the works of Elmore Leonard (Maximum Bob, Karen Sisco) television finally got it right.  The FX series Justified was based on the short story "Fire In The Hole," although the hero, Raylan Givens, had been a minor character in some of Leonard's novels.  Like so many of his works it is a sort of modern Western, beginning with a shootout that sends a bad guy to the morgue and Deputy Marshal Givens into exile in his native Kentucky.  Perhaps one reason  for the success was the bracelets the producers passed out to everyone in the first season with the message: What Would Elmore Do?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

3/15/1985 Inspector Rebus is conceived

March 15, 1985.  On this day Scottish author Ian Rankin conceived his most famous character: Detective Inspector John Rebus.  The series has proven to be one of the most popular in modern crime fiction, translated into more than twenty languages.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

3/14/1914 Lee Hays is born

March 14, 1915.  Lee Hays was born on this date in Little Rock Arkansas.   He was best known as a member of the Weavers with Pete Seeger, who were among the first people to make folk music commercially successful.  Hays co-wrote "If I Had A Hammer," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," and "Wasn't That A Time," among other hits.  He was also, with Alan Arkin, a member of the Baby Sitters, who made classic children's albums in the 1950s.

So what is he doing on this page?  He wrote four short mystery stories, the first of which, "A Banquet and A Half," appeared in Ellery Queen in October 1954, won a prize, and has been reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic.  You can read another of his stories here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

3/13/2010 Lakin gets the Lefty

March 13, 2010.  At the Left Coast Crime conference in Los Angeles, the Lefty Award, for best humorous mystery of 2009 went to Rita Dakin, for Getting Old Is A Disaster.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

3/12/1973 The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper unwrapped

March 12, 1973.  On this date the tenth Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald was published.  The salvage consultant is trying to help the daughter of a former lover, a woman who seems determined to die.  Kirkus Review said: "while the story seems overly complicated and diffused this time, no one can knock its flushed allure since McGee's powers to persuade or seduce seem more puissant than ever."  And how often have you been called puissant?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

3/11/1989 Cops premieres

March 11, 1989.  Cops on Fox is one of the longest-running shows in TV history, and an early example of reality television.  My favorite moment was in an episode in New Orleans when a shoplifting suspect, leaving the store to find the police and a camera crew waiting for him, gave the Nazi salute.  A disgusted officer asked: "Did your mother have any children who lived?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

3/10/1939 Orson Welles does The Glass Key

March 10, 1939.  When you think of Orson Welles on the radio you probably remember his version of The War of the Worlds, which caused panic.  A few months later his Mercury Theatre of the Air had changed its name to The Campbell Playhouse (sponsored by a certain soup company) and it featured a production of Dashiell Hammett's crime novel The Glass Key.  You can actually hear the broadcast here. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

3/9/1918 Mickey Spillaine is born

March 9, 1918.  One of the most controversial of crime writers was born this day in Brooklyn.  His books about private eye Mike Hammer were panned by many critics as hyper-violent and sub-literate, but the public bought them by the millions.  In 1995 the Mystery Writers of America gave him the Grand Master Award.  He passed away in 2006 in the part of South Carolina he had made his home since he first flew over it in an Air Force plane in the 1940s. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

3/8/2007 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo begins

March 8, 2007.  On this day the action begins in one of the great phenomenon novels of the decade: Steig Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  This first novel, published after the author's death of a heart attack at age fifty, was one of the biggest sellers of the year, has been filmed twice, and arguably started the fad for Scandanavian crime fiction which is still going on. 

And maybe you knew all that.  But did you know the book's title in Swedish is Man Som Hatar Kvinnor, which means Men Who Hate Women?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

3/7/1963 Such A Killing Crime begins

March 7, 1963.  On this date the action begins in the novel Such A Killing Crime, set in Greenwich Village during the Great Folk Music Scare.  Joe Talley runs a coffee house in New York.  When one of his favorite singers is killed on his stage he hunts for the man's missing demo tape, which may lead him to a killer...

Friday, March 6, 2015

3/6/1996 Patricia Cornwell makes a big deal

March 6, 1996.  On this date the Times-Dispatch reported that crime novelist Patricia Cornwell signed a deal that would deliver $20,000,000 for her next three books.  This apparently made her the highest-paid female crime writer to date.

Source; Beahm, George.  The Unoffical Patricia Cornwell Companion.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

3/5/1917 A Jury of her Peers appears

March 5, 1917.  On this date Every Week magazine published Susan Glaspell's story "A Jury of her Peers."  The story was inspired by the murder of John Hossack which the author had covered as a reporter.  She adapted it from her play Trifles, and the story is generally considered her best work.  It is also a feminist classic, with women secretly investigating a suspicious death.  My favorite point: the dead man is Mister Right.  Excuse me, Wright.

You can read the story here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

3/4/1881 Holmes teams up with Watson

March 4, 1881.   According to William S. Baring-Gould's  The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, it was on this date that one of the most famous fictional relationships began, when Dr John H.Watson's new roommate invites him to participate in a case.  Illustration by George Hutchinson.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3/3/1985 ABC starts Moonlighting

March 3, 1985.  The private detective dramedy Moonlighting premieres on ABC.  Starring Cybill Shepherd and a newbie named Bruce Willis, it ran for 66 episodes.

Monday, March 2, 2015

3/2/1831 Seeley Regester registers

March 2, 1831.  Metta Victoria Fuller was born on this day.  She married publisher Orville James Victor and, under the same Seeley Regester she wrote more than 100 novels.  Her book The Dead Letter (1866) is considered the first American crime novel.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

3/1/1933 Perry Mason arrives

March 1, 1933.  On this date The Case of the Velvet Claws was published.  Erle Stanley Gardner had been writing stories and novellas at an amazing rate, mostly for Black Mask Magazine, trying to earn enough money to drop being a lawyer and go full-time as an author.  It took another lawyer to help him out: the fictional but wildly successful Perry Mason, who premiered in this book.  75 novels and a hit TV show followed.