‘MURDER, SHE WROTE’
“THE GRAND OLD LADY”
From the IMDb:
Jessica narrates a story from 40 years ago when another female mystery writer helped to solve a mysterious murder aboard the Queen Mary.
In October of 1989, one of Toobworld's grande dames of mystery literature passed away - Lady Abigail Austin. Jessica Fletcher, who had developed the ability of serlinguism, spoke to the audience in the Trueniverse and lauded the late lady with effusive praise.....
When it came to mysteries,
she was very simply the best.
Her books will live on
long after mine are gone and forgotten.
Based on such a eulogy, I would say Lady Abigail was second only to Dame Agatha Christie in fame and talent, closely followed by Abigail Mitchell, Glynis Granville, Dame Margo Woodhouse, Eudora McVeigh Shipton, and Jessica B. Fletcher herself. (I'm referring to women mystery writers in Toobworld only, meaning no sleight to any of the Real World's eminent women in the field. I included Christie because she has been dramatized for Earth Prime-Time - most notably, her televersion appeared in an episode of 'Doctor Who'.)
Radio personality "Edwin Chancellor" described her career highlights (with corrections by Lady Abigail herself):
Your preeminence is without equal.
Your marvelous detective, Dexter Saint James, the hero of 50 novels.
LADY ABIGAIL AUSTIN
Translated into a dozen languages.
LADY ABIGAIL AUSTIN
Seventeen, including Swahili.
But I think "Chancellor" was fixated only on those books about the sleuth Dexter St. James. Perhaps he was hoping to get Lady Abigail to sign over the adaptation rights for the character to him so that he might play the role on the radio. (At the very least, he was hoping to get her to write for his program, "The Casebook of Edwin Chancellor.")
However, I think there were more books to be found in Lady Abigail Austin's bibliography than just those 55 novels about St. James. Like Agatha Christie, I'm sure Austin also had other amateur sleuths among her creations, perhaps only to be found in short stories, maybe in full-novels as well. And I think, based on a comment by "Edwin Chancellor", it may be that Lady Abigail Austin had a gimmick when it came to the themes of her other mystery novels.
Well, I, for one, cannot wait
until the next Abigail Austin adventure is published.
"Chancellor" could have easily said "novel" or "book" rather than "adventure". I think it could be that he was referring to an entire subset of stories by the writer - "The Abigail Austin Adventures", in which she wrote mysteries which were solved by a fictionalized version of herself.
It could be that there weren't that many books already published in that series, perhaps only one or two. After all, the public was enamored of Dexter Saint James. But those stories were still fiction and she had not written about herself having actually been involved in an investigation.
Years ago, she was involved in a real-life mystery.
As you know, that's something that I'm familiar with.
But for Lady Abigail, I think it was,
well, a somewhat disconcerting situation.
It was two years after the war,
and she had sailed aboard the Queen Mary,
which was one night out of New York City when the trouble started.
I believe it was a disconcerting situation because Lady Abigail had never personally been involved in a police investigation before, especially a murder. And I think she had, for whatever reason, lost the inclination to write. It could have been writer’s block, perhaps a loss of belief in herself.
Her observational skills had been dulled by lack of use during the War and it turned out that her solution to the crime was in error. But young amateur sleuth "Christy McGinn" came up with the correct answer to the puzzle. However, he didn't tell his Dad - Police Inspector "Martin McGinn" - until after Lady Abigail disembarked, so that her renewed excitement in her chosen vocation would not be dimmed.
You may have noticed that three of the characters I've mentioned so far in this piece had their names listed in quotation marks. Only Lady Abigail and Jessica have their names unadorned. That's because we saw those two as "actual" people of Toobworld. Everyone else in this émission de télévision a clef had an alias.
The problem for Jessica is that - basically...? She was having a senior moment. Cabot Cove CRAFT. JB had a brain fart. Although she was describing what really happened during that fateful cruise, she was using the names of the characters from Lady Abigail’s novelized version of the events.
Lady Abigail, newly enthused with the joy of writing, rushed back to her New York residence, no longer interested in heading to her first home in Brighton. There she began writing with a passion and by the end of the next year, her latest "Abigail Austin Adventure" - "Abigail Austin And The Grand Old Lady" - was published.
She had no problem with appearing as herself in the book, but rather than dealing with all of the legal paperwork needed to mention the others involved, she fictionalized everybody else who was on board the Queen Mary during that investigation. And that included "Christy McGinn" - the young crossword puzzle creator who actually solved the case because he was helping out his policeman father ("Martin McGinn".)
In Toobworld, these were Lady Abigail’s roman a clef versions of Ellery Queen and his father, Inspector Richard Queen.
Ellery Queen, is a mystery writer and amateur detective who helps his father, Richard Queen, a New York City police inspector, solve baffling murders.
The obituary writer for the New York Daily Examiner summed up the basics about Ellery:
ARTHUR VAN DYKE
Queen, comma, Ellery.
Mystery writer of some renown
Born April 2nd, New York City, 1912.
Father: Queen, comma, Richard.
Inspector, New York City Police Department.
Lady Abigail changed enough of the details about Ellery Queen so that it was not readily evident as to his real identity. Unless the reader was aware of the murder case and/or a true aficionado of all mystery writers, not just Lady Abigail, then the casual reader might have assumed “Christy McGinn” was fully fictional.
Lady Abigail enjoyed writing in the roman a clef style which afforded her the chance to create her “word puzzles with a key” when it came to the names of her characters.
Let’s take a look at some of the characters in “Abigail Austin and the Grand Old Lady”.....
CHRISTY McGINN - The stand-in for Ellery Queen was a creator of crossword puzzles for the New York Daily Examiner, but yearned to be a reporter on the crime beat. In “real” life, Ellery was already a published author by 1947. (I think Austin’s only reason to treat him so dismissively was so that she could hold center stage in the story as the one true mystery writer.)
As for his name, “Christy” was inspired by a young man whom Lady Abigail knew all of her life: Christopher R. Milne. His father, A. A. Milne, authored the “Winnie The Pooh” stories and put his son into those tales as “Christopher Robin”. By the 1940s, he was a young man trying to make his way in the world, away from his father’s influential shadow. And as for ‘McGinn’, Lady Abigail remembered the writings of William Maginn, a writer for periodicals in the middle of the 19th Century whose reputation was nearly forgotten. I don’t think she wished that upon Ellery Queen, but she preferred to keep the limelight to herself on this case.
As for Christy’s father, “Martin”, she found her inspiration in Martin Sheridan, an NYPD police detective who was praised as one of the greatest athletes with five Olympic medals to his credit from three separate Olympic games. I think it meant that Lady Abigail saw great potential in Inspector McGinn’s career with the NYPD. (Sadly, Martin Sheridan died in 1918, a victim of the flu pandemic.)
Of the other major participants in the Queen Mary murder case, “Edwin Chancellor” is easy to recognize as being the fictional counterpart to Simon Brimmer, the “celebrated” radio show host. Lady Abigail based his name on a British minister she knew during World War I, when she and her first husband lived in Lancaster. Edwin Samuel Montagu was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1915 and 1916, and he played a role in a sex scandal in the government which led to the United Kingdom taking a stand on the issue of a Zionist state in Palestine as mapped out in the Balfour Declaration.
For Lady Abigail, who knew his wife Venetia (once the mistress of the very much married Prime Minister H.H. Asquith), Edwin Montagu immediately came to mind when she first saw Brimmer with his receding hairline, his jowls, and mustache.
As for the others, “Captain Oliver” had to be Captain John D. Snow, R.D., R.N.R., who took command of of the Queen Mary on July 4, 1947. As to how she chose “Oliver” as his alias in the novel, I believe her business dealings in New York City were handled by a young lawyer in the firm named Oliver Douglas. Douglas, a veteran of the recent war who had flown as a fighter pilot, had graduated from Harvard Law School and now advised Lady Abigail on matters of contract law in her dealings with her publisher. While in the service he met a young Hungarian woman named Lisa and they fell in love; he brought her back to America as his war bride. Lady Abigail found it charming that Lisa called her husband “Oleevar” due to her accent and that kept running through the author’s mind as she wrote the first draft of her mystery.
The murder victim was a Nazi named “Otto Kreitzmann”, who was also traveling under an alias, as “Peter Daniken”, allegedly from Denmark. In the real life of Earth Prime-Time, he was still a Nazi, but he was known as Otto Klaus. He had been involved in the scheme Himmler had dubbed “Operation Geltkreig” (translation: “Money War”) which would have made American currency worthless in the global economy.
As we saw in this episode, “Kreitzmann” was not successful in getting the other half of the forged currency plate off the Queen Mary, and he paid for it with his life. In the meantime, his brother General Gunther Klaus, who had proven that he had secretly been against the Nazi regime for the sake of his baby daughter Mitzi, came into contact with a criminal (and former Gestapo agent) named Von Golling, who was running a mountainside hotel in Switzerland. Although Klaus wanted nothing to do with the former Nazi, his greed for the hidden cache of counterfeit American money drove him to join Von Golling’s scheme. Nearly twenty years later, General Klaus - like his brother Otto before him - paid with his life because of that counterfeit money.
I don’t know who was the inspiration for “Arthur Bishop”, the impatient fashion designer who lost his life during the investigation. Whether or not this other victim had been a fashion designer, it was definitely an alias used in the book. It may be that this character didn’t even exist in the actual investigation, that Lady Abigail simply created him to pad out her story and provide her readers with yet another suspect to consider. Quite the coincidence to have a clue steeped in chess and then find a character named Arthur Bishop of Majesty Fashions…. Bishop. Arthur - as in King Arthur, perhaps? And Majesty - that could have been a reference to either a King or to a Queen. So the involvement of Ellery Queen in the case might have been Lady Abigail’s inspiration.
A small but significant role in the story was the editor at the New York Daily Express. In Lady Abigail’s story, and repeated by Jessica, his name was “Harry Krumholtz”. But in “reality”? The editor of the Daily Express in 1947 was Thornton Johns, for a time a suspect in the murder of the newspaper’s publisher. (So in a way, this episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ is a fictionalized sequel to an episode of ‘Ellery Queen’.)
One final character I’d like to examine - “Major Dan McGuire”. The soldier had been wounded during the war, leaving him a prisoner of an eye-patch.
During his two-year recuperation in a military hospital in Lancaster, England, “Major McGuire” fell in love with his nurse, “Ellie Cantrell”, even though he was already married. When they were finally allowed to disembark after “Christy McGinn” solved the murder, “McGuire” was greeted by his enthusiastic wife while a heart-broken “Ellie Cantrell” faded into the background.
“Major Dan McGuire”, of all the characters, needed to be presented with an alias if he was to appear in the novel. As “Chancellor” pointed out, he had been a member of an advance company which took Gestapo headquarters at the end of the war.
A company of spies.
The real figure was known as Captain Howard, and even that may have been a cover identity. He was in the O.S.S. and spoke perfect French, which helped him pass as a native Frenchman. One of his assignments had been to infiltrate a small insignificant French village near the LeClair River and find out why the Germans had taken such an interest. (They had rigged the entire village with explosives in order to lure the Allies in and blow them up real good.)
In “Abigail Austin and the Grand Old Lady” novel, Lady Abigail wrote “Major McGuire” as wearing an eye-patch. This may have been an affectation for the sake of the story.
There is so much more I plan to write some day, mostly about Ellery Queen in the TV Universe, but also about Lady Abigail Austin. During the episode, still a serlinguist, Jessica Fletcher told the audience that the newspapers reported Lady Abigail as being 101 years old at the time of her death.
What if I told you that when she died in 1989, Lady Abigail Austin was actually almost 120 years old?
More on that someday soon.....
1] Arthur Van Dyke appeared in the ‘Ellery Queen’ episode “The Adventure of the 12th Floor Express”. Van Dyke worked at the “real” New York Daily Examiner. This is the episode in which we also find editor Thornton Johns, the inspiration for Harry Krumholz.
2] William Maginn and Martin Sheridan were real people in the Trueniverse, but they were never portrayed on television.
Edwin Samuel Montagu was an historical figure and only by luck do I have that connection to Lady Abigail via the Chancellery for the Duchy of Lancaster. However, at this time I have no known “televersion” portrayal of Montagu. The best I could get was a gathering of Asquith's ministers during those war years in 'The Life and Times of David Lloyd George" which was shown on PBS in 1981. Therefore, one of the “atmosphere people” seen above is supposed to be Montagu.
A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin are of course famous in the Trueniverse and both have been portrayed on television.
3] In Jessica’s telling of the tale, “Edwin Chancellor” looks nothing like either the real Simon Brimmer or Chancellor Edwin Montagu. More than likely Mrs. Fletcher had never seen a photograph of Brimmer (She’s not all-knowing, after all.) It could be that we are privy to her mind’s depiction of the radio performer based on his voice in old time radio tapes, influenced perhaps by a man she met on an archaeological dig in Mexico, Gideon Armstrong. (‘Murder, She Wrote’ - “Murder Digs Deep”)
4] The Queen Mary set sail from South Hampton on its first post-war voyage on July 31st, 1947. Taking about four days to make the crossing, the Queen Mary probably remained docked for a few days before making the return trip - or at least trying to (that pesky murder, don’t you know?) So this episode of ‘Murder She Wrote’ took place by the end of the first week of August, 1947.
6] From Wikipedia:
The Allied doctrine of unconditional surrender meant that "... those Germans — and particularly those German generals — who might have been ready to throw Hitler over, and were able to do so, were discouraged from making the attempt by their inability to extract from the Allies any sort of assurance that such action would improve the treatment meted out to their country."
So it will be my assertion that General Gunther Klaus had been ready to throw over the Nazi regime.
7] By the end of the episode, Jessica Fletcher professed her belief that “Ellie” and “Dan” would end up together, and I think she probably had inside information. Lady Abigail likely wrote their sub-plot to end on such a downer only to show that the Ellie character was strong enough to step aside so that she wouldn’t be the cause of the wife’s pain if she learned the truth. But like “Arthur Bishop” the fashion designer, I believe the wife was just a fictional character in the mystery novel. There was no impediment to Ellie and Dan - or whatever their real names were - getting their “Happily Ever After”.
- 'MURDER, SHE WROTE' - "THE GRAND OLD LADY"
- 'ELLERY QUEEN' - "THE ADVENTURE OF THE 12th FLOOR EXPRESS"
- 'MURDER, SHE WROTE' - "MURDER DIGS DEEP"
- 'DANGER MAN' - "UNDER THE LAKE"
- 'COMBAT!' - "9 PLACE VENDEE"
- 'SHIRLEY TEMPLE'S STORYBOOK' - "WINNIE THE POOH"
- 'MR. SELFRIDGE' - "EPISODE 4.4"
- 'GREEN ACRES' - "WINGS OVER HOOTERVILLE"
- 'THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVID LLOYD GEORGE' - "NO. 10"