Thursday, June 01, 2017


Haw! Here I am at the age when I'm expected to retire and, true to my demographic, I find myself watching late night reruns of "Murder She Wrote." You know that show, the one that takes place in Cabot Cove, the home of fictional sleuth Angela Lansbury, a.k.a. Jessica Fletcher.

Lansbury (above) is a terrific actress but, to judge from interviews, in real life she smiles a lot less often than her TV character. I don't mean to imply that Lansbury is joyless or humorless. She just doesn't smile unless she has a reason to. 'Nothing wrong with that.

Even so, it's a pity. When she does smile she lights up the room. The fact is, she has one the great smiles on film. It's world class...but it's a liability as well as an asset. What do you do with an actress who's mostly serious but who has the warmest smile around?

Old Hollywood's answer seemed to be, cast her as a beautiful but cold and calculating Jezebel who easily manipulates men.

Sure, she could handle that, but that's a young woman's role. What's an actress like that to do in mid-life?

Fortunately Lansbury found a new career in musical comedy. There I'm guessing that she learned to make the warm smile work for her.

The task assumed by the creators of Murder She Wrote was to come up with a premise that gave her the perfect ratio of smiles to drama...and they succeeded!

Angela's character plays a mystery writer who's instantly recognized and complimented by fans of her novels. Not only that but she travels frequently and is always staying with friends or accepting visits from friends. 'Lots of smile opportunities there.

She also likes to insinuate herself into police investigations and that requires more smiles to get co-operation from the law...once again, lots of smile opportunities.

A lot of the show is about smile delivery. By way of example, Jessica rides a bike because she doesn't drive a car. Why, the bike you ask?

They didn't give her a car because not having one forces her to ask others for a lift, or to be the beneficiary of others' kindness. Wow, that's brilliant! Far from handicapping the character it gives her an excuse to interact with the other characters and, most importantly, to smile and charm.

That includes half smiles, at which Lansbury excels.

The lesson I draw from this is that actors can't be cast according to their natural demeanor, but by what they're able to perform when the footlights are on. Everybody knows this already but it's nice to be reminded of it once in a while.

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