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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Ikea just opened up it's largest American store, IKEA Burbank, and it's a doosey! The exterior is ugly in the extreme...a real eyesore... but if you can resist the temptation to flee you'll be richly rewarded.

The interior space is so large that some common items are doubled up just to fill the void, and the result is sometimes startling and that long table above, for instance.

It's actually two tables joined together. Sure, it would be great for a large dinner party but this is 2017 when food is considered medicine and you can't find two people who share the same diet. I like the table because it invites thinking about large work surfaces. I like to spread out when I work, don't you?

 Wow! Size really does matter! The large space surrounding the bed prompts a re-thinking of what a bedroom really is. This is a room for a creative and productive person who loves his work. It's one where the sleeper wakes up in the middle of the night and works for a couple of hours before going back to sleep.

In recent decades a lot's been written about the creative nature of sleep. We acknowledge that when we reach a creative impasse and decide to "sleep on it." How often have we all woken up and spent half an hour on our backs immobilized by our half sleeping brain still sifting through ideas?

Above, that's the identical bed in a different diorama surrounded by a different layout. Holy Cow! The store is so big that it can afford to show two ways of setting off the same furniture!

Here's an interesting concept: the room within a room...a sort of thinking area near the dining room table in the foreground. I get some of my best ideas during meal time. How convenient it would be to have a nearby room where I could work on those ideas immediately after having them.

 Here's (above) the thinking room interior. Notice the low, fake ceiling.

Notice also that the room is mostly white and the pictures on the wall are generic. The idea is to minimize distractions.

BTW, I'm aware that suddenly leaving the table to work is rude to the friends who remain. Obviously an idea like this requires modification to work in the real world. It's just fun to think about.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


According to a book called "Murder Ink," England is a country steeped in its history of beheadings and quirky murders.

Something in the English character makes the people there fond of crime stories. 

This (above) is how the rest of the world views a typical English home. Is the picture accurate?  No, but like a lot of people I want to believe that even the Monty Python ladies live in a house with a trap door or a portrait with cut-out eyes (spy-style) over the mantle.

Here's (above) an English village, the site of at least half the murders in mystery novels. It has a cycling vicar, a tea shop, a post office where residents read each other's mail, and a pub.

The pub's name is probably derived from some gruesome historical event. There's (above) that headless thing again.

Haw! For some the idea of an honest lawyer will seem more bizarre than the severed head.

Here's (above) Black Shuck, a mysterious hound that believers say wanders around rural England in search of victims.

I don't want to exclude London, so here's (above) the stately Old Scotland Yard building situated near the Thames.

Not so photogenic was London's old Newgate Prison, described by prisoners as Hell on Earth.

Newgate is gone now but I think a fragment (above) still survives.

The prison was conveniently located near the courts at The Old Bailey.

Am I imagining it or does the this old courtroom look like something Maybeck or Frank Lloyd Wright would have done?

Here's (above) a holding cell where inmates waited for their hearings to begin. It doesn't look very comfortable.

I'm guessing that this drawing depicts the goings on in that cell, though it seems doubtful that the artist ever personally witnessed it.

Prisoners were expected to provide their own food. Relatives and friends would drop food into the cell through a hole in the ceiling.

Escapes from Newgate could be lavishly detailed in the press. Here (above) every obstacle the convict had to surmount was carefully documented.

Gee, thinking about all this makes me want to visit England.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Stardust is a superhero who orbits the globe in a spaceship that alerts him whenever a crime's committed on Earth. 

Once alerted he slither-flies down to Earth and grabs the evil-doers.

"Grabs," you say? "What's so bad about being grabbed?" Trust me, it's bad. You never want to be grabbed by this guy.

When he's really mad he's not above separating bad guys from their heads. 

Grievous crimes require grievous penalties. For the crime of eliminating Earth's gravity and killing millions of innocent people... 

...the perpetrator is not only rudely grabbed but forced to spend eternity in a snow filled room in a floating apartment building.

Hanks also created Fantoma, a girl version of Stardust. She polices the world's jungles.

Hanks' jungles are full of criminals, both animal and human.  Here (above) a man studies science and becomes a super villain in order to take revenge on gorillas who tormented him.

For a while he causes all sorts of havoc. 

Ultimately, though,  Fantoma sides with the gorillas and restores order. 

Above, Stardust's romantic side. 

I think there's a Stardust action figure out there. Gee, I wouldn't mind having one.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Am I the only one here who likes crime poems? Here's (below) the best one I know of.  When I was a kid it came with my board game, "Clue." I don't know the author's name.

Nice, huh? It's robust simplicity begs comparison with Service's "Dangerous Dan McGrew." It's so playful and delightfully unmodern.  For comparison here's (below) a ponderous contemporary crime poem:

My beef with this poem (above) is that it saves the true meaning for the end. That's such a silly, modern thing to do. Apparently, the poet isn't inspired by the thrill of the chase. At the end we discover that he's only interested in detection as a metaphor for a sad comment on life.

My advice to all poets is to avoid melancholy zingers at the end of what you write. Avoid the temptation to bait and switch. Let the poem be about what attracted the reader to it in the first place. If there's a subtext or a secondary meaning let it be made by the stylistic zeal embedded in the writing.