Murder She Wrote 4.15 “Mourning Among the Wisterias”

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This time, Jessica is in Savannah, Georgia to help out a fellow writer-friend with his screenplay.  But her friend has other things in mind — he thinks he may be dying and is suspicious of what will happen to his estate once he’s gone.  So is business about to get mixed with pleasure when Jessica receives a marriage proposal?

Just the facts ma’am:

Spoilers are in white font, so highlight the text below to reveal the answers.

  • The victim was… the playwright’s lawyer!
  • killed by… the playwright’s niece-in-law!
  • in… his bed in a guest bedroom!
  • with… a gun! but there was also attempted murder involving poison!
  • because… she wanted her husband to have control of his uncle’s estate rather than being dependent on his goodwill!
  • vital clues: a missing comforter and shots heard coming from outside?  a broken drinks glass and ant poison?.

Big Names & Honourable Mentions:

For the most part, this episode was teeming with classic movie actors.

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The classic movie actor, Barry Nelson (left) plays Jessica’s playwright friend Eugene McClenden.  His nephew Todd is played by Matt McCoy (right), who obviously is not a classic movie actor but gets an honourable mention for having appeared with Rene Auberjonois (who also appeared in this episode) in Police Academy 5.

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Frank Gorshin (left) as theatre producer, Arnold Goldman.  Gorshin is probably best known for playing the Riddler in the original Batman live action series.  Another classic actor includes Elliott Reid (right), who plays lawyer Jonathan Keeler.

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A special shout out goes to James L. Brown, seen here in a minor role as Dr. Church.  Brown is probably best known for playing Lt. Rip Masters in the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.  This episode of MSW marks his last ever on screen appearance.

Repeat Offenders:

There are several actors who made just a few appearances on the show.

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Rene Auberjonois (a.k.a. Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) plays Homicide Captain Walker Thorn.  This is his second and last appearance on MSW.  He previously appeared in “Murder in a Minor Key“.

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  • Lois Nettleton (left) plays actress Deirdre French.  This is her second of three total appearances on MSW. Notably, Nettleton had a recurring role in the second season of the detective show In the Heat of the Night starring Carroll O’Connor (a.k.a. Archie Bunker).  The show ran for eight seasons in the late 80s and early 90s, and was based on the movie and novel of the same name.
  • Linda Purl (right) plays Eugene’s nephew’s new wife Crystal Wendle.  This is her second of three total appearances on MSW.  Notably, Purl had a recurring role in the first season of Matlock as Matlock’s daughter.
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  • Penny Fuller (left) plays Eugene’s ex-girlfriend Grace Banfield. This is fuller’s first of two total appearances on the show.
  • Beah Richards (right) plays Eugene’s maid Ola Mae. This is also Richards’s first of two total appearances on MSW.  Notably, Richards was in the original 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night.

Final thoughts:

This episode first aired on February 14th (1988), so of course it’s fitting that Jessica Fletcher gets a proposal—even if it is a proposal of convenience.

The house used for the interior shots of the property where this episode is set is actually Arden Villa in Pasadena, California. The same house was used regularly in the soap opera Dynasty to stand in for the home of the Carrington Family. It was also used multiple times in Murder, She Wrote episodes including in “Something Borrowed, Someone Blue“.

In this collage you can see a screenshot from the episode on the top with the study and the entrance hall visible. On the bottom are two images of the interior of Arden Villa.

A few people on imdb.com also pointed out some connections between this episode and other words, although I haven’t personally verified these facts. For instance, at one point, Lois Nettleton as Deirdre French utters a line spoken by Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950): “Southern women are seldom starved for sex.” And the name and traits of the lead character, Eugene McClenden, appear to be inspired by Eugene O’Neill is famous for writing the play ‘A Long Day’s Journey Into Night‘. The play was adapted into a 1962 film starring Katherine Hepburn.

The only other thing I can possibly note about this episode is the ridiculous Southern accents.  It seemed that every other scene someone would say “Well, I declare!”  If you ever thought that Murder, She Wrote was even trying to be realistic, this episode would change your mind.

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