Murder, She Wrote 7.16 “From the Horse’s Mouth”

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Jessica Fletcher is in Peachtree, in Jefferson county Kentucky, visiting some friends who are in the thoroughbred horse business. Her friends are a couple of star-crossed lovers who are caught in a family feud involving two neighboring ranches, with the latest dispute involving a stud horse named King Paragon. In order to help her friends, Jessica enlists the help of Boston Detective Harry McGraw, who has a stake in the matter since he placed a large bet on one of their horses winning the Derby.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Randolph Sterling, the wealthy ranch owner of King Paragon!
Click to reveal the killer It was Derek Padley, an employee at Sterling ranch!
Click to reveal the weapon A blow to the head with a cane!
Click to reveal the location The body was found at the office at Sterling Stud ranch! (But the victim was actually killed in the stables.)
Click to reveal the motive The victim found out that the horse King Paragon had been switched!

Cast of characters:

The main mystery revolves around the Sterling Stud ranch:

  • Kevin McCarthy plays Randolph Sterling, a wealthy ranch owner who has just acquired the prize stallion King Paragon. This is McCarthy’s second of three total appearances on MSW.
  • Tricia O’Neil plays Althea Mayberry, Randolph Sterling’s fiancée. This is O’Neil’s fourth of five total appearances on MSW. She previously appeared in “Trouble in Eden“.
  • Patricia Charbonneau plays Diana Sterling, Randolph Sterling’s daughter. Fans of 80s crime shows might recognize her from her recurring roles in ‘Crime Story‘ and ‘Wiseguy‘.
  • John Allen Nelson plays Tod Sterling, Randolph Sterling’s son.

The Sterling family ranch is in conflict with the neighboring Morgan Hill Farms.

  • Debra Sandland (a.k.a. Debra Stipe) plays Dr. Christie Morgan, a local veterinarian and fiancée of Tod Sterling. This is Sandland/Stipe’s first of two total appearances on MSW.
  • Gregory Walcott plays Lamar Morgan, Christie Morgan’s father and owner of a neighboring ranch. This is Walcott’s third and final appearance on MSW. Fans of detective shows might know Walcott for his co-starring role in the short-lived 60s series ‘87th Precinct‘.

Other characters involved in the two neighboring ranches include:

  • Maxwell Caulfield plays Derek Padley, a groomer and jockey employed by the Sterling ranch. This is Caulfield’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously appeared in “J.B.. as in Jailbird“.
  • Patricia Huston plays Edie, the housekeeper at the Sterling home.
  • Nanette Fabray plays Emmaline Bristow, who claims to be able to communicate with horses.

Persons in the legal profession involved with the lawsuit between the two families are:

  • Melvin M. Belli plays Judge Harley who is presiding over a civil lawsuit involving the two ranches. This is a cameo appearance for Melvin Belli, who in real life was a Hollywood attorney to the stars. He famously served as the attorney for Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald for assassinating President John F. Kennedy.
  • Helena Carroll plays Martha Jane Stokes, Judge Harley’s secretary.
  • James Bartz plays Justin King, an attorney representing the Sterling family. This is Bartz’s second of three total appearances on MSW.
  • Michael Ayr plays Mark Mason, an attorney representing the Morgan family.

The mystery is investigated by:

  • Jerry Orbach plays Boston P.I. Harry McGraw (who introduces himself as Harlan McGraw III). This is Orbach’s fifth of six total appearances on MSW, and he played the character of Harry McGraw each time. He previously appeared in “Death Takes a Dive” and “Double Exposure“. Orbach is of course best known for playing Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order.
  • Robert Donner plays Sheriff Tyrone McKenna. This is Donner’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously appeared in “If a Body Meet a Body”.

Additional minor roles include:

  • Kathy Hartsell as a young woman who serves a legal document to Lamar Morgan at the beginning of the episode.
  • Richard Balin as a coroner. This is Balin’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously had a minor role in “Death Takes a Dive“.

Final thoughts:

At one point during the episode, Lamar Morgan is driving back from the bar with Harry McGraw and drunkenly singing. I appears that the song is “My Old Kentucky Home” from the 1850s—however, Lamar does appear to take some drunken liberties with the lyrics.

There are also some literary references in this episode. For instance, there is mention of D.H. Lawrence’s novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover‘. However, according to an anonymous contributor to imdb.com, this episode also appears to be inspired by the mystery novel ‘Some Buried Ceasar‘ (also published under the title ‘The Red Bull’) written by Rex Stout and featuring the famous fictional detective Nero Wolfe. Apparently, that book also featured two feuding neighboring families — this time the feud centering on a prize bull rather than a prize stallion. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will simply say that there are many similarities between this episode and the book — right down to the plot twist and the romance between the children of the two feuding families.

Given the noted similarities between this episode and that book, I decided to look up who the writer of this episode is in order to see if they had otherwise any connections to Rex Stout and the Nero Wolfe stories. Although I couldn’t find any such connection, I did learn that the writer of this episode was a woman named Gerry Day, who most frequently wrote episodes for Westerns (which might explain the horse ranch theme). This is the only Murder, She Wrote episode that she had written — however, because the most prolific Murder, She Wrote writers were men, this episode is notable for being one of relatively few to be scripted by a woman.

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