Following the death of Angela Lansbury last month, I along with many of you had been thinking a lot lately about her life and career. This in turn got me thinking about the life of Jessica Fletcher — not the life that we get to see her live on screen during the episodes of Murder, She Wrote, but rather her life before she became best-selling author J.B. Fletcher.
While we often see Jessica meeting people from her past, the focus of each episode tends to be about what is happening in the present, rather than what happened when they knew each other way back when. Nevertheless, there are a few episodes where we do get a glimpse into her earlier life. I present these below, in chronological order according to when they happened during Jessica’s life:
1. Shear Madness (S6E20)
While throughout the series, we meet many of Jessica’s nieces and nephews, we very rarely meet family members from her own generation. The one exception to this is Season 6’s “Shear Madness“, in which Jessica visits her cousins. The episode provides a glimpse into Jessica’s childhood as they all reminisce about spending time together while growing up.
2. Dead Man’s Gold (S3E6)
There are several episodes in Season 3 that directly inform us of Jessica’s early life. The first of these is “Dead Man’s Gold”, in which Jessica is visited by an old (boy)friend played by Leslie Nielsen. While we often meet people from Jessica’s past, what makes this episode significant to me is his mention of having being jealous of Jessica having grown up with many brothers and sisters.
3. Alma Murder (S5E15)
While there are other episodes that reference Jessica’s college days, “Alma Murder” explicitly spells out that Jessica went to Harrison College in New Hampshire and belonged to the Delta Alpha Chi sorority.
4. Deadline for Murder (S3E7)
In another episode of Season 3, we learn a bit about Jessica’s work history prior to becoming a teacher. In “Deadline for Murder”, as Jessica visits reporter Haskell Drake in the hospital, we learn that she used to work as his assistant while initially pursuing a journalism career.
5. Stage Struck (S3E10)
A few episodes later, in “Stage Struck, we learn about the beginning of a subsequent significant period of Jessica’s life: the story how she met her future husband Frank. Apparently, they both met when they were part of a play at the Applewood Playhouse.
6. The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel (S5E7)
“The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel” reveals to viewers an important period in Jessica’s life with Frank. At some point after meeting Frank, we learn that Jessica moved to San Diego and lived with a room-mate in a one-bedroom apartment so that they could both be close to the air base while their future husbands served in the Korean war.
7. When Thieves Fall Out (S4E2)
While there are plenty of episodes that mention Jessica’s career as an English substitute teacher in Cabot Cove, “When Thieves Fall Out” is significant in that it references a specific event in the past, thus giving viewers a solid point of reference regarding how long Jessica’s teaching career lasted. This particular episode confirms that Jessica was already teaching in Cabot Cove in 1966.
8. The Murder of Sherlock Holmes (pilot)
And finally, the pilot movie “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes” is significant to telling the story of Jessica’s life prior to becoming a famous author because it actually tells the story of how her writing career started. Thus we learn that she started writing as a distraction following the death of her husband Frank, and we briefly see her life as a teacher — prior to getting that fateful phone call in which Grady notifies her that her book has been accepted for publication.
Of course, we all know what happens in her life after the pilot — as we follow her career as an author and her subsequent life adventures.
Bonus: MSW book that delves into Jessica’s past
For those who don’t know, Murder, She Wrote has a long-standing series of spin-off novels. Several years ago, for its 50th publication, the series issued A Time for Murder by Jon Land. The focus of the novel was a murder that happened in the town that Jessica lived in before she moved to Cabot Cove (likely in the same town where she met Frank during the events alluded to in “Stage Struck”, described above).
Thank you for this article about Jessica Fletcher’s past life. I agree that these episodes are helpful, and since I have been part of the FB group “Jessica Fletcher – Murder She Wrote” we have had many discussions about mentions in the show of her past and key unanswered questions (where was she from? Angela had apparently said Boston in an interview). And some have mistakenly assumed that because she went to college in New Hampshire that she is from there (including Google). However in Dead Man’said Gold, Leslie Nielsen as David also mentioned attending high school in Cabot Cove with her! So I believe that she grew up there to some degree. Another episode with a plumber (I forget which) asks her how long she lived either in the town or the house. She says 35 years which from 1985 means at least that she and Frank bought their house around 1950 or 51 after his return from the Korean War. So her work with Haskell must have occurred after high school but before moving to San Diego during Frank’s service. We should make a timeline!
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Thanks for pointing out these additional tidbits you’ve picked up! I agree, I’d love to be able to make a “definitive” timeline of her life.