Sunday, November 5, 2023

Tucker's Witch, Ep. 3, "The Corpse Who Knew Too Much"

It's a busy morning in the Tucker household. Rick bemoans his lousy gambling luck. Amanda uses her witchy powers to make sure the toast doesn't burn. (Which, to be honest, has got to be safer than jamming a knife in the slot of the toaster.) And everyone's favorite mom-in-law, Ellen, celebrates the viciousness of nature.

Suddenly, gunshots ring out!

See…told ya!

It turns out that the Tuckers' next-door neighbor, Larry Shears, was forced to draw down on the milkman. (Hey, when the guy drops off sour cream instead of yogurt, he better start duckin', I say!) Soon thereafter, ol' Lar goes missing, and Rick and Amanda, along with Larry's out-of-the-loop wife Debbie, begin to dig into the life of Laurel Canyon's most lactose intolerant resident. Needless to say, once the Tuckers start pulling on the thread of Larry's story, things start to unravel pretty quickly.

Just who is Larry? What's his deal? Who are the guys in the van camped out in front of Larry and Debbie's abode? How drunk can you get from eating old, fermented apricots?

Lotta questions...lot o' questions...

First, I think it should be pointed out that Larry is damn lucky that his milkman wasn't Reid Fleming. You pull a gat on that fellow, you better be prepared to empty all the chambers. Cuz if you don't, you're liable to be found stuffed into the drop-off box next to the front door!

This episode follows the now time-honored Tucker's Witch tradition of the why-dun-it as opposed to the who-dun-it. We see who is pulling the strings on the attempts on Larry's life  why, it's good ol' TV mainstay Lawrence Pressman as "George Fowler"  but we don't know why. Over the course of the episode, we see George sneaking around the Shearses' house planting bugs, stabbing guys with a screwdriver in the back of a van, skulking around the windmill at the Sherman Oaks Castle Park miniature golf course in the hopes of scoring a (bullet) hole in one. He ain't a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination. The pleasure in this episode, then, is discovering who George Fowler is and what's he got against a guy just trying to enjoy a bowl of cereal in his kitchen.

There are some fun mystery tropes happening in this episode, too.

1.) The ol' fake-office-in-a-warehouse gag.

Larry tells his wife that he works for Amalgamated Leasing. Now, has there ever been a company that is on the up-and-up that had the word "amalgamated" in its name? I think not. So, when Rick and Amanda take a drive over to Larry's office, they discover that Lar's story is anything but "amalgamated"...if you catch my drift. The offices of AL are behind the fences of a huge, windowless, drab-looking, soul-deadening facility.

Oh! I get it now...Larry works for Amazon!

2.) The ol' coroner-eating-while-working bit.

This one is an oldie but a goodie. When Amanda and Rick stop by to find out more about the milkman Larry plugged, Stucky the coroner is stuffing his face. When they go into the cooler to take a look at the body of dead Miami mob hitman, Tony "The Ferret" Landis (yeah, you read that right  The Ferret!), the Stuckmeister reveals that he's got a whole fridge worth of food and drink in one of the drawers! I'd love to take a tour through Hollywood history and get to know all the coroners in the movies and television who never let a cadaver on a slab come between them and a good pastrami on rye.

(Side note: you do NOT want to know where they keep the mustard!)

3.) The ol' trick of the cemetery-with-the-names-of-the-very-much-alive-characters-on-the-gravestones.

Sure, maybe this one is a little harder to come by in your average mystery show, but I still dig it. Why? Because sometimes it opens the door to...the supernatural! Is Larry a ghost? Has he been dead this whole time? That would be something, huh? Unfortunately, such is not the case here. But this trope does point to the fact that Larry is not really Larry at all. Who is he, then? And who is the Larry Shears buried in the cemetery?

Speaking of just who is buried in the cemetery  it looks like Rick is checking out the gravestone for...Count Dracula?

Now, I know that we are only three episodes into the series, but we have to assume that Rick and Amanda have known each other for a good long while. We aren't sure about how long they've been married, but I think it's safe to say that they've been (legally) sharing a bed for at least five years? That's a conservative estimate. So, if they've known each other that long, and Rick is fully aware of Amanda's extrasensory powers, then why is he always so dismissive of her intuitions? If I had a wife that could unlock a door simply by looking at it or get a glimpse of an important clue just by handling a client's magnetic key card, I'd find her little hunches and what-not to be a bit more credible. Alas, Rick always seems to find his wife's visions to be a cute, if creepy, diversion from the actual case and its clues.

Amanda: You know, there's something else. When I touched that card, I got a flash of an old steeple in a cemetery.

Rick: Aw, swell, that's all [the cops] need.

Amanda: There's more. I saw a tombstone. It had Larry's name on it.

Rick: Terrific! That's a real cheerful intuition you got going there.

Dammit, Rick! Trust your wife, for the love of Mike! Ask better questions! Heck, ask ANY questions!

Our beloved side characters get the short shrift in this episode, it's sad to say. Alfre Woodard's Marcia is given only a single scene, and it's your standard clue and exposition drop, but she does get one good line in:

Marcia: The warehouse is a dead end. Amalgamated Leasing rents it. They pay on time, and they pay by mail.

Rick: They also like to hire people who've been dead for thirty years.

Marcia: Yeah, I heard of hiring the handicapped, but this is ridiculous.

Marcia also gets to wear one of the ugliest dresses these eyes have ever seen.

YIKES! How can you do that to woman as beautiful as Alfre Woodard? For shame, Costume Department, for shame!

Barbara Barrie as Ellen gets a bit more screen time. At the beginning of the episode, while Rick is trying to drown his sorrows in a bowl of cereal over the baseball scores, Ellen is pretty pumped up that the birds are duking it out in the backyard.

Ellen: Oh, the bluejays are fantastic!

Rick: Oh, two unearned runs in the ninth  big deal!

Ellen: I mean the birds. They are battling the sparrows over food.

[Sound of milkman being shot next door.]

Rick: They get mean when they're hungry.

Later, Ellen has to pull a Florence Nightingale (avian pun!) and nurse a few of the birds back to health. Were they injured on the battlefield? Not quite...

Amanda: Oh, the poor thing. It's not dying, is it?

Ellen: No, it's drunk.

Amanda: Drunk?

Ellen: He gorged himself on old apricots. You know the ones beginning to ferment? Then, he got drunk and fell out of the tree.

Well, if I were a bird, and it was my time, getting blotto on old fruit would not be the worst way to go, amirite?

Even good ol' grumpy Lieutenant Fisk (Bill Morey) isn't around much in this episode. He grumbles at Rick over the dead milkman at the beginning, and he grumbles at Stucky (who looks to be eating a box of Entenmann's donuts) over the current case's latest corpse at the morgue, but he does come good at the end and saves the Tuckers' bacon. Although, if the traffic on Sunset Boulevard had been any thicker, who knows what would have happened!

Time for a trip to the "Hey! It's that guy!" Department: as I stated above, the bad guy in this episode is played by Lawrence Pressman. Name doesn't sound familiar to ya? Well, you just might find that the guy's got a face like a clapper — because it's gonna ring a bell.

Lawrence Pressman started his acting career on The Edge of Night. Premiering on CBS in 1956, Edge was a daytime television soap opera with a noir sensibility. It was created by Irving Vendig, a writer for the Perry Mason radio show. The Edge of Night (or just plain Edge of Night as it became known in its final few years) featured loads of murders and masked killers. Sounds like my kind of soap!

Pressman also appeared in episodes of such shows as Marcus Welby, M.D., M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, Cannon, Murder, She Wrote, and others. He never seemed to stick around these shows for more than an episode. If he did get a second episode, it was usually as a completely different character. (The memories of TV audiences weren't nearly as long as they are now.) He did star in a 1977 TV dramedy about a blended family called Mulligan's Stew. It ran for seven episodes. Later, in 1981, he starred in a sitcom called Ladies' Man about a male journalist trying to make it at a woman's magazine. That one lasted for sixteen episodes. It wasn't until the late 1980s that Pressman would finally strike gold with a series that lasted for more than a single season. In 1989, he began a five year stretch (that sounds like a prison term, but it's not!) as Dr. Benjamin Canfield on Doogie Howser, M.D.

Well, that's it for this episode of Tucker's Witch. Overall, I like "The Corpse Who Knew Too Much" because it moves all over the place — we're in Laurel Canyon, then it's the miniature golf course in Encino that I see all the time when I merge off of the 101 and onto the 405, then we head to the morgue, then to Lt. Fisk's office. Lawrence Pressman is a good villain, too. He's got such a friendly face, but when he starts getting all stabby with a screwdriver in the back of a van  look out!

Stay tuned for our coverage of episode four of Tucker's Witch, "The Curse of the Toltec Death Mask." In the meantime, maybe it's time to make the switch to alternatives to dairy? There's just too much lead in the milk nowadays.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Blog-o-ween 2023: Stephen King

We did it, Blog-o-weeners! We made it! Today is the day! October 31st. Halloween...or Hallowe’en if you’re into apostrophes...and if you’re into apostrophes, may I recommend a Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2, lines 132-134? Or maybe a Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2, line 5? They’re quite fresh today. Okay, I see you’re a discerning customer. For you, a special — two MacBeths for the price of one —  I’ll give ya an Act 1, Scene 5, lines 30-31 and toss in an Act 2, Scene 1, lines 33-35 for nothing! I’m losing out on this deal! My kids are the ones going hungry, but anything to make you happy!

No matter what you call it — Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Eve, or the Festival of Samhain (I see ya back there, Mr. Cochran) — it’s a special day, and you’ve probably got a lot going on. If you have kids, you’re getting them into their costumes and then taking them out trick-or-treating. And, please, keep a close eye on them, so they don’t go running out into traffic. We don’t want another Ben Tramer incident, do we? Not on my watch!

If you don’t have kids...well, then, you’re dressing yourself up and taking yourself out trick-or-treating and hoping to pass as an eight-year-old.

And you will have deserved that rock! Honestly, trying to take Charleston Chews and Mounds bars out of the mouths of needy children. You oughta be ashamed!

You’re busy. We here at LARPCo understand. So in the interest of time, let’s just jump right into today’s post. Now, after spending the previous thirty days reading all sorts of horror-flavored stories, how could the ultimate Blog-o-ween 2023 post top all that’s come before it? Well, it’s simple really. We gotta go with the King—

No, not Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King. The other King...

As welcome as King Paimon would be to today’s festivities, I’m actually thinking of Steph—

GAH! NO! Talk about your horrible monsters!

No, kiddies. We’re talking the reigning champeen of all things horror, the undisputed king of calamity, the prince of putrescence, the prime minister of all things sinister, the duke of oil (slicks that eat people while they try to go for a nice swim in a peaceful lake). Today, we’re talking about Maine’s favorite son, Stephen King.

Now, when an author has been as prolific as King has, how do you choose just one or two stories to discuss? I mean, the guy has published over eighty books of fiction and non-fiction, novels and short stories. Add to that nearly twenty screenplays and teleplays. Add to all THAT a yarn called "The Plant," an epistolary story that King wrote in lieu of Christmas cards in the early- to mid-Eighties. In short, the man has a mighty stack of stories to choose from. No matter what stories we here at LARPing Real Life pick, I’m sure that we will disappoint someone.

C’est la guerre!

For this last entry of Blog-o-ween 2023, I thought we would stick to a single collection of Stephen King short stories. It’s a book whose cover has haunted me nearly my entire life. Back in the 1970s and 80s, whenever I’d accompany my mother to the Northern Lights Shopping Center in Baden, Pennsylvania, I would always search out the newsstand in whatever store we happened to be in — Hills department store, Thrift Drug, Kroger’s, and my personal favorite, The Book End. I'd plant myself in front of the shelves and pore through all the issues of Mad, Cracked, and Crazy I could find. I think ol' Stevie would back me up on my reading choices.

Standing like sentinals next to the woodem magazine shelves were wire racks filled with mass market paperbacks of all genres — westerns, romance, sci-fi. However, anyone familiar with Grady Hendrix’s fond overview of that era, Paperbacks from Hell, knows that it was the covers to the horror books that always captured the eye. In more ways than one.

This is my copy of Stephen King’s 1978 short story collection Night Shift. Looks rather staid, no? Sure, that’s how it gets you! It looks all safe and nondescript until you pick it up and turn over the cover to reveal what’s hidden underneath.

It was covers like this that charmed readers back then...charmed ‘em like a cobra extending its hood and beginning to sway back and forth, back and forth. Those eyes in the folds of that, talk about nightmare fuel. I honestly feel bad for people whose first introduction to Night Shift was this cover:

C’mon, man...that’s just weak. I wouldn’t give that book another look on the wire rack. When it comes to horror, you gotta judge a book by its cover. I think publishing has forgotten that maxim.

Ah! Stop looking at me!

So now that we have that book in our grubby little hands, which of the twenty stories are we going to talk about today? We are spoiled for choice, I must admit. There’s “Jerusalem’s Lot,” the sorta related/not really related precursor to King’s 1975 vampires-in-America novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. (Which, if you know anything about me, you know that I read every year in October. I'll be finishing my umpteenth read of ‘Salem’s Lot  tonight. I've paced myself well and have saved the Fearless Vampire Killers' final battle with Barlow just for Halloween.) Or how about “Night Surf,” that creepy story that takes place in the same universe as The Stand? Maybe “Sometimes They Come Back” King’s tale of undead greasers from the Fifties come back for vengeance?

All winners, in my opinion. You couldn’t go wrong by reading any of them, but my picks for Halloween are on, shall we say, the gooier side of things. Oh, we shall, we shall! Put your hip waders on, kiddies, cuz we’re goin’ in!

“I Am the Doorway” was first published in the March 1971 issue of Cavalier, a magazine that was started in the early 1950s by Fawcett Publications to be a showcase for its Gold Medal authors like Henry Kuttner and Mickey Spillane. By the time King’s story showed up in its pages, Cavalier was a “gentlemen’s magazine” in the vein (pun intended...heh-heh-heh!) of Playboy. And like Playboy, the men who bought Cavalier did so solely for the articles and stories like the following...

“‘You are the doorway,’ Richard repeated thoughtfully. ‘You are sure you killed the boy — you didn’t just dream it?’

“‘I didn’t dream it. And I didn’t kill him, either — I told you that. They did. I am the doorway.’”

Our narrator, Arthur, and his buddy Richard are sitting on Arthur’s porch looking out at the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Arthur, a former astronaut, is telling his good friend a horrible story that began with his flight to Venus. While orbiting that planet, Arthur was exposed to an alien force. His ship crash lands back on earth, and his co-pilot is killed. Arthur is hospitalized, and his recuperation takes years. After his release, he begins to complain of horrible itching in his hands. Soon thereafter, the first eyes begin to sprout on his fingers...

What happened to the boy when he saw the eyes? What's gonna happen to Richard when he sees them? Whose eyes are they? Who sees through them, and what does Earth look like to them? And how are they using Arthur as a doorway?

Our next story, “Gray Matter,” was also published in the pages of Cavalier, fittingly back in October of 1973. Maybe you want to run to the kitchen and grab a cold one before we start in on this one? I’d hate for you to get a monstrous thirst you couldn’t quench in the middle of it...

“Now the door opened again, letting in a blast of the cold gray air outside, and a young kid came in, stamping snow off his boots. I placed him after a second. He as Richie Grenadine’s kid, and he looked like he’d just kissed the wrong end of the baby. His Adam’s apple was going up and down and his face was the color of an old oilcloth.

“‘Mr. Parmalee,” he says to Henry, his eyeballs rolling around in his head like ball bearings, ‘you got to come. You got to take him his beer and come. I can’t stand to go back there. I’m scared.’

“‘Now slow down,’ Henry says, taking off his white butcher’s apron and coming around the counter. ‘What’s the matter? Your dad been on a drunk?’

“...‘He’s been on a drunk,’ the boy was saying now, ‘but that ain’t the trouble. It’’s...oh, Lord, it’s awful!’”

At a local convenience store in Bangor, Maine, during a heavy snowfall, a young boy enters looking scared for his life. The boy has been sent to pick up a case of beer for his dad. Only, he refuses to take the beer back with him. He tells one of the men in the store, Henry, his story. Henry comes out and picks up the beer and tells a few of the other men to follow him. He’s going back to the Grenadine’s home, and if what the boy told him is even partial true, then the gun he’s packing will come in handy.

On the way there, Henry tells the others what the boy told him.

“The kid said it must have been the beer — you know how you can get a bad can every now and again. Flat or smelly or green as the peestains in an Irishman’s underwear. A fella once told me that all it takes is a tiny hole to let in bacteria that’ll do some damn strange things. The hole can be so small that the beer won’t hardly dribble out, but the bacteria can get in. And beer’s good food for some of those bugs.”

Yes, beer is good food, but what if some of those little bugs grow up to be big bugs? Will beer be enough to satisfy it then? What was it that was in that can that Richie Grenadine drank? And what has become of Richie that is so bad that his own son won’t return to his house? Does it have to do with the dead, decaying cat that the son saw his father eat? Maybe...maybe...

Anyway, drink up! We’ve got one more story. Our final story for Blog-o-ween 2023. This one takes place not in the autumn of the year like a proper Halloween story should but in the spring. It’s a special spring, however, one that comes around every so often. It brings a thick fog when it returns...a real killer fog. Heh-heh-heh!

“Strawberry Spring” was first published in the Fall 1968 edition of the University of Maine’s literary journal, Ubris. Later, like so many of the other tales in Night Shift, it made its way to the pages of Cavalier in 1975.

It’s March 1976 and a ‘Strawberry Spring’ has moved into New England, covering the campus of New Sharon College in a thick, impenetrable fog. Much like an “Indian Summer” is a period of unseasonably warm weather in the fall, a strawberry spring is a cold snap at the beginning of spring, a brief return of winter. The weather outside, and the words “Springheel Jack” in the newspapers sends the memories of our unnamed narrator back eight years before. A time when another strawberry spring held sway and when the horrific killings of a murderer the media dubbed “Springheel Jack” held the college in the grips of a panic. The narrator recounts the sheer terror of those days as campus officials, police officers, and students were unable to stop the murders from happening. Springheel Jack was never caught, and now, eight years later, he’s returned with the fog.

Why is the narrator so unnerved by the news that the killer is back? What do his headaches and the gaps in his memory have to do with Springhell Jack?

Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in September of 1947. His father, Donald King, left the family, leaving King’s mother, Nellie, to raise Stephen and his older brother, David, by herself. They moved many times during King’s childhood: Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut. When King was eleven, the family settled in Maine.

One day, King and his brother were playing when Stephen found an old box of paperback books in the attic. They were the remnants of his father’s belongings. The box was filled with old Avon paperbacks, one of which was a collection of H.P. Lovecraft tales called The Lurking Fear and Other Stories. King would always say that it wa that book that started him on the road of horror.

As a school boy, King wrote stories based on movies he’s seen and sold them to fellow students. In 1966, King started classes at the University of Maine at Orono. There he met his future wife, Tabitha Spruce. He graduated in 1970; his daughter was born later that year; he and Tabitha wed in 1971.

The story of King’s rise to become America’s (if not the world’s) premier horror writer is well documented. As was mentioned above, his list of credits is too long to go into here. Suffice it to say that if you want to read or listen to the stories that we’ve talked about today, then you can find them at your local library. If your local library doesn’t have any King on its shelves...RUN! Honestly, I think that is a sign from the universe that you have entered into The Twilight Zone or something.

“Strawberry Spring” was turned into an audio drama podcast back in 2021. Its eight episodes take place at the time of the story — 1960s and 1970s — but it greatly expands on the story’s action. It is very well acted by Syndey Sweeney, Garrett Hedlund, Milo Ventimiglia, Ken Marino, and Herizen F. Guardiola, and its sound design is exquisite. Check it out here!

Well...that’s it. That’s all she wrote. We’ve made it through another Blog-o-ween. This is our fourth annual month-long blogging slog through October, if you can believe it. (I can’t!) I think this year’s Blog-o-ween was the best one yet! Thank you to everyone who dropped by and read what I had to say. I hope it entertained you. I also hope that you found books and writers that could become new favorites. That’s really what all this is about for me: sharing my love of storytelling with folks. So, I hope you pick up a few of the books mentioned this month and read them and share them with others. That way it’s not just me...and it’s not just you...but it’s EVERYONE having...pleasant dreams? Hmmmm? Heh-heh-heh!

Oh, one more thing...

Monday, October 30, 2023

Blog-o-ween 2023: Daphne du Maurier

Can you believe it, Blog-o-weeners? It is 30 October. We are on the cusp of the big day — not to mention the Big Giveaway during the Horrorthon. I wonder what Conal Cochran is giving away this year? It must be something B-I-G, because look how excited Dr. Challis is getting.

We here at LARPing Real Life are wishing you the luck of the Irish this year. We’re pulling for ya, Doc.

While the good doctor is keeping the phone lines (not to mention his local barkeep) busy, let’s you and me settle down for an evening of quiet horror. The three stories we have on tap for today are tales of creeping dread told in the calm, cool style that only British writers seem capable of mustering. Writers like M.R. James, Marjorie Bowen, and Robert Aickman (just to name a very, very few) never allow the out-of-this-world, weird nature of the action in their stories to influence the measured, reasonable tones of their storytelling. There are very few exclamation points in the work of these types of writers, which makes the appearance of the outrĂ© even stranger and more disquieting.

The stories we are focusing on today are all from the typewriter of Daphne du Maurier. (Although there are some rumors that some of her work passed through the pens of other writers first — more on that later.) Best known for the 1938 Gothic novel Rebecca, du Maurier also penned several short stories that are darker, more ambiguous, and more shocking than her more romance-oriented novels. Two of today’s three stories have been adapted into major motion pictures, and the third feels as though it would have been ripe for an adaptation of The Twilight Zone. So without further ado, let’s you and I head out to the southwestern tip of England, to County Cornwall, and see what Dame Daphne is up to and where her quiet horror takes us...

For our first story, “The Blue Lenses,” du Maurier takes us to a hospital in London where Marda West is recuperating after an operation to restore her sight. She lies in bed with her eyes wrapped in gauze. The voices of all the nurses and doctors passing through her room assure her that the operation was a success and that her bandages will soon come off. When they do, her doctor tells her that everything will be tinted blue because she has been fitted with temporary blue lenses that will help her eyes adjust to seeing light and shapes and whatnot. After this brief adjustment period, the lenses will be removed and she will see everything perfectly fine.

Ain’t medical science a miracle, dear reader?

The day comes when Marda has her bandages taken off and she gets to see for the first time. She is not prepared for what is revealed to her:

“Smiling, she saw the figure dressed in uniform come into the room, bearing a tray, her glass of milk upon it. Yet, incongruous, absurd, the head with the uniformed cap was not a woman's head at all. The thing bearing down on her was a cow...a cow on a woman's body. The frilled cap was perched upon the wide horns. The eyes were large and gentle, but cow's eyes, the nostrils broad and humid, and the way she stood there, breathing, was the way a cow stood placidly in pasture, taking the day as it came, content, unmoved.”

“‘Feeling a bit strange?’

“The laugh was a woman’ laugh, a nurse’s laugh, Nurse Brand’s laugh...She shut her eyes, then opened them again. The cow in the nurse’s uniform was with her still.”


More people come and go. All have animal heads. Some are cats, some snakes, others dogs. Her husband has the head of a vulture. Is Mrs. West dreaming? Hallucinating? Is it the blue lenses? And what will the world look like when they are removed? Find out by listening to the story as read by Nightmare Diary below:

Incongruous animals are at the heart of our next story, “The Birds,” which, aside from Rebecca, is perhaps the most famous story du Maurier wrote.

On a farm on the coast of Cornwall, disabled war veteran Nat Hocken, notices large flocks of birds behaving strangely. He chalks their restlessness up to their intuitive knowledge that winter is coming. That night, Nat’s house and family is attacked by dozens of robins, finches and other small birds.

The next morning, on a walk to the beach, Nat sees whitecaps on all the incoming waves. Soon, he discovers that what he is seeing is not foaming water but thousands upon thousands of gulls. While the BBC announces that birds have attacked people across the country, they do not quite comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Nat does, and he begins boarding up his cottage against further attacks.

The days pass and the attacks become more frequent and more dangerous. Hiding in their house, Nat and his family hear the sounds of naval guns firing and of planes flying above them. Soon, the bombardment, like the radio, goes silent.

What has happened beyond the walls of the cottage? Why are the birds attacking? Will it ever end? Does humanity stand a chance? Listen to Tony Walker read “The Birds” over at his Classic Ghost Stories Podcast to find out:

Our last story, “Don’t Look Now,” was, like “The Birds,” made into a motion picture. Most people who know the tale will picture Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in the lead roles and have a preternatural fear of red raincoats. That’s justifiable. No matter how familiar one is with the movie, however, the original story still has the power to delight and terrify.

After the sudden death of their daughter from meningitis, John and Laura take a trip to Venice, Italy, in an attempt to put some actual, as well as emotional, distance between them and their grief. One night, John catches sight of a small figure in a pixie-hooded cloak. It appears to be a girl running away from some danger. While out for dinner, John and Laura meet a set of middle-aged twin sisters, one of whom may blind, but has second-sight. She tells John that what he saw was a vision of his daughter trying to warn him that he is in danger if he remains in Venice. It seems that Venice has been plagued by a series of murders recently.

A telegram comes informing John and Laura that their son, who is staying at a prep school back in England, has fallen ill. Laura agrees to fly back as soon as possible, leaving John behind to take care of getting their car on a special train running from from Milan to Calais. Long after Laura should have been on her plane home, John sees her in a water taxi with the two sisters. He chases after the trio, but cannot find out where they went. While searching for her, he sees the pixie-hooded girl running through the streets again, this time pursued by a man. The murderer, John assumes. He gives chase, determined to save the girl.

Does he reach her in time? Why was Laura on the water when she should have been in the air? Does John also have the gift of second sight as the old woman said? If so, what is the small figure running through the streets trying to tell him? Tony Walker reads “Don’t Look Now” for his Classic Ghost Story Podcast below:

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, England, in May of 1907. Her father was the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and her mother was the actress Muriel Beaumont. While she grew up in Hampstead, London, she spent her summers at the family home in Fowey, Cornwall. In 1932, she married Frederick Browning, who was known as the “father of the British Airbourne Forces” and was also an Olympic bobsledder(!), and became Lady Browning after he was knighted in 1946. Later, after being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1969, her full title was Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE. But she remained plain old Daphne thereafter, as she never used the title.

Though seemingly happily married and the mother of three children, du Maurier held an interesting view of her own sexuality. She claimed that her personality was made up a feminine side — the wife and mother roles she projected to the world at large — and a masculine side that she kept hidden from view. This “male energy,” she said, was the source of her writing. This dichotomy, according to her biographer Margaret Forster, was never truly resolved, and du Maurier allegedly remained in denial of her own bisexuality.

Du Maurier’s writing career began by having some early stories published in her great uncle Comyns’s magazine Bystander. In 1931, she had her first novel, The Loving Spirit, published. In 1938, Rebecca was published and became an immediate hit. However, shortly after Rebecca hit bookstores in Brazil, critics and readers noticed many similarities in plot and specific situations between it and a 1934 novel by Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco, A Sucessora (The Successor). Though du Maurier and her publisher claimed no prior knowledge of Nabuco’s book, it must be pointed out that when Nabuco had her novel translated into French and published in France, the publisher that she sent it to in Paris was also du Maurier’s publisher.

Did du Maurier see Nabuco’s book, read it, and inadvertently absorb its story? It’s hard to say for sure, but the fact that this wasn’t the only time that du Maurier would be accused of plagiarism does muddy the waters a bit. Author Frank Baker thought there was something funny going on when du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” came out in 1952. The something funny was that Baker had published a novel in 1936 about millions of birds attacking the people of London. His book’s title? The Birds.


It doesn’t help quell public opinion that du Maurier worked as a reader for Peter Llewelyn Davies, Baker’s publisher, at the time he submitted his manuscript.

Double oops!

I’m not here to accuse or exonerate anyone of anything. I just report on the news, I don’t make it. I do feel, however, that if one is burning with indignation over du Maurier’s supposed literary offenses, one should take a look at Jonathan Lethan’s 2007 Harper’s Magazine essay “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” In it, Lethem suggests that everything from inadvertent copying to outright stealing is the norm of literature and has been since the dawn of (written) time. It’s an interesting article made even more interesting by the fact that everything in it has been cut-and-pasted from other sources. The art of literature, it seems, is much like the art of architecture: the importance is in how the bricks are stacked and not where one found them in the first place.

It’s time to say good-bye, Blog-o-weeners. We’ve had a great time here on the coast of Cornwall, but we don’t want to overstay our welcome. What’s that? Why, yes, that does seem like an unusually large flock of birds in the sky. I don’t think it means anything sinister. They’re just migrating to warmer climes. Maybe we’ll see them when we get back to Italy? In the meantime, snuggle up against me, close your eyes, and have...pleasant dreams? Hmmmm? Heh-heh-heh?