Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon: Murder She Wrote and Representing the Ladies


Murder She Wrote and Representing the Ladies

Like any other child with a busy parent and no babysitter, I spent a lot time getting to know my favorite television and book characters. Unlike most other children, however, my taste was TV-skewed, well, older. That isn’t to say I wasn’t taken in by the world of animation and cartoons; I can still recall the Captain Planet theme song despite not seeing the show for years. But in between episodes of The Rugrats and Arthur, I found myself growing a strong attachment to another television show, Murder, She Wrote.

Murder She Wrote 1And, boy, did she write many.

Yes, six-year old me would spend a couple hours each week watching the trials, tribulations, and, now that I think about it, truly alarming amount of homicides that took place in that little New England town of Cabot Cove. As a child, I probably could not tell you why I enjoyed the show so much. I mean, think about it. Why would a six-year old whose life revolved around getting her hands on pizza bagels and candy be interested in a show about this older retired woman, solving crime in her spare time? It’s not like I had an affinity for sleuth-style televsion. I certainly wasn’t fighting my brother for the remote control to watch Matlock or Law and Order. But now that I’m almost two decades older with the ability to buy my own pizza bagels, candy, and remote control (well, online streaming service), I can say why this show meant so much to me as a little girl. And that reason is the marvelous representation of women in the form Jessica Fletcher.

What I didn’t understand at six years of age was how revolutionary this television show was in terms of women and representation. Throughout film and television history, the detective has always been a staunchly masculine role. Just think of the famed old film-noir detectives: Philip Marlow, Sam Spade, Jeff Bailey, and Mike Hammer. Or even the 70’s detective series such as The Rockford Files or Kojak. All masculine, all cynical, and all more than just a little bit misogynistic in the handling of their cases. But when Fletcher hit the scene in 1984, all of that changed.

Jessica Fletcher 2

I mean this, with dogmatic intensity, when I say this woman is perfection.

Much like her masculine counterparts, Fletcher is above all, a survivor. In her early 50’s she lost her husband and became a childless widow. While an event like that could cause someone to break, Fletcher did the only thing she could do and created a new life for herself. She stayed in her small hometown in Maine, wrote a couple of murder mystery novels and, in the process, became well-respected author. By the age of 60, she was new woman, as spritely and spirited as any 20-year I’ve ever met. And most of this is before the series even started!

With Fletcher, we didn’t get the same old, worn-out private detective just looking to get by in the world. Instead, we got an intelligent, kindly woman looking to do right in this world. When it came to Fletcher’s actual sleuthing, her methods were quite detached from the traditionally masculine methods audiences were used to. She never forced her way into situations with a heavy hand or cruel jape but would instead spark up an innocuous conversation with the police force, witnesses or persons possibly involved with the murder. By doing something as simple as offering a potential witness a lift in taxicab, Fletcher would gain more information in a 12-block car ride than the police could do in a 12-hour interrogation. By using her feminine charms and generally light-hearted attitude, Fletcher was able to gain pertinent information that would have otherwise been lost in the larger scope of a police investigation. Through the strength of her kindness and due diligence, this unassuming 60-year old woman solved murders with more wit, pizzazz, and know-how than her local police department. And in the process, showed a six-year old girl that you can be a woman, act like a woman, and still be as good as any boy.

Jessica Fletcher 3Jessica Fletcher being boss

Looking back, it’s so obvious. Although I most certainly didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t watching Murder, She Wrote for its sheer entertainment value or its intricately plotted stories. No, I was watching it because I needed a role model in my life and who better than Jessica Fletcher.


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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15 Responses to Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon: Murder She Wrote and Representing the Ladies

  1. Pingback: Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon | How Sweet It Was

  2. Thanks for including JB Fletcher in this fun blogathon, she surely deserves a place of honor in among the big stars on the small screen. A delightful show, and a wonderful character to play–and Angela Lansbury was, and is, a marvelous actress.

    • minooallen says:

      No problem! I was actually worried Murder, She Wrote would have been taken by the time I got to responding to the blogathon. I was more than happy to write about this great character and even greater actress.

  3. “I was watching it because I needed a role model in my life and who better than Jessica Fletcher.” Who indeed?

    I was in my 20s when “Murder, She Wrote” began and Jessica meant a great deal to me as well. To this day, when I am in a difficult or foreign situation I ask “How would Jessica behave?” She would be forthright and firmly kind. She would be true to herself. She would be J.B. Fletcher.

    • minooallen says:

      “How would Jessica behave.” That seems like a sound to make decisions to me. A truly lovely character.

  4. I just loved reading this! Murder She Wrote is one of my favorite shows as well, although, unlike you I did not attach myself to it until I was in my late teens…which was just as well, since I wouldn’t have gotten such a kick out of seeing all those guest stars as I do now. Thanks for putting the spotlight on surely one of television’s all-time greatest sleuths!

    • minooallen says:

      I know what you’re saying. When I started re-watching episodes later in my life, I found my constantly thinking things like “Is that Kenickie from Grease?” or “When did Karen Walker live in Cabot Cove.”

  5. Leah says:

    I didn’t appreciate Jessica Fletcher when I was a kid (I was too busy reading Nancy Drew). It was only after seeing Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate that I gave the show another chance and understood just why I should have valued her before. I always wished to see a combined Columbo-Fletcher special: both underestimated, both subtle and clever, both a joy to watch in action.

    • minooallen says:

      You know, as much as I tried, I just couldn’t get into Nancy Drew. And Lansbury’s performance in The Manchurian Candidate is actually my favorite screen performance of all time. I’d clearly always admired Lansbury but that one made me truly appreciated how talented she is. I mean, who else could be Sibyl Vane, Mrs. Potts, JB Fletcher, Mame, and Eleanor Iselin? The answer is no one.

  6. Anne says:

    You’re singing my song. It was the same for me, only I was eleven. Heading into junior high school, having a role model like Jessica was _hugely_ positive for me.

    • minooallen says:

      Wonderful. It’s always great to see someone who enjoyed the show as a youngster. Murder, She Wrote, along with The Golden Girls, definitely made a lasting impression on me as child and were great role models!

  7. Elizabeth Parker says:

    I’m 66, and Jessica is still my role model. I have the boxed sets of MURDER, SHE WROTE. When life gets to be too much, I pull them out because Jessica is the kindest, most level-headed, most interesting woman I know–and she’s not afraid to travel alone! She’s what I want to be “when I grow up.” 🙂

    • minooallen says:

      It’s just the perfect “comfort show.” I mean, for a show about murder, it sure does make you just feel pleasant. That’s another thing I love about the show, it’s very funny and even a bit quirky while dealing with deadly serious subject matter…pun intended. And, yes, who wouldn’t want to be JB Fletcher when they grow up?

  8. FlickChick says:

    As much as I adored this show and Angela Lansbury, I always had a sneaking suspicion that JB Fletcher was the serial killer of Cabot Cove. I mean, wherever she was, there was murder…. Seriously – loved your post!

    • minooallen says:

      Haha. Yes, I love that theory. I mean, murder did follow that women wherever she went. As much as I adore the women, I’m not sure if I would actually want her to come into my life. The chances of my death would increase 10-fold, lol.

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