“Murder, She Wrote” retained its popularity for 12 years on prime-time television and has remained a favorite of viewers in cable reruns. Its success can be largely attributed to its star, the incomparable Angela Lansbury.
Lansbury has shown great versatility in a career that has spanned eight decades. She has excelled in theater, film and television, and is equally at home in musical comedy and serious drama. A consummate professional who has always conducted both her professional and personal life with grace and dignity, she is much loved by her legion of fans. Any series starring Lansbury was bound to earn a generous reception from both television enthusiasts and professional critics.
In addition to featuring a world-acclaimed actress, “Murder, She Wrote” offered a plot line that was entertaining and inspiring. The show chronicled the adventures of the widowed Jessica Fletcher, a retired teacher from Cabot Cove, Maine, who attained fame in her golden years as the writer (her pen name was J.B. Fletcher) of mystery novels.
Thanks to the extensive research she did in crafting complicated murder plots, J.B. Fletcher became an expert on crime and criminal procedures. It seemed wherever Jessica happened to be – whether in Cabot Cove, New York City to confer with her publisher or on some trip visiting friends or on a book tour, a murder took place within Jessica’s circle of friends and acquaintances. Each episode, therefore, detailed her efforts to solve the crime, sometimes to the annoyance of uncreative small-town or city police officers.
Each episode culminated in Lansbury revealing, usually in the presence of police and all the suspects, who committed the dastardly murder, and why. Most of the time, the identity of the murderer came as a shock to the viewers, but they derived great satisfaction in Jessica’s brilliant powers of observation. The clues were there all along; although we might have missed them, Jessica did not.
The show also benefited from an outstanding supporting class, which included Tom Bosley, and later Ron Masak, as successive Cabot Cove sheriffs, William Windom as the town doctor, and Michael Horton, as Jessica’s nephew, Grady. It also attracted top-notch guest stars, who were no doubt anxious to work with Lansbury. The list of “big name” stars who figured prominently in “Murder, She Wrote” episodes includes Buddy Hackett, Polly Bergen, Patricia Neal, Robert Culp, Mickey Rooney, Martin Balsam, Kathryn Grayson and Jerry Stiller, and many others.
Lansbury is capable of playing a heroine or a villainess with equal aplomb. In “Murder, She Wrote,” she skillfully portrayed a character that is highly sympathetic and extremely likable. The show aired (1984-1996) in a period when people at last appreciated strong women. Jessica Fletcher was happy and completely fulfilled in using her talents to the fullest. Fans responded positively to Jessica’s independence and self-confidence. The fact that she embarked on a highly successful career as a senior citizen served as an inspiration for both older and younger viewers.
A great “lady” in the best sense of the word, Jessica Fletcher was always gracious and kind. She was the teacher everyone wished they had, the aunt you would have liked to confide in, the writer you wished you could read and the friend who would be a lifetime treasure. Angela Lansbury’s performance was so “on-target,” she “became” Jessica Fletcher for millions of viewers. With a great star, well-written episodes and a strong supporting cast and guest stars, no wonder “Murder, She Wrote” became a television classic.