You don’t need to be an ace detective to deduce that I’m as protective of this blog as Columbo is of Dog, Abigail Mitchell is of ‘her Phyllis’ and Ken Franklin is of his lavish, playboy lifestyle.
Nevertheless, every once in a while I hand over writing duties to a very able deputy, Rich Weill. My man Rick (as I’ve never called him in real life and hope he won’t be furious when he reads this) is a New York-based lawyer, playwright and former US prosecutor, and a man who understands Columbo on a whole different plane to most mere mortals.
Rich has contributed four posts to the blog, all of which have been extremely warmly received. Two were ‘second opinions’ on episodes I’ve reviewed on here (spoiler: Rich is a big fan of Dagger of the Mind, and less enamoured with Publish or Perish); one was a rivetting assessment of how Columbo’s cases might have fared in the courts of law; and t’other was an analysis of the key aspects that go in to crafting the perfect Columbo mystery.
I very much recommend you check out Rich’s splendid contributions to the site, which you can find lurking here, Steinmetz-like, in the shadows.
Several readers have asked me when Rich will be making his triumphant writing return to the blog, and on that front it’s still a TBC. Rich, however, has not been lying idle. Indeed he’s been a very busy chap, recently releasing a new book entitled We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon, which is an account of the writing and production of his own mystery play, Framed, which debuted in LA in May 2016.
At this stage, I’ll pass the baton to Rich to give a quick overview of his endeavours…
Q. Rich, tell us a bit about the background of the play Framed
On a Saturday afternoon in May 2016, Framed opened at the Elite Theatre in Oxnard, California, just outside Los Angeles. Framed is a legal thriller about two lawyers defending a young woman charged with murdering her lover’s wife, and was inspired (albeit only to the casual eye) by a real murder case I worked on as a prosecutor.
The play received excellent reviews in the local press, which led to standing-room-only audiences, and a run extended by popular demand (until the lead actor no longer could continue due to another commitment). At the end of Framed’s Oxnard run, the Elite’s Artistic Director proclaimed: “No play on our South Stage has received the standing-room-only audience numbers that Framed delivered.”
Details of the play — including press reviews and a two-minute trailer — can be found at framedthriller.wordpress.com.
Q. How did the book come about?
Two years to the day after Framed’s Saturday afternoon Oxnard opening, Sidney Books released my account of the writing and production of the play, entitled We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon, in a volume that includes the complete text of the play itself.
I wrote the book for three reasons. First, I wanted to record for future generations of my family the highlight of my long and previously undistinguished playwriting career. Second, I am personally fascinated by detailed accounts of the creative process, particularly where mystery thrillers are concerned, and thought others might share that interest. Third, I hope this might be another way to promote and spark further productions of my play.
Q. Where can people find out more about the book?
We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon is available online at:
…and other similar outlets. On those sites, you also can read a preview of the book, as well as reviews. Here’s what one purchaser of the book posted:
“This was a fascinating read, and should serve as an inspiration to anyone who has struggled to get their “Great American Novel” out there for the public to enjoy. It’s a good read and the play itself is just waiting for its chance on Broadway, or in the West End of London.”
Q. Were there are any Columbo influences on the play?
The simple answer is: “not intentionally” — but when you’ve been watching your favorite detective character for over 40 years, influences do tend to creep into your subconscious.
Framed has a detective, named George Olivetti. I was sufficiently conscious of Columbo’s subconscious influence that, when we were casting the play, I wrote the following email to the play’s director:
“One casting note. On the page, someone could regard Detective Olivetti as a Columbo-like character: persistent, intuitive, smart. In casting the part, try to find a physical type that contradicts that response: someone tall, more elegant looking, etc. Same with how he is dressed. If possible, I’d like to nip the Olivetti-Columbo comparison in the bud.”
But the subconscious influence didn’t stop there. Recently, I was watching my favorite Columbo episode, Murder by the Book, for the umpteenth time and suddenly noticed — for the first time — two lines in the final scenes that sounded familiar. Remember this exchange between Columbo and Joanna Ferris near the end of the episode:
- Columbo: But I’ve got a pretty strong circumstantial case, it’s just not enough. If I had one piece of hard evidence, I could nail this fella.
- Joanna: But you don’t.
- Columbo: That’s right, ma’am. I don’t. That’s why I’m here. Maybe you can give it to me.
- Joanna: Me?
- Columbo: You knew both of these fellas very well. I want you to tell me about them. Anything. Just talk. Whatever comes into your mind.
Near the end of Framed, the detective lays out his incomplete theory of the case to the victim’s sister. The sister asks: “But why?” — why her sister? Olivetti responds: “It’s the one missing piece. It’s where I thought you could help.”
Later in the scene, when the sister tells the detective: “You don’t know anything! You’re just guessing!” Olivetti answers: “That’s true. That’s why it’s the missing piece. I figured, since you knew her longer and better than anyone else — ”
It was an eerie similarity.
And then, in the final Columbo-Franklin confrontation in Murder by the Book, is this:
- Franklin: Come on, Lieutenant, I was down in San Diego.
- Columbo: So was your partner.
- Franklin: That’s a provocative statement. Can you prove that?
In the same Framed scene between the detective and the victim’s sister, it is Olivetti that says: “That’s a provocative statement” in response to a remark by the sister; and the sister later responds to something the detective says with: “Speaking of provocative statements.”
It’s not enough to get me sued, but it does show how the shows and scenes we love get under our skin.
So there we are, folks. Great to see a Columbo afficianado putting his love of mysteries to such good use, so show your support for his endeavours if you can.
And will this news act as a precursor to Rich’s thrilling return to this site in a written capacity? Only time will tell..
I’ve just ordered it from Amazon – the 2nd book I’ve ordered on CP recommendation (the other being ‘Cooking with Columbo’ which I haven’t regretted.)
Terrific, thanks Paul. I’m sure Rich will be tickled pink.
Thanks, Paul. I’m interested to hear your opinion of the book.
I’ve always been fascinated by the genre of mystery/thriller plays – they’re so clever, plays such as Dial M for Murder, Sleuth, Deathtrap and I’m interested in how they are conceived and put together so your book sounds right up my street!
My great thanks to the Columbophile for posting this. [I confess that I’m puzzled my the “My man Rick” bit. I’ve been called a lot of things, but “Rick” is not one of them. If CP thinks it might make me “furious,” then it must mean something. Is it a cultural reference? If so, it’s not one with which I am familiar. But I digress …]
Hopefully, all fans of this site will check out “We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon” on their local Amazon site. It’s a two-for-one offer in that the book contains both the complete play “Framed” and the story behind the conception, writing, and production of the play (an eight-year saga) — plus a few extras (the play’s reviews, and a promotional piece I wrote prior to the play’s opening about the stage thriller genre). If the structure of mystery drama interests you, this book should as well.
As for my writing further pieces of this site, just suggest a topic that’s up my alley and I’m game.
Think of the ‘Rick’ reference as a term of endearment! No cultural significance. I just know that some Richards / Richs would be ENRAGED to be referred to as Rick, so I was hoping you weren’t one of them!
Congratulations, Richard. I’d like very much to read “Framed” and “We Open in Oxnard Saturday Afternoon.” You should also offer autographed copies through Amazon.
Almost all artists unconsciously make use of existing works and the examples cited above that were unconsciously drawn or inspired by “Murder by the Book” aren’t plagiarism. For some unconscious examples, listen to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” (1910) and then compare it to Maurice Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole” (1908). There are musical passages that Stravinsky wrote that clearly link to Ravel’s work, but I wouldn’t argue they were deliberate.
For examples of actual plagiarism, see Richard Condon’s excellent novel “The Manchurian Candidate” (made into a successful movie twice). Condon’s otherwise excellent novel lifts whole sentences from Robert Graves’ “I Claudius.” (Incidentally, my late father was a friend of Robert Graves and I still keep Graves’ letters to him.)
And, since Rich thinks legally, I’d also like to share one interesting “plagiarism” I experienced. I was once invited by a friend to see a musical called “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.” I didn’t know or read anything about it before going to see it. Within 10 minutes into the show, I whispered to my friend, “This story is a ripoff! It’ll come to me in a minute where the writers stole this from.” And, just like I said, within about a minute more, I knew that this story was ripped from a classic British movie called “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949), which a terrific movie starring Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, and Valerie Hobson.
When it was over, I read the Playbill about the musical and was outraged to see that it mentioned nothing at all about “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” even though it lifted just about everything from the movie, even to the point of having the nine victims played by a single actor (Alec Guinness in the original). When I got back to my hotel, I looked up the story behind the musical and found that it was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit from the owners of the movie rights to “Kind Hearts and Coronets.”
I read the Court’s order favoring the Defendants, thereby granting the makers of the musical the right to continue receiving proceeds without paying anything to the owners of the original movie. The reasoning of the Court for this disappointing result was that (1) both works were based on a novel entitled “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” by Roy Horniman, which was in the public domain when the musical was produced; and (2) the idea of having a single actor play multiple parts (with different makeup and costumes) is often used and isn’t, therefore, protected property. But the similarities don’t end with the story and the use of multiple characters played by the same actor. There were similarities in the names of the characters as well. And, clearly, the intent of the writers of the musical was to copy directly from the movie, not the earlier novel, including using an Italian name for the social-climbing murderer (when the novel’s character was a Jew). But, apparently, the intent of the defendants and the copying of a combination of so many elements of the movie were considered legally irrelevant by the Court.
I just love this blog!!!
Congrats Ricky. As I’ve commented previously, after reading your column on Dagger of the Mind, I gained new appreciation for the episode- and I enjoy your informative comments.