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..