If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.











October Interview Schedule: 10/3 Ellen Byron, 10/10 Cynthia Kuhn, 10/17 Jacqueline Seewald, 10/24 G. A. McKevett, 10/31 Alan Orloff

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/6 Mary Reed, 10/13 J.J. Hensley,
WWK Satuday Bloggers: 10/20 Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/27 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:


Grace Topping signed a three-book contract with Henery Press for her Laura Bishop Home Staging series. Congratulations, Grace!

KM Rockwood's new short story, "Map to Oblivion," has been included the anthology Shhhh...Murder! edited by Andrew MacRae and published by Darkhouse Books. It was released on Sept. 12.

Warren Bull also has a story in Shhh...Murder! Look for "Elsinore Noir," Warren's short story, in this anthology.

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in July 31, 2018.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Norman Rockwell's Murder Mystery

By Shari Randall

Traveling through the Berkshires after a holiday visit to upstate New York was a great excuse to stop in charming Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Rockwell, who preferred the term “illustrator” to “painter,” was a meticulous artist who designed his scenes, chose and posed his models, photographed them, and only when satisfied with the photos, used them to guide the final painting of his artwork. This painstaking process produced some of the best loved images of all time. Exhibits of his iconic Four Freedoms raised over a million dollars in war bonds during World War II, a stunning amount for the time. His art appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post 323 times. His work, considered sentimental or false by some critics, is undergoing a reappraisal and is hotly collected by tastemakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. An exhibit of his work at the Smithsonian broke records.

That’s why it was so shocking to hear about the Rockwell cover the Saturday Evening Post rejected, the work that, despite its celebrity firepower, failed to make the cut and was never published.

In 1948, Rockwell did a drawing he called Murder Mystery, or Who-Dun-It. Rockwell’s intent was to present a classic drawing room murder mystery that the viewer would solve from the clues in the picture. Instead of choosing his subjects from his friends and neighbors as was his custom, Rockwell went Hollywood. He approached Ethel Barrymore to portray the lady of the manor; Linda Darnell as a glamorous actress; Boris Karloff as the chef; Loretta Young as the maid; Clifton Webb as the butler; Richard Widmark as a disreputable gentleman with a riding crop; and Lassie as, well, Lassie. Van Johnson plays The Body, with only his legs and feet portrayed, splayed on the carpet.

Rockwell said, “I’d show a murdered man surrounded by his friends and relatives, one of whom had done him in. The clues to the solution would be present in the picture and Post readers would be asked to solve the crime.”

Here’s a link to the museum image and here’s my photo. The clues are hidden in the details, so enlarge away! http://collection.nrm.org/search.do?id=630050&db=object&view=full


photo by the author
Standing in front of the painting, tucked away in a side gallery, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the quality of the work. The mystery? That was another thing. A Boy Scout standing next to me pondered the painting for a good five minutes. He sighed. And tilted his head to look closer. And sighed again.

I understood how he felt. I thought one solution was obvious, but, could see a case for others. A man wearing a Bruins sweatshirt joined us in front of Murder Mystery and peered close at the work. We exchanged glances and guesses.

We all chose a different suspect.

That was the problem. The Saturday Evening Post agreed with me and the Boy Scout and the Bruins fan. After Rockwell presented Murder Mystery to the editorial board of The Saturday Evening Post, the Post test-drove it with staff. The work was rejected, the Post editors explained, because not one staffer came within “miles of the correct answer.” I have a feeling that mystery readers may do better than the staff of the 1948 Saturday Evening Post but still, the solution is not clear cut.


So dear readers, take a look. Who-Dun-It? Put your guesses in the comments and I’ll check in later with the correct answer. Well, with the artist’s answer. Your solution may vary.

14 comments:

Kait said...

Wow, this was a hard choice. What a great drawing. I'm going with Ethel, the lady of a certain age. She is the only one drinking the tea and it looks to me like poor Van Johnson died by the cup!

I had no idea such a sketch existed, or that Rockwell produced anything that hadn't made it to the magazine cover. What a wonderful museum, and what a wonderful artist. Great pictures, Shari.

Margaret Turkevich said...

I'm going with the butler or maid. They would have served the tea.

Shari Randall said...

I like your guesses!

I was so surprised to see this work - I thought I'd seen every Norman Rockwell painting a million times. It was such a treat to see so many works that were new to me.

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, I've been to the Norman Rockwell museum and really enjoyed it, but I don't remember that picture. I also have a huge album of Norman Rockwell pictures that I bought at a garage sale. I'll be going back later to your blog to see if I can figure out who done it. I don't think it is in my book.

Jim Jackson said...

I haven't been to that Norman Rockwell museum, but there is one in Philadelphia that I quite enjoyed. Jan's brother talked about visiting a Rockwell museum where "the admission was free, but it cost me $100 to get out of the gift shop."

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

It was Lassie. The least likely suspect is the guilty one.

Barb Goffman said...

This might be the obvious guess: the butler did it! The tea couldn't have been poisoned because someone else, still alive, was drinking it. But the butler is hiding a gun in his pocket, so the dead guy must have been shot dead.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Gloria, I wonder if they only show it at certain times of the year? It was off the main gallery, tucked away near a temporary Christmas exhibit.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Jim, I can't stop laughing - my husband can relate to this - I always hit up the gift shops!

Shari Randall said...

Hi Warren, Yup, it's always the innocent looking ones - but in this case, Lassie is blameless.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Barb,
You have pointed out the problem with Who Dun It.
The museum description explains how Rockwell did his due diligence on the murder weapon. The beautiful plant in the lower corner is the source of the poison. Rockwell borrowed it from a college botany department (the school told him not to "leave it lying around.") So the tea is poisoned and the broken cup is supposed to be the big clue.
However, as you pointed out, what about everyone else drinking the poisoned tea? Could the poison have been only in The Body's cup if it was made with leaves from that plant? Maybe? But it's not clear from the picture and we can't tell if there are other wounds, made with the gun in the butler's pocket, or knife in the lady's hat, or shears in the maid's pocket. Could the dandy have beaten him with that walking stick? And what's up with the chef's hands? Too many clues!

Julie Tollefson said...

I would have chosen the young woman -- glamorous actress? -- just judging by the look on her face. Fun post!

KM Rockwood said...

I'd go with the old lady. She has a satisfied look about her, as if she has accomplished something major. And I see her drinking her own tea as intended to assure everyone that the tea was not, in fact, poisoned.

It seems likely to me that the old lady would have been "mother," as they say, ("Shall I be mother?") to serve the tea, and could either introduce something into one person's tea, or select a cup in which the poison had already been placed.

But there are so many clues!

My favorite coffee mug has Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" picture on it. It was given to some of us who served in an advisory role to the union negotiating team during a strike in which I participated. I still maintain my membership in the Teamster's Union, although on "withdrawn" status so I don't have to pay union dues. It can be reactivated with a small payment.

Anonymous said...

Seven people, six biscuits. The gentleman ate a poisoned dessert. The lady of the house isn'afraid to drink the tea, she knows it is safe. She has no murder weapon about her person, she knows she won't need it. Her motive lies in the incriminating letters on her lap.