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

February Interview Schedule:

Keenan Powell 2/6, Hemlock Needle

A. R. Kennedy 2/13, Saving Ferris

Shari Randall 2/20, Drawn and Buttered

V. M. Burns 2/27, The Puppy Who Knew Too Much

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 2/2 Marilyn Meredith, 2/9 Chloe Sunstone

WWK Satuday Bloggers: 2/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 2/23 Kait Carson

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

We are especially proud of two WWK bloggers:

Congratulations to Shari Randall for her nomination for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her book, Curses, Boiled Again was published by St. Martin's last year. Read the interviewabout the book here. Yay, Shari!

The Malice Domestic conference participants have nominated Annette Dashofy for an Agatha Award for her Zoe Chambers mystery Cry Wolf, published in 2018 by Henery Press. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Annette about Cry Wolf here. Will four nominations be the charm?

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: http://a.co/d/jdSBKdM

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.

Shari Randall's third Lobster Shack Mystery, Drawn and Buttered, was published February 26, 2019. Available for sale.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reading the Basis for a Favorite Film

by Paula Gail Benson

When I was growing up, a television station featured classic films on Saturday afternoons and that is how I became familiar with some of Bette Davis’ earlier work, including The Corn Is Green, Dark Victory, and Now, Voyager (all the screenplays for which were written by Casey Robinson).

Henriette Desportes Deluzy
Duc de Choiseul-Praslin
Perhaps my favorite Bette Davis movie was All This and Heaven Too (the screenplay also written by Casey Robinson, based on the novel by Rachel Fields, a fictionalized account of a true story). In it, Bette Davis played a governess (probably why I liked it so much--it reminded me of Jane Eyre) who, in the years just preceding the Civil War in the United States, became involved in a notorious scandal in Paris. [Spoiler Alert: if you want to watch the movie first, don’t read further yet!]

Henriette Desportes, also known as Henriette Deluzy, became the governess for the children of Charles Laure Hugues Theobald, duc de Choiseul-Praslin (Charles Boyer in the film), despite the objections of his wife, the Duchess de Choiseul-Praslin (born Fanny Sebastiani and played by Barbara O’Neil, known as Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in Gone with the Wind, and Oscar-nominated for her role as the Duchess). What caused the rift in the family? Was it the Duchess’ obsession with her distant husband and her jealousy of the love her family showed the new governess? Or, did Henriette’s remaining in a toxic and untenable position lead to the terrible consequences?

Barbara O'Neil, Bette Davis, and Charles Boyer
As portrayed in the film, Henriette provided a stabilizing influence in a house filled with tension, primarily from the Duchess’ unpredictable nature and her being convinced that Henriette was stealing away the affections of her husband and children. Finally, Henriette was forced to leave her position without a reference from the Duchess, which, particularly in light of the newspaper accounts of Henriette’s involvement with the Duc, meant that she would be unable to find employment. The Duc sought to intervene and in a confrontation with his wife, the Duchess was killed. The authorities jailed Henriette, accusing her of encouraging the Duc to commit the crime. The Duc, who could only be found guilty by his peers, took poison, declaring his innocence on his death bed and leaving the authorities with no evidence of Henriette’s guilt.

The movie was based on the best-selling novel by Rachel Fields and told the true story of Rachel’s own great-aunt, whose time in the Praslin household created such an outcry against the ruling class that the incident contributed to the abolition of the monarchy in a French February 1848 revolution. I found the movie fascinating for several reasons: (1) it was about a country and historical period I knew little about, (2) it featured a young June Lockhart as one of the Praslin children, and (3) its love story was irresistible.
June Lockhart is the tall girl in green.

As February approached this year, I decided to read Rachel Field’s book. I discovered it was close to 500 pages and continued Henriette’s story with her life in the United States as a minister’s wife following the Praslin scandal (I’m still working on completing it). A great deal of the book was ingeniously and inventively incorporated into Casey Robinson’s screenplay. Robinson was wise to use the framework of Henriette facing her gossipy American students and asking them to judge her story for themselves (an actual chapter later in the book). The following quote from Rachel Fields was included in the movie’s trailer (accessible at this link): “It is not only the book as I wrote it, but a projection of the characters themselves -- My grateful thanks to all who made this picture possible.” When today, many authors are disappointed with how their books are depicted in film, this endorsement was extraordinary, particularly since this story was based on fact, or at least the version as handed down in the Fields family.

Author Rachel Field
Although she clearly championed Henriette, in the novel, Rachel Fields created a very real person with faults as well as virtues. Rachel studied the historical accounts and the Duc and Duchess’ letters and personal papers, which may have raised some doubt as to Henriette’s proclamation of innocence. Rachel developed a character both admirable and tortured by her own flaws. Henriette was drawn into a situation like a moth caught in a spider’s web. She was intelligent, analytical, painfully straight-forward and honest, and cautioned of the dangers in taking the position, yet she was arrogant enough to reject the warnings and rely upon her own judgment and inclinations, which contributed as much to her downfall as they helped her to recover.

Very much a novel of its time (1930s), the early chapters of All This and Heaven Too are amazingly fast paced and made me not want to put the novel down. Later, it slowed, in some respects bogged down by too much attention to detail, but even so it remained a powerful portrait of the period and the individuals.
Charles Boyer and Bette Davis
What makes the entire tale so fascinating, as much as the love story, is the mystery of who to believe: the newspaper accounts, the personal papers and letters, or Rachel Fields’ tribute to a great-aunt she never met. Have you read the book or seen the movie? What do you think?


Kait said...

I've not read the book, nor seen the movie. Both sound intriguing (but 500 pages...not so sure about that!) Somewhere in the back of my mind is a similar story and I can't call it to the fore. If it comes to me, I'll update this post. I can only recall the unevenly cut pages of the book that tell me I read it long ago and I can feel the crinkle of a library cover in my hands.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Kait, comments in the following blog post reference two novels which also fictionalized versions of the Praslin story: http://strangeco.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-deadly-duke-de-praslin.html. One was Joseph Shering's Forget-Me-Not or The Strange Case of Lucille Cleary and the other was Jason Fury's His Eyes Were Dark, He Licked His Lips, featuring a male tutor during the Nixon administration. This post also mentions the theory that the Duc somehow was able to escape and move to Nicaragua where he had another family. The matter remains fascinating.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Paula, for your fascinating blog post. More often than not, movie makers don't remain true to the book they are basing their film on--maybe that is the key word, they merely based the movie on the book. That is unless you are J.K. Rowling and manage to keep control of your story and characters.

Gloria Alden said...

Paula, a Very interesting blog post. I was about fifteen when I saw Gone With The Wind and totally loved it. It was later that I read the book when I was older and then I had a different feeling about some of the characters.

Like Grace said film makers don't often remain true to the book as I've discovered over the years.

Warren Bull said...

It is interesting to contrast books with movies. The movie version of The Maltese Falcon does a great job of using dialog from the book.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Fascinating blog, Paula. I'm looking forward to the "Wrinkle in Time" movie, but will re-read the book first. For me, books always trump movies.

Shari Randall said...

Growing up, I, too, was allowed to watch television on rainy Saturday afternoons which is why I have such a love of old black and white classic movies. It was all inappropriate for 9 year olds, but I couldn't get enough of great actresses like Bette Davis. I wonder if these films work so well because many screenwriters of the time were novelists also - or just had the good sense to let a great story like this one breathe and not change too much.
I'll be looking for the novel - sounds like a great read.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Grace, you are right. It's unfortunate that more authors don't have a greater influence when their books become movies.

Gloria, I know what you mean about Gone with the Wind. The book provides a different perspective.

Warren, I need to read The Maltese Falcon. I loved the movie.

Margaret, I'm afraid I've never read A Wrinkle in Time. I must do so before watching the movie.

Shari, wasn't that a special time? I remember being with family, some of whom had seen the movies when they debuted. It was a wonderful introduction to good storytelling!

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for introducing me to some new material! I'm afraid TV and movies were not part of my childhood. Thank goodness for public libraries or I don't imagine we would have had access to many books, either! Unfortunately, our library did not stock Nancy Drew of the Hardy Boys, but we made weekly trips (it was within walking distance, thank goodness) and always came home with things to read.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I made quite a few trips to the library myself. Don't know how people do without it!