01 November 2004


I've created a "Who's Who" list for The Man Who Came to Dinner because the script is full of references that made sense to a 1930s audience but are lost to many folks today. I'd never done this for the show before, but it seemed like a good idea this time. It runs to five pages, but I learned something really interesting in compiling it.

As we all know, everything in the multiverse is connected somehow to everything else. (If you're not clear on this concept, watch the trailers for "I [Heart] Huckabees." Dustin Hoffman will explain it all for you.) Whiteside mentions a couple of famous murders, which I had assumed were made up by Kaufman and Hart, but I Googled them just in case and discovered that they are real. The first is "the Snyder-Gray case." Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray were tried in 1927 for the murder of Snyder’s husband. She was later sent to the electric chair and was the first woman executed in New York state in the 20th century. The story is the basis for the books and - later the movies - The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity (both by James M. Cain) as well as the play Machinal by Sophie Treadwell.

David is a fan of film noir, so we watched Double Indemnity a few months ago and I saw Machinal largely by chance when it was done locally and I struck up a conversation with one of the cast. (For the complete version of that story - which David has heard far, far too many times by now - use any of several secret key words to me. Like Ouisa's jukebox, I spit out anecdotes with very little encouragement.)

The Dinner script mentions Lana Turner briefly - she played Cora in Postman a few years after Dinner was written.

The other famous murder is "the Elwell murder." Joseph Elwell was famous for many things – for playing bridge and as a spy-master among others – but mainly for being the victim in an unsolved locked-room mystery. Alexander Woollcott (the inspiration for Whiteside) wrote about Elwell. And Philo Vance - who gets a passing reference in Dinner - investigates a version of the Elwell murder as his first case.

Fascinating. At least to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Doris Lane writes about the Snyder-Gray case. Damon Runyon, James M. Cain, and Sophie Treadwell wrote works influenced by it.