Category Archives: Smart-Talking Gals

On the Road Again – In a Noir Frame of Mind

 

 

In between the raging blizzards of this spring, I was fortunate enough to be able to join some wonderful fellow mystery writers to promote our books and make connections with readers and neophyte writers.  The first such adventure took Yang and I to the far north (of New York, anyway) to Ithaca and Buffalo Street Books.  Here, my friend Lisa Lieberman and I presented “An Evening of Noir,” where we not only talked about our books but about the noir films that inspired us!  Lisa’s husband Tim created this gorgeous poster for our adventure.  Note that it features my favorite femme fatale and/or smart-talking gal, Joan Bennett!  Didn’t he do a superb job?!

 

 

Lisa and I had a fun program.  I had prepared a cd of background music to help create the mood of dark, mean streets; tough detectives; mysterious dames; and haunted pasts.  Our playlist contained  multiple versions of “Laura,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “Penny Blues,” “Drink Dirty Water,” “Peter Gunn,” and even Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” to name a few.  And, of course, we dressed the parts, with Lisa’s swanky mink stole and slinky mystery-lady dress and my Claire Trevor femme fatale black suit with  swag, complimented by  red velvet and black feathered cap.  Watch out Phil Marlow and Sam Spade!

 

We had loads of fun talking with our audience about the trademarks of film noir  and how they influenced our novels, especially in terms of specific films.  Lisa detailed how  her experiences in Hungary and the film The Third Man  inspired the tense and dark atmosphere and tight plot twists of her  Burning Cold.  I shared how the wit, surprising reversals, and slippery characters in films like The Scar; Murder, My Sweet; and Double Indemnity shaped the latest adventures of Jessica Minton in Letter from a Dead Man.  And both us ladies of noir had a great time sharing trivia and background about the filmmakers and writers of our favorite noir films with our audience.  We had such a wonderful time, we’re thinking of adding film clips and “taking  our act on the road”!

 

My other recent appearance was on a delightful panel, with an equally delightful name:  “Stealing from the Dead.”  This Sisters-in-Crime Panel took place at Atria Bay in Barrington, RI.  I was pleased to join Frances MCNamara and Steve Liskow for a fun presentation at the community.  Both writers have fascinating books, with Frances’s latest series set in early 20th century Chicago and Steve’s in Connecticut and New York concerning the brutal reality of human trafficking.  Do click on each of their names to check out their work in greater detail.  You won’t be sorry! You can see from the picture on the left that I had a wonderful time.  If you ever want to book a Sisters-In-Crime panel for your library, school, or other such group, you can contact Leslie Wheeler at the Speakers Bureau.

I also want to extend my thanks to Margaret Shand of Atria Bay for setting up the panel.  the audience had intriguing questions and great comments for us.  My thanks to Margaret for the photo at the top of the paragraph.

 

Yang took what is probably the best shot of me, below.

“We’re Not Making this Up”: Plainfield Library, Sisters in Crime New England

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to participate  with two other mystery writers in a Sisters in Crime New England panel, “We’re Not Making This Up” at Plainfield11the Plainfield Library in New Hampshire. Nancy Norwalk is the wonderful lady at the library who set up our panel,  and advertised and arranged for event. I was the newbie and the two veterans were Kevin Symmons, who does romantic thrillers, sometimes with a gothic twist, and Ellen Perry Berkeley, who does gritty mysteries with a historical basis – as well as some interesting nonfiction, Maverick Cats and At Grandmother’s Table:  Women Write about Food. Kevin’s latest is Chrysalis and Ellen’s is Keith’s People.

 

IMG_1936The Library is a beautiful little brick buidling that, like the Tardis, is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.  Just to make sure we knew where we were going, Nancy’s signs pointed out our way into the charming, old New England building. IMG_1940Once there, I shared a table for displaying my books with Kevin Symmons, and the three of us got started talking about our writing and answering questions from a nice turn out of about 15 people. Kevin was our adept moderator.

 

We had some interesting discussion of the merits of small, independent publishers over the big-ticket conglomerates.IMG_1942  You may not get huge advances or get as much promotion (though the latter advantage is not always available), but you also aren’t under pressure to sell 10 to 100s of thousands of books – and you don’t have to pay back an advance that low sales don’t erase. Just as good, your books tend to stay in print longer – and you tend to have more control over content.  We also had some fun and funny discussions over sex vs. romance (in the novels), how do we carve out the time to write, and do the characters spring direct from Plainfield7the unconscious or do we base them on people we know.  I ended up talking about how I like to cast my novels like a movie full of classic actors, with a few more modern folk sprinkled in.  But we all agreed that characters have a way of taking the reins and telling us what they intend to do, no matter what our original intention was – and we love it!

It was also fun to discover how we all did our research through talking to people in different fields, drawing on our own personal andPlainfield8 professional experiences, reading and immersing ourselves in the environments that would become our characters’ worlds:  whether it was WWII New York, show- horse farms, or post Viet Nam America.

I did “shock” my two panel members by admitting that I have to write my first draft with pen (no pencil- too soft!) and paper.  Otherwise, the muse just won’t flow.  She needs to travel from my mind to the paper via that sharp pen point.  Computers are for editing as far as she is concerned.  What can I say!

We writers made some nice connections with one another and with our audience – Plainfield9and I hope that we inspired some of them to keep on with their own writing and perhaps be published, themselves! And, of course, it’s always nice to sell some books!  We writers even ended up getting some reading material from each other.

Plainfield4Next, it’s on to Lowell tomorrow (5/28/16) from 2:00-4:00, where I go solo with Bait and Switch.  Maybe I’ll see some of you folk there!

The Book Lover’s Gourmet: Reading and Signing

The Book Lover’s Gourmet is a little gem of a bookstore and cafe in Webster, MA.  I was fortunate to do a reading and signing there on March 19th!  There’s a lovely selection of books of all kinds, with an especially nice section of children’s books and another of local authors (including me!).  Agourmet8Ah, the excitement of seeing your name and book title, well, not in lights – but at least in magic marker on the white board!  There I am in turquoise, one of my favorite colors, third from the bottom.

 

So, let’s get started, in the cozy little room where people usually sit and enjoy scrumptious pastries – or quiche if they’re more in the mood for savory.  And don’t forget the coffee, chai, lattes, and cappuccino – mine’s right behind me in this picture.  Agourmet5I must have said something profound, because Bill Graves (one of my sharpest students) is smiling and pondering, while another sharp cookie, Joanne Evans, is exchanging deep thoughts on the writing and publishing processes with me.  You can tell it’s a profound conversation by the way we’re  raising our mitts to make our points.  I just wonder what brings that cat-that-ate-the-canary smile to Kathy Healey’s face.  She’s probably thinking about finally being finished editing the Gothic Landscapes book – well almost finally.

The conversation continues. Elizabeth Gaumond listens with rapt attention.  I look reflective.  So does Joanne – or has my reading put her to sleep?  No, not the adventures of Jessica, Elizabeth, James, and Dusty! Agourmet7

 

Meanwhile, across the room, Pam Graves, Barbara Ingrassia, and Kate Zebrowski seem to be enjoying the reading Agourmet4of Jessica Minton’s encounter with a mysterious stranger, his mysterious package, and a threatening chap who’s built along the “graceful” lines of a fireplug.  Note the display case of goodies behind them.

My husband Yang seems to be having a humorous time for himself with them and Cookie Gaumond (Elizabeth’s Mom). Agourmet2 Maybe it was the line about Jessica fearing she might have to slug a G.I. for his Hershey bar.  That’s not very patriotic of her! Barbara’s husband Tom gallantly rose to give up his seat for Cookie, so you don’t see him here.

Something that was particularly fun and informative about this session was that we had two other authors present.  Joanne has authored and illustrated a marvelously beautiful, creative, informative and fun children’s book Seashells, Treasures from the Northeast Coast  and graciously gifted me with a copy.  I want to buy copies for the little kids in my life, now.  Agourmet1Tom Ingrassia has written two  books, himself.  One, Reflections of a Love Supreme, is a wonderful book on the Motown story “through the eyes of the fans,” as the subheading explains.  It’s filled with unique pictures from the fans and fascinating, fun background stories of fans and artists that don’t bog you down in all the depressing scandals but still give you an intriguing insight into the bonds between the people on both sides of the stage.  One Door Closes is an enjoyable and helpful collection of essays by people who have dealt with disappointment and misfortune by redefining their lives creatively and joyously.  Then, there were also some neophyte writers with questions about writing, publishing, promoting – as well as legal aspects – so, we could talk about our experiences to help them with their questions on how to get their writing off their computers and into the hands of the public. Barbara had great advice on legal concerns.

 

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So, why am I excitedly on my feet here?  I was delighted to find my friend and colleague, Jim Foley had come with his wife Lois and his son James.  Yay!  Fellow MST3K and Shakespeare and music fans!  How can things go wrong?!

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Agourmet9The day draws to a close, and I get to sign books for my delighted fans – and, no, students attending did not  have to buy a book to pass my classes.

 

 

Bill certainly seems pleased with whatever I wrote.Agourmet11  Elizabeth looks pretty cheery, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, I don’t know what cracked me up, but it must have been  pretty good. Someone must have quoted a quip from those Smart-Talking Gals Jessica Minton and her sister Elizabeth Hennessey. Or maybe Agourmet10someone asked me if I was going to pick up the coffee and pastry tab for the whole crew?  Anyway, this was a lovely gathering:  old friends, new ones, all mixing together and either renewing old ties or forging new ones.  That might be what I love best about these signings.  They’re like parties where you catch up with people, meet new ones, and share dreams and ideas – and, of course, people buy my book.

 

And here’s one last look at that luscious array of comestibles that Debra Horan serves up with nifty book chasers in cozy surroundings.  Agourmet12The Book Lover’s Gourmet is a great reason to pass up Amazon so you can enjoy the warmth of a beautifully decorated store with real people.  And Bait and Switch is definitely on sale there, so hurry down, buy a copy, and sit down with something tasty and refreshing in a sunlit room to read! Save a spot in the sun for Dusty!Dusty reduced1

Yang Speaks!

So, to keep you entertained while you breathlessly await the forthcoming blogs on my appearance at The Book Lover’s Gourmet and my adventures at the Shakespeare of America Convention in New Orleans, here’s a link to an audio interview with me by Pat Driscoll for The New Worcester Spy.  It contains more details on my interests in film noir and horror, on film and on the page, and even a little more on my background. Just click here.  It’s what Dusty would want! Dusty reduced1

 

 

Bait and Switch: My First Reading at Annie’s Bookstop

Well, after all my announcements and commotion, here, at last, is the report on my reading and signing at Annie’s Bookstop in Worcester.  I HAD A BALL! What a wonderful experience.  So, I will commemorate it in words and pictures for you.

Annies1

 

Ah, a long shot of Annie’s as viewed by the author and her entourage – aka her husband.  Hey, he’s one guy but he’s worth a battalion.  We all know that about Yang!
Wait, here’s the heart-stopping moment where I see myself and my work celebrated in an honest-to-goodness advertisement!  I’m a star!  For the day.  Sort of.  That’s good enough for me!

Annie's2

 

One of my loyal fans, Barbara Werblin greets me with gifts celebrating my great victory in actuallyAnnies3 getting the darned thing published!    We’re buddies from the “Y,” so she’s seen me in my sweats and really knows me!  Barb’s a great friend who has given me tons of encouragement – and she loves the book, too!  As the Mom of a wonderful poet, she understands the writer’s burden.  Sigh!
You can see my pal and colleague MaryLynn just behind me in the shot above. In these two pictures, you can see my friend and former student, Erin Bassler, having a good time while she reports on the event for The New Worcester Spy. (Read the article here!) Annies4Ultimately, we had about 12 or 13 people attend, all told.  I had loads of support from my friends:  students, colleagues, folks I know who enjoyed Bait and Switch and like seeing me be a wise guy.  So take a gander at some of the shots from the reading, question answering, and signing. annies5 Also, note how I got myself all gussied up in my smart-talking, forties gal, film noir look:  white blouse, black skirt, black and white spectator pumps, technicolor red lipstick.  Agent Carter, eat out your heart!

 

Someone said something shocking!  annies7How about those gorgeous flowers that Barbara got me for the occasion?  And chocolate.  She got me chocolate, too.  A brilliant woman!

 

 

 

Here are some nice shots of other folks coming up with questions, pondering the noir-style mysteries engendered by Annies8James Crawford leaving Jessica Minton that mysterious package in Bait and Switch.
Erin Fragola follows along intently while I ham up my reading in the background.
Everyone gets intense  with Pam McKay concentrating to Annies9express her thoughts on one of the many exciting and intriguing questions people posed to me on the characters, plot, historical background, cinematic style of the novel, and the true identity of Dusty. Both Erin Bassler and I look perplexed.  Must have been a humdinger of a query!  Something to do with Nazis?

 

 

 

While I’m signing books for my loyal fans, Annies11Pam and her friend Gaylene are perusing Bait and Switch to throw more thought-provoking questions my way.

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Ah, the end of an exhilarating day!  Here the author poses with her masterpiece.  I could use a nice cuppa about now.Annies12Bait and Switch is the first in the series of Jessica Minton’s adventures in the 1940s.  I’m not telling who else will be along for the ride in subsequent novels.  You’ll have to buy the books to find out!
I’m lucky to have so many friends to support me and to enjoy what I write.  My only regret is that I didn’t get to  include pictures of two people who made this wonderful day possible, but I do extend my heartfelt thanks.  Patty at Annie’s and my husband, who always believes in me – and is lots of fun to be with – yes, I know I dangled a preposition.  So there!

 

Dusty reduced1Dusty says, “Buy Bait and Switch!  Don’t miss my catly charm!”

 

 

 

 

Local Book Signings for Bait and Switch

LampGreat news!  Not only do Annie’s Bookstop and the Booklovers’ Gourmet carry Bait and Switch, but I have been scheduled to do signings at both shops:

Annie’s Bookstop (65 James Street, Worcester, MA):   February 20, 2016 from 2:00-4:00

Book Lovers’ Gourmet (55 East Main Street, East Webster, MA):  March 19, 2016 from 2:00-4:00

Worcester State University will also be planning a book launch in February.  I’ll let you know the details when I get them.  Exciting, isn’t it?  WomanPlease come, check out the book, ask the questions you’re dying to know about the novel or about  writing a mystery.  Maybe get some hints about the next Jessica Minton mystery!  I’d love to meet you!

Bait and Switch now available for pre-order; release date 12/15!

I can’t tell everyone how excited I am that Bait and Switch is now going to be available.  If you want the Kindle edition, it’s now available for pre-order through Amazon (click here), and the official release for all versions (paperback and electronic is December 15th – next week.  front coverAs a little preview, I’d like to share the cover art with you here.
My husband Yang and I designed it and executed it.  I love that it captures a ’40s noir/pulp-novel ambiance.  Would you believe that Yang used me as the model for the figure?  Well the body/clothes/ hair.  The face is, um, a somewhat younger.
LampJust for fun, note that the lamp is actually based on the WWII blackout street lamps that directed light downward, keeping submarines or potential bombers from seeing the city.  My husband is the tops, working away over the weekend to put my initial design into such an elegant form.  I owe him a lot.
I thank my publisher and Jacqueline of all trades Sheri Williams for skillfully transferring our mock up to a finished product, slaving away into the wee hours to get things done – and done right!  I appreciate it!  I hope the this cover sets a mood that the novel will carry through for your enjoyment.  In these times of holiday stress, a little tale of murder, espionage, and wise aleck cats always provides a pleasant distraction.  I’ll have additional info for you after I finish grading some more papers! I have a day job, too! If I’ve piques your curiosity about Bait and Switch, click here for a sneak peek.
WomanP.S.  I’d also like to give a tip of one of my many hats to my friends at Touchpoint , especially Leslie-Anne Garrett Stephens and my colleagues and students at Worcester State for encouraging and supporting me.

Smart Talking Gals Part 3 Lynn Bari

Blog 15  Smart Talking Gals Part 3

Lynn Bari:

Home Sweet Homicide, Nocturne, Tampico, Sleepers West, The Amazing Mr. X

Lynn Bari, of the apple cheeks, sweet but knowing smile, dark hair, and warm, throaty voice is one of my favorite smart-talking gals. Like some of the other females in this hall of cinematic fame, she could play a fourteen-karat stinker. Think of Sun Valley Serenade and Margie. Still, when she was on the side of the angels, with a little pitch fork to keep things hopping, she could be a great one to have in your corner. HomeSweetHomicideIn Home Sweet Homicide, Bari plays an attractive widow with a brood of kids whom she supports through writing murder mysteries. A real murder on her block, and the kids plot to solve it to get their mother publicity for her books and to match her up with police detective Randolph Scott. Lynn gets off some nifty quips while taking guff from no one, not even Randolph Scott (cue the celestial choir in Blazing Saddles). When he tries to imply she’s an inadequate mother who has raised a passel of overly imaginative, disingenuous children, she sets him straight without being the least flapped. First she smoothly calls him on his right to pass judgment with the smiling query, “How many children have you raised?” then puts a nifty finish on his criticism with this amused inquiry to his response, “Do you know anything about children, except what you read in books?” When he tries to offer evidence that her children aren’t telling the truth by recounting the unlikely stories they’ve given him about being born in Peru, China, and other foreign points, she affably reveals his need not to be bound by limited expectations with the information that she had traveled the world with newspaper man husband. She finishes with a show of her strength, adventurousness, and open mindedness by turning back his pity for her difficult life with the warmth in her eyes and words as she tells him, “It was heaven, and I wouldn’t have traded it for all the tea in China.”

TampicoIn Tampico, Bari plays a survivor of a U-boat attack whom merchant marine captain Edward G. Robinson fishes out of the South Atlantic. (Tampico)After some nifty verbal exchanges, the two fall in love and marry. All is not peaches and cream after that, as Robinson is led to suspect Lynn of being a Nazi fiver. Is she? Would those big brown eyes and apple cheeks serve de Fuhrer? Watch the movie and find out.

Lynn5The best of her smart-talking roles, though, is as aspiring actress Frances Ransome, opposite police detective George Raft in Nocturne. Tough guy Raft is on his mettle to match her self-confidence and smooth, mordant wit. This gal is unflappable. When Raft demands of her, “Why did you kill him?” she shoots back nonchalantly, with a hint of a smile “Which one?” A pushy date tries to top off, “Gee, Baby, it’s been a swell evening,” my forcing a kiss and she Lynn2 deftly checks him with, “Why not let it stay that way?” followed by a gentle shove and a sarcastically sweet, “Good night.” Raft tips his hat to her prowess with a dryly admiring, “As good a block as I’ve ever seen. Ever thought of playing for the Green Bay Packers?” Bari’s Frances keeps Raft’s Detective Warne firmly in place, at one point telling him, “I have a late date. And even if I hadn’t I still wouldn’t go out [with you]. Is that clear enough for you?” Later, on the set of a movie in which she’s an extra, he tries to pull off a threatening bluff to force her to come clean about the murder. With perfect control, she cuts him dead with, “Why don’t you hop on your scooter, sonny boy, and blow. I’ve got to emote.” And she doesn’t care what people think about her as long as she knows the truth. Raft tries to take her down a peg by inferring from her fancy digs and couture that he sees her as a kept woman. Instead of angrily or affrontedly protesting the truth that she’s borrowing both from a pal (hinted to be Ginger Rogers), she plays along with his misjudgment for her own amusement, responding with mock innocence, Lynn9“Can I help it if people like to give me things?”  Needless to say, Warne thinks she’s swell, doesn’t believe she’s the real killer, and takes the needling in stride, even fun, enjoying the challenge rather than looking for a crushing conquest. And those outfits! Especially the sequined cocktail dress – which leads to another great quip. Her sister comments on liking the outfit, and Frances indirectly twits Detective Warne with, “This isn’t bad considering I ran it up on a sewing machine salesman! Lynn6 Still the Detective gets a kick out of, admires, her smart sauciness, her self-confidence, and the good heart he can see keeping both company. He also has a healthy respect for how she fills out a bathing suite, as well. Lynn1 Appearances in Sleepers West and The Amazing Mr. X deserve honorable mention in the smart-talking gal category.

I’d love to think up a plot for a mystery where she could be inspiration for my heroine.  I’ll have to get cracking.  Maybe at some point she could help out Jessica and Liz in one of my sequels to Bait and Switch?  Suggestions from any Lynn Bari fans?

Last updated 8/31/15

 

Smart-Talking Gals Two: Lucille Ball

Blog 12: Smart Talking Gals Two

 

Publicdomain LucyLucille Ball

Before Lucy became the daffy redhead of I Love Lucy fame in the ’50s, she was a sharp as a fox smart-talking gal in the late ’30s and ’40s. She had more than a few roles as a no-nonsense, sharp-witted, tart-tongued redhead, but the three that stand out the most for me came in the late 1940s: Easy Living (1949), Two Smart People (1946), and The Dark Corner (1946).

In Easy Living, Lucy’s Anne Lenehan is secretary to a football team owner/manager, played by Lloyd Nolan –– and she has it bad for good-guy-with-problems and star player, Victor Mature. But this gal in no moony pushover. She talks tough and keeps her guard up, deftly deflating Mature’s celebrity by dryly calling him “Miraculous” and warning him when a team mate gets cut, “You ride the gray train, too. Don’t wait until they shove you off.”

Why is she so acerbic? Another player comments sympathetically to Mature, “She was married to a heel” –– whom we later find out ran around on her and was so bad that even his pop, Lloyd Nolan, condemns him as, “No good.”

There’s a neat little scene in Mature’s train compartment that shows Ball at her fast-talking best, just letting her integrity shine through tiny cracks in her cynicism. Mature asks what she’s doing in there, and she quips, “Just for a change of pace, I want to be with someone who doesn’t like me.” When Mature turns that into a crack about her having dated most everyone else on the team, she sets him straight with a little anecdote about her being the subject of a story on “The New York Girl,” that ends with telling her date she had “a lovely evening” and “kissing him good night.” Then she lets him know how she feels, but that she’s no pushover, by kissing him before saying, she’s had a lovely evening and then leaving.

So, what’s really keeping then apart? His wife, whom he loves –– the dope! This time out, it’s the wife who’s greedy, superficial, and a two-timer, EasyLivingselling herself to a wealthy older man to get a boost for her decorating business. Now it’s the other woman who’s the loyal, sharp, wise one –– and Vic’s too much of melon-head to catch on. He almost does, but then decides to literally “slap some sense” into his wife –– leaving us relieved that Lucy’s Anne dodged that bullet, even if not everyone in 1949 figured that one out. You never know, though.

In Two Smart People, Ball plays Ricki Woodner, master con artist, who matches wits right off the bat with another primo scammer, Ace Connor (John Hodiak). Right at the picture’s start, they have a clever little exchange about ortolans (look it up or watch the movie!) and plums, before they each Lucy15proceed to masterfully undo the other’s plot to take the same pigeon. Ricki follows Ace onto a train he’s taking for a roundabout gourmet lover’s trip back to New York where he’s cut a deal to take the rap for some bonds he stole, without actually having to return the $500,000 they’re worth. Ball’s character starts off with a plan to get even with Connor for scotching her swindle, but the two end up falling in love, without either getting too soft. When Ace cracks that she’s going soft, Ricki knowingly comments, “Pretty sure you can walk away from this? You might change, too.”Lucy17a In the end, Ricki outfoxes Elisha Cooke’s crooked hood, who’s been on their trail and tried to get her to help him cheat Connor. Lloyd Nolan (again!) is along for the ride, literally, as the detective bringing in Connor, but joining him in making the trip back one last fling before the con artist has to take on five years in the pokey, all while trying to dope out where Ace has hidden the bonds. Both guys have way too much class to even think of taking a poke at Ricki –– and if you see her in action, you’ll figure they made a smart choice.

The last movie, The Dark Corner, is probably one of the best parts for Lucille Ball –– and she gets top billing! Once again, Ball is an all-knowing secretary, deftly demonstrating her wit, loyalty, and authority by parrying the intrusive questioning about her P.I. boss from a police detective with, “I don’t know anything you couldn’t find out by asking Mr. Galt.” Lucy2When the detective pushes his luck, she shuts him down with, “I sharpen pencils, do the typing, answer the phones, and mind my own business.”

 

 

Her earlier comment to the policeman about her boss, “I like him,” tips her hand that she might be sweet on him. Lucy However, when she tells Galt to put his detecting skills to work and find her a pair of nylons, her flirting is sharp and sexy; she’s nobody’s pushover and he’s got to impress her. Galt takes her out to dinner and then the arcade, and after a successful run in the batting cage, she quips, “What else can I beat you at?” when he tries to put the moves on her, she cracks, “I know when you’re pitching a curve at me.” Galt humorously defends himself with saying that you can’t blame a guy for trying “to score,” and she cracks back, honesty and authority wrapped in wit, “‘I don’t play for a score; I play for keeps,’ said she with a smile.” Lucy4aKathleen gives him an equally clever check at the end of another date, when she stops him at the door and he “innocently” asks if he can’t even come up “for a drink of water.” Without skipping a beat, she smiles dryly, “Pitching low and outside.” She’s not turning him down out of virginal innocence or prudery; she knows she’s worth more than just a toss in the hay. No one’s going to take advantage of her. Galt’s grin and goodbye show he enjoys and respects her street smarts, humor, and independence.

And Kathleen shows herself a valuable ally in practical ways. She doesn’t lose her nerve following Lucy7a thug type (William Bendix!), cleaning up a crime scene for a murder’s frame job of Galt, tracking down clues, stalling the cops, and figuring out the real genius behind the murders. Lucy8aSo, when Kathleen tells Galt, “C’mon, open up the steel safe. I want to know. I want to help,” he knows she’s going to see him through his troubles with the cops, a former crooked partner who’d sent him inside on a bum rap, and a murder frame. He knows that she has the insight, the smarts, and the guts to be as good as her word. He’s got a primo smart-talking gal in his corner.

Lucy13a

Images from The Dark Corner and Easy Living @1949 and 1946, respectively, RKO Picture; images from Two Smart People @ 1946  MGM.  Color image of Lucille Ball from Google Public Domain Images of Lucille Ball.

Smart Talking Gals, Part One

Blog #7 Smart-Talking Gals27-claire_trevor

One of my friends was asking me about my inspiration for Jessica Minton and Elizabeth Hennessey in my novel Bait and Switch, and I explained that I love creating characters in the vein of those smart-talking gals from films of the 1940s (sometimes ‘50s and 30s, too)––especially film noir. Lots of ink has been devoted to the femme fatale/innocent girl split-personae of women in noir, but not enough has been devoted to the women whom writers and actresses created who could not be easily relegated to either the “whore” or the “Madonna” category. Sheri Chinen Biesen moves us in that direction, though, with her article “Manufacturing Heroines: Gothic Victims and Working Women in Classic Noir Fiction,” where she discusses “multi-faceted, working career women” as part of the film noir cast of characters. I can see definite overlapping between her working girls and my smart-talking gals. What I’d like to do is focus on several actresses who made careers out of playing the smart talking gal––and you can feel free to suggest and write about such actresses, yourself, in this page’s comments.

JoanCFirst, though, what is a smart-talking gal? She’s too sharp witted, independent, and experienced to be the virginal, innocent. Still, she has too much wit and class to be anyone’s moll. Further, she’s definitely not a femme fatale. She doesn’t so much use wiles as wit; and her strength, smarts, and experience serve to get at the truth, solve conflicts, and protect herself and those she just might let herself care about––if they prove they’re worth it. She has a heart, but hard knocks have taught her to armor it. She may be sexually RainesBexperienced, she may not be; she’s definitely not an innocent. This type redefines what it means to be a “good girl.” Some actresses who best personify the smart-talking gal include Joan Bennett, Claire Trevor, Ella Raines, Ida Lupino, Veronica Lake, Lucille Ball, Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, and Lizabeth Scott. How about we look at a few of them at a time?

Joan Bennett: Joan has to be my favorite, and in many ways, she inspired the wit and JoanAindependence of Jessica Minton in Bait and Switch. Now, Joan could play the evil femme fatale with the best of them. Think of Kitty March in Scarlet Street. Still, even some of her “hydrochloric dames” (as a NY Times critic put it) revealed genuine humanity behind caustic smart talk and ostensible manipulativeness. In The Woman in the Window, The Macomber Affair, and The Woman on the Beach, her characters act in defense against the bullying of men, and their seeming femme fatale status is a projection of a man’s fears and darker nature. However, in other films she’s a lot more fun––or at least clearly not the villainess. This is definitely more like Bait and Switch’s Jessica. In House Across the Bay, Joan’s a show girl not about to let anyone reduce her to a kept woman “dressed up in furs” who “takes a Pekinese for a walk around the block.” She’s also no pushover for a tough broad, either. When a jealous dame calls her, “Cheap, cheap, cheap,” she laughs back, “Where’s the bird seed?” And when that same dame pushes her luck further, Joan’s Brenda Bentley nails her with the rejoinder that she has a voice like “four panes of cracked glass.” The Man I Married finds Joan getting away JoanDwith kicking Nazis in the shins and telling a German-born husband who has let German imperialism go to his head, “Heil, Heel!” In Confirm or Deny, she forestalls Don Ameche’s passes with dry humor and upholds national security with determination as the London blitz rages on. While in The Secret Beyond the Door, when faced with almost the same problems as the second Mrs. deWinter, rather than turning to whimpering mush, she uses common sense, humor, honesty, self-confidence, and a healthy dose of Jungian analysis to set everyone, including herself, straight. The Scar shows Bennett at her most incisive and tart, deflating Paul Henreid’sJoanF attempt to charmingly snow her with, “First comes you, second comes you, third comes you . . . . and then comes you.” When he later calls her “a bitter little lady,” she shoots back a cool, “It’s a bitter little world.” And yet Joan’s Evelyn Hahn has the heart to trust him when he finally does try to be on the square with her, only to have that heart smashed when fate, not his duplicity, makes it seem he has deserted her. In my film noir class, all the students, upon seeing her shadowed expression of resignation at the end of the movie, call for a rewrite.

Claire Trevor: Here’s another actress who can also hand you a dangerous femme fatale, but with NO redeeming traits. Her sexy villainesses in Johnny Angel; Murder, My Sweet; and Born to Kill all epitomize the characterization made by Anne Shirley’s character in Murder, My Sweet as “‘big league blondes.’ Beautiful, expensive babes who know what they’ve got . . . all ClaireTrevorBbubble bath, and dewy morning, and moonlight. And inside: blue steel, cold––cold like that . . . only not that clean.” Nevertheless, Claire could deftly play the smart-talking gal with wit and warmth, as evidenced by her art critic in Crack-Up, Brian Donlevy’s seen-it-all secretary in The Lucky Stiff, the girlfriend who helps Dennis O’Keefe escape prison in Raw Deal (and gets one, herself when he dumps her for Marsha Hunt), and her government agent in Borderline. She’s particularly fun to watch in Crack-Up and Borderline. In the first, she helps a former “Monuments Man,” played by Pat O’Brien, evade the police when he’s framed for art theft and murder, while juggling Herbert Marshall’s British Intelligence agent and the police. Driving up and rescuing O’Brian’s fugitive art expert from being picked up by the police, she responds to his suspicion and lack of gratitude by pulling the car over and TrevorAremarking with a neat blend of sharpness and warmth: “You can wait here. They’re going to put in a streetcar soon. Unless . . . unless you have some dim idea of what you’re doing and want me to help you.” Borderline finds Trevor as an undercover police woman trying to crack a narcotics ring by pretending to be part of a couple whom a drug trafficker will use to smuggle drugs. What she doesn’t realize is that her “husband” is also an undercover agent with a different agency, who is just as ignorant about her. The two have some wonderful exchanges, and their attempting to get each other to “cooperate” and go straight with each other’s agencies at the border is worth a chuckle or two.

Ella Raines: Ella Raines of the pert page-boy bob; the mischievous, knowing half-smile; and the clear green eyes that hint of something devilish up her sleeve is always a joy to watch. In RainesAThe Phantom Lady, she’s Kansas, the faithful secretary who’ll move heaven and earth to clear the boss she unrequitedly loves of a murder frame-up. She’s tough enough to stalk a bartender to break his lying testimony (only to overplay her hand when she frightens him into running in front of bus rather than into telling the truth). She’s intrepid enough to doll herself up like a tart to try and pump a hyped up (or is it hopped up?) drummer for exculpatory info. Yet she’s compassionate enough to tread gently when she finally finds the fragile woman who holds her boss’s (and beloved’s) alibi in her broken mind. The Runaround finds Raines outsmarting two P.I.s hunting her down to bring her back to a father who doesn’t want his daughter marrying the man he believes a bounder, all with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. In The Web, she playsRainesC Noel Faraday, efficient and almost all-knowing secretary to shady Vincent Price––she doesn’t realize quite how shady Vincent is. All this while, initially parrying the come-ons of a brash lawyer played by Edmond O’Brien, replying to his claim that when he has “forty million” he’ll have a secretary that looks like her with: “Oh, my tastes are fairly simple. Twenty million would be quite enough.” Also check her out The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Impact, and White Tie and Tails.  A neat web site on Raines can be found at: http://ellarainesfilms.blogspot.com/2013/01/ella-raines-in-web.html

Quotations from Claire Trevor’s movies can be found at “Claire Trevor,” on the IMDB, under quotations for the film.  Quotation from Ella Raines’s film can be found at “Ella Raines,” on the IMDB, under quotations for the film. Quotations from the Joan Bennett films can be found in the films noted. I remember them. What can I say; I’m a movie geek––but I don’t live in my parents’ basement.  So there!  Photos of Joan Bennett from the author’s collection (mostly bought from Jay Perino’s The Mint); photos of Claire Trevor from unknown sources; and photos of Ella Raines from the ellarainesfilms.blogspot (second image) and unknown sources.