Friday, December 30, 2011

More on Vera Caspary

By A. B. Emrys

I have published a great deal about Caspary's appreciation for the novels of Wilkie Collins, the Victorian author often considered to have launched the mystery novel, and Caspary's adaptations of both his The Woman and White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868). In addition to Laura, she went on to rework Collins' plots and characters in Stranger than Truth (1946), set in Caspary's familiar world of ad agencies, and The Mystery of Elizabeth, about an amnesiac who's claimed by three sets of people, all of whom want to lock her up.

She was one of the most innovative of Collins's many adapters, who range from Bram Stoker to Elizabeth Peters - and the most successful one I've found at modernizing the character narration of his novels of testimony. Among other changes, her principal female characters tell their own version of the story. Collins' wide experimentation with having characters tell all or parts of the story blended perfectly with Caspary's instincts as playwright and scriptwriter, and her use of voice in novels flowered from Laura (1942) through the rest of her career.

Three Caspary films are available to see - and the best of these is Laura. Caspary fought with Preminger for her positive view of the title character and the film ultimately captured it. Note that in the chief setting, Laura Hunt's apartment, she lives alone with a large portrait of herself. This backdrop wordlessly conveys Caspary's independence theme.

The other two films are A Letter to Three Wives and Blue Gardenia. A Letter to Three Wives, which the New York Times called one of the top 10 films of 1949, was based on a script Caspary adapted from another writer's novel. The plot is about three wives tormented by a local siren who claims to have run off with one of their husbands. Among Caspary's additions to the story were strengthening the women as they find out the truth, as well as the use of the taunting voiceover. The Fritz Lang film, Blue Gardenia, adapted by others from her screen scenario tells the story of a telephone operator so desperate for affection that she goes out with the company seducer. Little of this study of a lonely single woman comes off in the film, but Nat King Cole does sing the title song.

Two of Caspary's novels, Laura and Bedelia (The Feminist Press, 2005) and a collection of stories are in print now. The stories collect several of her best 1940s and 50s magazine pieces, especially "The Murder in the Stork Club" (Crippen & Landru, 2009), about an upper-class woman who writes radio mysteries and is married to a working-class detective. When she's a suspect in a nightclub killing, he puts aside their quarrels over her mink coat to clear her name.

Most of Caspary's novels can be found through online sources, chiefly in old library editions that are further evidence of how well-known she was as a writer. Several articles on her (including my own) have appeared in Clues: A Journal of Detection. The Vera Caspary Papers, an archive she created, resides with the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society. The archive includes unproduced scripts (Illicit was bought for Marilyn Monroe, who killed herself before production), movie scenarios (including Gardenia), book manuscripts, revisions and a great deal of correspondence about her work.

In writing about Caspary, it's my hope that readers will rediscover and enjoy her writing and more scholars will comment on her long career as novelist, playwright and scriptwriter.





A. B. Emrys is the author of Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel and professor emeritus of English at the University of Nebraska - Kearney.

1 comment:

Gloria Alden said...

Both blogs were fascinating, Barbara. I'm eager to start reading work by Vera Caspary finishing your book about her and Wilkie Collins.