Friday, February 15, 2019

ADORING ANGELA LANSBURY BLOGATHON, Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man (2001)

The Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon is hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews. Enjoy all of the contributions collected HERE

"There is something a little bit mysterious and interesting about her and that certainly appeals to me... Mystery is my business, as you know."
- Angela Lansbury speaking of her character in Mary Poppins Returns, 2019

Murder, She Wrote starring Tony winner and Oscar and Emmy-nominated actress Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher ran on CBS for 12 seasons from 1984 to 1996. The series was followed by 4 made-for-TV movies: South by Southwest in 1996, A Story to Die For in 2000, The Last Free Man in 2001, and The Celtic Riddle in 2003. Fans have not given up hope for another visit with J.B. Fletcher.

Angela Lansbury, Anthony Shaw

The Last Free Man is the only Murder, She Wrote script from producer and writer Matthew Sommer. All of the Murder, She Wrote TV movies and 68 episodes of the series were directed by Anthony Shaw who seems to know exactly how to handle his star Angela Lansbury without letting his mother Angela Lansbury get in the way.

"The truth. That is the most elusive of mysteries."
- Cassandra Hawkins (Phylicia Rashad)

Jessica Fletcher is in Virginia to look into the history of her family who came from Ireland and settled in the area in the 18th century. While attending a lecture by historian Dr. Cassandra Hawkins played by special guest star Phylicia Rashad, Jessica is made aware of a disturbing historical connection.

Dr. Hawkins is descended from a slave called Samuel Pickney who died prior to the beginning of the Civil War as the accused murderer of a landowner named Robert Mercer. Samuel Pickney was the property of Sarah McCullough, a distant aunt of Jessica Fletcher. Cassandra confirms the connection with a family heirloom; a silver watch engraved "To Samuel Pickney from S. McCullough."

David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Phylicia Rashad

Dr. Hawkins is investigating what she sees as questionable proofs in the murder case against her long ago grandfather, including the presence of two gravesites for the man, one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania

Combining their forces, and using archival papers, including letters and Sarah McCullogh's journal, the ladies search for the truth. Their quest brings them into conflict with local historian Stanford Thornton played by David Ogden Stiers. His goal is to preserve the past as culture and fears an agenda on Cassandra's part. Her only agenda is to face uncomfortable truths. Will Thornton hinder their efforts or will he be challenged to assist in the inquiry?

Phylicia Rashad, Gloria Stuart, Angela Lansbury

Cassandra and Jessica are led in their research to Eliza Hoops, a woman past 100 years of age played by Gloria Stuart (91 at the time). Eliza has memories of her grandfather and the "magic train" with the passengers who were not to be disturbed. 

The Last Free Man is told in two equally riveting sections. The search for the truth in the contemporary day and the telling of the story of Samuel Pickney and Sarah McCullough in Antebellum Virginia. In the "story" sequence Angela Lansbury plays the role of Sarah opposite Michael Jace as Samuel. 

Robert Mercer played by Tim Dekay is murdered on the night of his wedding to the daughter of a wealthy slaveholder. A jealous ex-beau of the bride's, the overbearing father-in-law, and an opportunistic newspaper editor are among those in attendance when Sarah and Samuel arrive at the wedding. Samuel is subjected to abuse from the former beau, a Confederate officer played by Tim Abell. The officer quickly arouses feeling against Samuel following the murder.

Angela Lansbury, Keith Jefferson, Michael Jace, Taraji P. Henson

Sarah displays the characteristics that have been passed down to Jessica. She will not see an injustice without fighting it, and she will not see anyone in trouble without helping. Sarah's investigation debunks flimsy evidence and reveals a shocking secret between Samuel and the murdered Robert Mercer. Nonetheless, she is unable to prevent tragedy and is stopped at every turn from revealing a truth that is not accepted by her community. It will be a much future generation that will discover that healing truth and spread its word with the unexpected help of Stanford Thornton.

Angela Lansbury as Sarah McCullough

The compelling stories told in The Last Free Man are well presented and it is a special treat to see Angela Lansbury in the role of Sarah McCullough, with her soft southern accent and steely determination in the face of a patriarchal and bigoted society.


David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach
Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere
Beauty and the Beast

Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers appeared together previously in 3 episodes of Murder, She Wrote, the TV Movie The First Olympics: 1896, and share a Grammy Award for the soundtrack album for Beauty and the Beast. Let's not forget Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth also pop up in the Beauty and the Beast sequels/spinoffs/games.

Gloria Stuart as Edna Jarvis
The Days Dwindle Down

Gloria Stuart guested on a popular season 3 Murder, She Wrote episode The Days Dwindle Down which acts as a sequel to the 1949 movie Strange Bargain.


  1. Big thanks for bringing this lovely tribute of this her best known tv series to my blogathon. And its sounds a wonderful episode - and you've captured it perfectly. (and thanks for those other lovely comments for my other contributors, spotted them on my travels)

    1. My pleasure, Gill. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to heap praise on Angela Lansbury. Keep up the good work.

  2. Her son directed all the episodes? I never knew that. I don't think that's something that gets discussed much when people talk about MSW.

    This movie version of the show sounds good too.

    1. Shaw directed 68 of the 264 episodes of Murder, She Wrote. All of the movies, and Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. They make quite the team.

      All of the movies have their own setting and mood, but the historical context of The Last Free Man makes it a stand-out.

  3. Im the one that mentioned STRANGE BARGAIN yesterday. Miss Lansbury is one of my favorite actresses, I have read your posts about June Allyson and Jean Simmons being on the show. Are there any others to read? Ive seen most of the first 7 seasons and some later episodes. I like that they had a lot of people from the glamour days of Hollywood. I also thought that it was good that they had TV stars too. I liked Julie Adams, Carroll Baker, Ann Blyth, Kathryn Grayson, Ruth Roman and Gloria De Haven on the show. That's just a small sampling. Also Morgan Brittany, Sally Struthers, Priscilla Barnes. Genie Francis, Mary Crosby and Linda Purl. I really like the one with Anne Francis, Elaine Joyce and Connie Stevens as sisters and the one with Linda Purl that had Penny Fuller and Lois Nettleton. (However I didn't like the southern accent that Miss Purl put on for the show.)

    1. Hello. The three are my only Murder, She Wrote posts (so far). I always looked forward to the guest casts. There were so many people that we've watched over the years and they were given interesting stories to tell. I particularly wish they had done more with the ladies from the beauty parlour.

    2. I too wish the beauty parlour ladies had done more episodes. I also wish the exercise place had been shown again. It had Jason Beghe, Ruta Lee and Sally Struthers. I think the beauty shop ladies would have fit in good in that one. Julie Adams was in that one as real estate woman Eve Simpson. Have you seen every episode of the series? Dale Robertson was in 2 episodes with a great cast both times. He played Lee Goddard, a former military pilot and good friend of Jessica. In the first one Jessicas late husband Frank was accused of murder! The second had Michael Spound, David Birney and Geoffrey Scott. Along with Dale R. that is quite a list of attractive men! Dale was still an attractive man and quite a hunk with a full head of hair. I also liked his voice with an Oklahoma twang. Lets hear it for Murder, She Wrote!!!

    3. I'm pretty sure I have seen every episode, but that doesn't keep me remembering the murderer every time when I watch it again.

      Funny you should mention Dale Robertson particularly as I have been watching Tales of Wells Fargo on YouTube.

  4. Paddy Lee, good write-up as always. The amazing Angela Lansbury has had such a great career of entertaining us since that first day in August, 1943 when she walked onto the set of GASLIGHT(1944) at the age of 17. She has had such a diverse and enduring career and still going strong over 75 years later.

    Angela Lansbury, one of my favorites, may she go on and onward.

    1. Angela Lansbury's long and varied career has touched everyone, whether you are a theatre buff or just a TV fan, a classic movie nut, a Disney kid or a Disney adult.

      My husband, daughter and I saw Angela in her tour of Blithe Spirit. What a grand evening! Our special needs son calls his grandmother "Angela Lansbury". She loves it!

  5. I think it'd be fun to see Angela Lansbury in the two different roles in this telefilm. I always enjoy her performances and am incredibly jealous that you were able to see her on stage in BLITHE SPIRIT!

  6. We're lucky in Toronto for theatre. The only problem is I can't really afford the 21st century prices. However, there was never a question of missing Angela Lansbury.

  7. Good write up. One good thing about Murder She Wrote, is that Angela doesn't have to play the mother of Actors her own age. Its really annoying to see her as Laurence Harvey - or even Warren Beatty's Mother! But then Hollywood used to be so absurd. Favorite guest star is Dale Robertson - who probably would've been her son in 1965!

    1. Actors don't have ages, they have age ranges. Despite the excellent roles, it is, as you say, absurd that Angela was forced into the older roles at that stage of her career.

      Fond though I am of Dale Robertson, and I am indeed fond of Dale Robertson, if I had to choose a favourite MSW guest star, I'd go with Gregg Henry. Seven episodes, sometimes a victim, sometimes the killer, sometimes just doing his acting thing.

      I shall indulge in a couple of hearty chuckles at the thought of Angela playing Dale's mom in a never-to-be-forgotten western.

    2. Im glad to read about some appreciation of Dale R. that I mentioned in my post. Youre right, it is funny that I mentioned Dale that you were watching on YouTube. I had mentioned Strange Bargain earlier so that's 2 times. What are some other male guest stars that you like? Besides Steve Forrest and Dale R, some that come to mind are Brian Keith(another underrated actor),Howard Duff, Howard Keel(from the hit show DALLAS). Dack Rambo (also from DALLAS), Andrew Stevens(from Emerald Point, NAS and DALLAS),Mike Connors and Kristoffer Tabori. Howard D. did 2 episodes of DALLAS and Dale did 5. Like I mentioned on a post about Harry Morgan, Steve Forrest played 2 characters on that hit show! So that's 6 out of 9 that did Dallas, all except Brian, Mike, and Kristoffer. I wasn't even thinking about that when I started the list. Also what did you think about the Mike Connors episode with Elizabeth Ashley that part of it was in black and white?

    3. Hi there. Mike Connors is a particular favourite of mine, and I am very fond of the episode the episode Truck Stop, a very clever spoof of film noir.

  8. I really liked the episode too. Do you have any favorite female guest stars? I just thought of the one with BETTY GARRETT, TERRY MOORE, JANET BLAIR, MARIE WINDSOR, AND MARGARET OBRIEN. Also Jane Withers and Jamie Rose(a redhead who played Vicky on FALCON CREST). Two of the men were Earl Holliman(Police Woman) and Max Baer (The Beverly Hillbillies). Did you watch either of those shows?

    1. I recall being astounded at that wonderful cast of familiar faces in Who Killed J.B. Fletcher. What a treat!

  9. I put a comment on the MURDER, SHE WROTE page about Jean Simmons. One topic that I mentioned was another Jean, Jean Peters. Thank you for covering Angela Lansburys show. Great actress, great series!!!

  10. Its me again. What episodes do you think would have had the best chance for Angela to win an Emmy? Theres the one I mentioned in an earlier post that guest starred DALE ROBERTSON about Jessicas late husband Frank being accused of murder! Also Angela played Jessicas cousin Emma who lived in London. The first one, where she played both of them, was kind of boring to me. I liked the second one where it only showed Emma. It guest starred JOHN STANDING, CAROLYN SEYMOUR, ROSEMARY MURPHY, JANE LEEVES, CHRISTOPHER HEWETT, ANTHONY NEWLY and RICHARD JOHNSON.

    1. I like both of those episodes with cousin Emma. The first one particularly because I love a theatre story, and it reunited Angela Lansbury and Glynis Johns (The Court Jester).

      As for outstanding episodes that the Emmy panel should have looked at I would include Crossed Up, The Return of Peter Giles, Murder Takes the Bus, and perhaps The Mole. Consistency is Ms. Lansbury's greatest quality.

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