In this Pilot episode we are introduced to Jessica Fletcher, a recent widow, who lives in Cabot Cove, Maine. Jessica is an substitute English teacher who becomes a mystery book author thanks to her nephew, Grady Fletcher. Grady submits his aunts manuscript to a publishing company who loves it and publishes it immediately. It is a best-seller and Jessica goes to New York City to promote her new book. While there, Jessica gets involved in a murder while at her publisher's home for a costume party. When her nephew becomes a suspect of the murder, Jessica must find the real killer.Written by
This television movie introduces widowed schoolteacher-turned Mystery author Jessica Beatrice "J.B." MacGill Fletcher to the scene, to launch the twelve-season Drama "Murder, She Wrote."
When three members of Cabot Cove, Maine, PTA attend Act One of a Mystery Drama dress rehearsal at a local theater, Eleanor Thompson (Rosanna Huffman), Lois Hoey (Paddi Edwards) and substitute teacher Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), Jessica figures whodunit before an incensed director.
Early the next morning, nephew Grady Fletcher (Michael Horton) telephones from NYC to explain that after he shared with Kitty Donovan (Jessica Browne) the manuscript of Aunt Jessica's mystery, which he had discovered in her attic on his last visit, and Kitty submitted it to Coventry House for publication, to Jessica's chagrin.
When the resulting book climbs the best-seller's list, Publisher Preston Giles (Arthur Hill) arranges for Jessica a tour of the media circuit, yielding disastrous results, in her opinion, as Ken Olfson as TV Book Critic, Danny Wells as Talk Show Host, and Kat Sawyer-Young as Feminist Interviewer offer difficult interviews, and Paula Victor as Agnes Peabody slaps a subpoena on Jessica for (unfounded) plagiarism.
Before she manages to exit NYC on the train, Preston convinces Jessica to attend a retreat at his country estate, in New Holvang, Long Island, which would include a costume celebration on Saturday evening.
Guests to the lively gathering include Grady's employer, Caleb McCallum (Brian Keith), his neglected wife, Louise McCallum (Anne Francis), struggling Musical performer Peter Brill (Bert Convy), Doctor (Raymond St. Jacques), and Ashley Vickers (Tricia O'Neil), who also works with Grady, and in an intimate arrangement with Caleb. Richard Erdman as Eggman, and Billie Hayes as Peter Pan, also attend this event.
While strolling the grounds with Kitty that evening, Grady discovers P.I. Dexter Baxendale (Dennis Patrick) in Grady's room, causing Preston to evict him from the premises.
But the next morning, Kitty screams when she stumbles across a body in the pool. New Holvang Police Chief Roy Gunderson (Ned Beatty) responds to the investigation, which puzzles Jessica before she prepares to leave town, but reverses direction from the train once again, when Kitty catches up with her to report that Grady has been arrested for theft and murder.
The plot thickens once again, when Jessica considers that another costumed attendee may have been the intended victim, and so she returns to NYC, to sleuth for clues, as she encounters Bernie (Eddie Barth) and Bus Driver George (Herb Edelman) along the way, before she is mugged by Andy Garcia as 1st White Tough, and Johnny Venocur as 2nd White Tough, before being rescued by Russell Curry as Black Youth.
But as Jessica makes her rounds and Roy Gunderson his, Roy, himself, is nearly arrested for trespassing by two uniformed officers, who, with him, discover a second body aboard a boat.
Jessica prepares to leave on the train yet once again, before she realizes how the two murders tie together, and she quickly takes a taxi-cab back into New Holvang, to uncover the truth behind "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes."
The cast is rounded out by Ellen Crawford as Muriel, David Byrd as Davis, John Hancock as Daniel, Jay Fenichel as Cellini, Stanley Brock as Marvin, Freddye Chapman as Jane, Hap Lawrence as Young Deputy, Joseph V. Perry as Heavy Set Crude Man, Howard Mann as New Holvang Cabbie, Anne Ramsey as Bag Lady, Jimmy Joyce as Tom, Cathey Paine as Young Woman, Beau Starr as Policeman On Boat, Danny Chambers as Cab Driver, Sallee Young as Performer, Donald Elson as Bookstore Owner, Daniel Zippi as Mailman, and Larry McCormick as TV Reporter.
This film represents the first television acting role for Russell Curry, as well as the first of two "MSW" appearances each for David Byrd, Freddye Chapman, Bert Convy, Paddi Edwards, Richard Erdman, Arthur Hill, Dennis Patrick, Joseph V. Perry, Raymond St. Jacques, Beau Starr, first of three each for Eddie Barth and Anne Francis, the first of five for Tricia O'Neil, the first of seven for Rosanna Huffman (who goes on to set the record for portraying the most different "MSW" female characters throughout this series), the first of ten for Herb Edelman (with four different characters), and the first of twelve "MSW's" for Michael Horton in his role as Grady Fletcher.
Brian Keith, acting in film and on television since 1924, Arthur Hill, acting since 1949, Dennis Patrick, acting since 1949, Joseph V. Perry, acting since 1956, Raymond St. Jacques, acting since 1956, Paula Victor, acting since 1957, Bert Convy, acting since 1958, Howard Mann, acting since 1961, Paddi Edwards, acting since 1962, Stanley Brock, acting since 1964, Herb Edelman, acting since 1964, Larry McCormick, acting since 1967, John Hancock, acting since 1969, Anne Ramsey, acting since 1971, David Byrd, acting since 1975, Jay Fenichel, acting since 1976, and Ken Olfson, acting since 1976, have unfortunately since passed.
This Pilot movie is considered the first of 264 "MSW" episodes, but it's often divided into two Parts for syndication re-runs, thus accounting for the notion of 265 episodes by some television figures.
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