Recent Read: Murder at the Summer Theater


Ex-con Elmer Vartanian and millionaire Juliet Van Allen, The Double V’s, are back in  this cozy New England mystery; the fifth in the series. The setting is summer theater and author Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a fabulous sense of time (1950’s) and place (Summer theater on the Connecticut shore). The leading actress is missing and the amateur detectives soon find themselves embedded in the theatrical world; Juliet as an actress and Elmer as a backstage hand.

A few years back Lynch wrote an historical, well researched, and entertaining book (Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 Years of Summer Theater on Mt. Tom, Hokyoe Massachusetts)  about the history of live summer theater on Mt. Tom. With the surplus of information she acquired writing this fascinating non-fiction book, Lynch was well equipped to use much of it as background for her novel.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for backstage mysteries, and Murder at the Summer Theater is satisfying as both a mystery and for the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

You can read an interview I did with Ms. Lynch a few years about her biography of actress Ann Blyth here.

Summer Reading 2018

Okay, though the title states Summer Reading, some of these titles have recently been published. That said, here are a few the books I am looking forward to reading over the coming months, if I don’t get sidetracked by other recently published books that I am currently not aware of and really get excited about. You probably know how that can easily happen. You plan on reading one book and another pops up that is a must read right now! Most of the books on the list are crime/suspense/mystery reads (no surprise). I also included a collection of short stories and a film book. Feel free to let me know what you are reading or plan to read.

Old Black Magic

I am always doubtful when another author takes over a series by an author who has passed on. Generally, it’s best to let the series be. Robert B. Parker’s estate, like a few others, decided to continue  with three of Parker’s most beloved characters: Spenser, Jessie Stone, and Vigil Cole and Everett Hitch, each with their own author.  Old Black Magic is Ace Atkins seventh Spenser book and the author captures Parker’s style as close as possible. I have enjoyed his previous works in the series, and am looking forward to reading the latest which came out on May 1st.

The Neighbor

I am currently reading Joseph Souza’s latest, and have read enough of it, half at this point to tell you The Neighbor will keep you up past your bedtime. We have two narrators, husband  and wife who have different views of the truth, and both with secrets to hide. This is a story filled with twists  upon twists making you question whose truth to believe, and how well do you know your spouse, yourself and your neighbors. Everyone has  secrets, and if exposed…

A dark psychological thriller. Now available.

Kill Devil Falls

Not familiar with this author or book, but came by it from author June Lorraine Roberts  in her review over at her website, Murder in Common. You can read it here. Available now.


From what I understand,  Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is more than  another “making of “ book which lately have become rather common. Author Chris Nashawaty  provides a fabulous historical background on all the players and how they came together at a time when comedy was in flux. From Harvard’s National Lampoon and  Chicago’s Second City to Saturday Night Live and eventually the movies with Animal House and Caddyshack this book gives you the lowdownAvailable now.


From Hardcase Crime in July  comes Understudy for Death, a Charles Willeford novel that has not seen the light of day in almost sixty years. For those not familiar with Willeford, he is a master of  crime books with works like  Miami Blues and Sideswipe. Willeford’s books are  macabre and darkly funny, perfect for the offbeat crazy world of Florida noir.

Florida Lauren Groff

I have not read any previous books by Lauren Groff, but her work has received excellent reviews, and Florida a collection of short stories focusing on the strange, weird state filled with hurricanes, heat, humidity and enough odd characters to fill…well the entire state sounds like an intriguing read. Due date: June 5th.

Turbulance Jun 5

Stuart Woods is a light read, generally enjoyable, and a guilty pleasure. If you are in the mood not to think, but just enjoy, he might be for you. Lately, he has been pumping books out at three or four a year, and they have been uneven, still I have a soft spot for him. Available June 5th.

Money SHot Aug 7th

Another Stuart Woods book,  co-written by Parnell Hall. This features Teddy Fay, a supporting character who has evolved from Wood’s Stone Barrington series. Teddy Fay’s journey from the CIA to dangerous criminal to a Presidential pardon to working in the film industry for Stone’s son is hard to swallow, but he is friends with Stone,  and Barrington leads a charmed life; he’s rich, women are constantly willing to fall into bed with him, he’s friends with the President, and best friends with the  NYC Police Commissioner. Available August 5th.


Niagara on TCM

marilyn_monroe_niagara_1953_movie_4Marilyn Monroe stars in the 1953 Henry Hathaway directed film Niagara. It will be on TCM Tuesday August 1st at 10 PM Eastern time.

Below is a short excerpt from my ebook, Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames Per Second. The book is available from Amazon.

Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara” opens with two great shots of natural beauty, first is the mighty Niagara Falls with millions upon millions of gallons of water falling with God given power. The second shot is our first view of Marilyn Monroe lying naked under a thin sheet in her motel bedroom. Light shines through the sheet giving us a silhouetted shape of her right thigh. In her hand, a cigarette dangles over the side of the bed. The look on her face is one of satisfaction making one wonder what she was doing while her husband, Joseph Cotton, was off admiring the Falls. We quickly come to learn this marriage is in trouble. When she hears her husband’s keys unlock the door, she puts out the cigarettes, rolls over, her back to the door.  – Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames Pet Second.

Life: A Film about James Dean and Dennis Stock (2015)

James Dean and Dennis Stock

One of the most iconic images of James Dean shows the actor walking right down the middle of the Times Square crossroads. It’s raining. He’s wearing an overcoat, his collar is turned up, he’s hunched over and a cigarette is dangling from his mouth. The photograph was taken by Dennis Stock in 1955. At the time, both Dean and Stock were still relatively unknown in the respective careers. Dean would soon explode onto the screen in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. As quickly as he became a star, it would be extinguished after his fatal car crash in September 1955. The star died, but an iconic legend was born.

Photo by Dennis Stock

I accidently found this film while browsing through a local library earlier this week. I was unfamiliar with it, in truth, I never heard of it before. What caught my eye was the DVD’s cover image that loosely reflects the famous shot of James Dean walking down the middle of Times Square. Only in this version there is another guy with him with a 35mm camera around his neck, and unlike the more casually dressed Dean, wears a conservative white shirt and tie. Life, (the title as you will learn has a double meaning) it turned out  was the story of the unusual short friendship between James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock. I had to watch this!

lifefilmposterFor a short period in 1954-55, Dennis Stock would photograph James Dean in Hollywood, New York and in Dean’s hometown in Indiana. In Life, directed by Anton Corbijn, we follow this short lived friendship between a still unknown actor and a ambitious photographer, still looking for his own big break.  Stock works for the Magnum Agency and convinces his boss that this young nobody of an actor is going to be the next big thing as soon as his first film, East of Eden, is released. Stock wants his bosses to convince Life magazine to do the story.

Corbijn is definitely suitable for the subject matter considering his previous life as a rock photographer. Dean is played nicely by Dane DeHann who more through mannerisms and speech than through physical looks captures Dean’s essence. Stock is played by Robert Pattinson. He’s a bit quirky and his personal life is a mess. Married young, he’s divorced with a young boy who he hardly sees. When he does see the boy, it’s uncomfortable. While Stock works for Magnum, his career is not going in the direction he wants.  He wants to be an artist and have an exhibit instead of photographing the latest movie premiere.

Each in their own way are fish out of water. They meet at a party in Hollywood given by director Nicholas Ray who is considering Dean for his new film Rebel Without a Cause.  Stock is there on one of his routine assignments. They begin an uneasy friendship. Stock comes to see Dean as someone special and on the rise. He convinces his bosses at Magnum, Dean would make a great subject for a photo essay for Life magazine. The assignment is approved, but Dean turns out to be a relentlessly elusive subject to tie down for a shoot. During the course of their short friendship, Stock followed Dean from Hollywood to New York and even back to his hometown farm in Indiana. In the course of this short time, Dennis Stock creates a series of portraits of the artist as a young rebel. Many of the photos shot during this period turned out to be some of most intimate moments of Dean we ever get to see, especially the images of his life back in Indiana.

Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson as James Dean and Dennis Stock

Like James Dean, Corbijn’s film is all about mood and not action. To some it may seem like it meanders, but I felt that it fits the zigzagging mood of the two lead characters. Dean wants to be a star yet he fights the Hollywood system. Stock wants to be a photographic artist, but seems tied down by money worries and opportunity.  The two men eventually go their own ways when Dean heads back to Hollywood to begin filming Rebel Without a Cause and later Giant, both released posthumously and kicking off Dean’s legendary status.

Ben Kingsley plays a thug like Jack Warner and almost steals the film from its two lead actors. In one scene, Warner, after Dean ridiculed a Warner Brothers film during an interview, warns the young actor he better stay in line or he will be quickly dumped.

Ben Kingsley as Jack Warner impatiently waiting for James Dean to show up at the New York premiere of East of Eden.

After Dean went back to Hollywood, Dennis Stock remained in New York and focused his work on the city’s Jazz Scene. Over the next few years, he photographed artists like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and Miles Davis among others. Most were not performance photos, but more personal and atmospheric moments that he captured. Stock liked to stay quietly in the background capturing those private moments when his subjects were unguarded.  The best of his Jazz work were compiled into a book called, Jazz Street, published in 1962.  Over the course of his long career, Dennis Stock turned his camera on many subjects including the youth revolution of the late 60’s including hippie communes in New Mexico and California. Later in life he did a lot of nature and landscape photography.  One thing that always remained consistent was that Dennis Stock always photographed what he wanted.  At the University of Texas where he once addressed a roomful of photojournalism students Stock said, “I’ve never taken an assignment, I’ve always photographed what I wanted to be photographing, and then worried about selling the pictures or doing something with them afterwards. I’ve always shot for myself, and when you’re shooting what you’re interested in shooting, you’re always going to be happy.”

Miles Davis by Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock was born in 1928. A native New Yorker, he was raised in The Bronx and grew up during the Great Depression. At the age of 17, he left home and joined the Navy. After his discharge, Stock apprenticed under photographer Gjon Mili between the years 1947 and 1951. He also worked closely with W. Eugene Smith. Stock first gained recognition after he was one of ten winners in a Life magazine photography contest. Some of his fellow winners at the time included Ruth Orkin, Robert Frank and Elliot Erwitt. Heady company. This was soon followed by a position with Magnum. During his early Hollywood days, Stock photographed stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and many others. Like his photos of James Dean, the photos were generally intimate, behind the scenes and unguarded moments. In 1955, his James Dean photo essay was published in Life just a short period before the actor’s death.

Over the years, there were more books published, exhibits, lectures and photographs. Always photographs. Dennis Stock died in 2010 at the age of 81. As the film, Life, suggest, Stock’s personal life was messy. He was married several times; his last wife was author Susan Richards. At the time of his death, he had three children, a grandson and five great grandchildren.

A posthumously released documentary on Stock called, Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock made the film festival circuit in 2011. In was directed by Hanna Sawka Hamaguchi and narrated by Stock prior to his death.  The film seems to be sadly only available to academic institutions and resources at exorbitant prices.



Sharpio, T. Rees, Dennis Stock, 81; Magnum Photographer Shot Iconic Moments, Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2010

Dunlap, David W. Dennis Stock, Photographer of Intimate Portraits, Dies at 81, New York Times, Jan, 15, 2010

A Small Sampling of Photographs by Dennis Stock

Musician Bill Crow crossing Times Square
On the backlot of 20th Century Fox during the filming of Planet of the Apes
James Dean and unknown friend
Venice Beach, CA. Rock Concert – 1968
Miles Davis ‘Milestone’ album cover
James Dean and his young cousin Marcus


Morning Bath 1969 (Hippie Commune)


James Dean