31 December 2013

Good-bye, 2013, Good-bye, Audrey Totter!

by Terence Faherty

Audrey Totter
Many superstitious people will breathe a sigh of relief tonight--or rather, tomorrow morning at 12:01 a.m., when 2013 heads west.  It takes with it the usual carload of movie celebrities, a few of whom will be honored at the Oscars in March.  A much more comprehensive tribute is currently airing on Turner Classic Movies.  Tucked away among the bigger names--Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine, Peter O'Toole, etc.--is one that resonated for me:  Audrey Totter.  She died on December 12 at age 96. 

Totter and Robert Taylor,
up to their necks in noir
Totter, an apple-cheeked blonde, was a femme fatale of film noir.  She wasn't in the class of Joan Bennett or Claire Trevor or Ava Gardner, stars who dipped a toe in noir.  Totter was more like Jane Greer, a contract-player-grade actress for whom the noir flowering of the late 1940s was a career high point.  Totter was in the original The Postman Always Rings Twice (though outshone by a luminous Lana Turner), The Unsuspected, The High Wall, and The Set-Up, to name a few.

My favorite Totter film is Lady in the Lake, perhaps the strangest of the Raymond Chandler adaptations--at least until Robert Altman happened along.  The film stars Robert Montgomery, who also directed, so he may be responsible for some of the strangeness.   Two of the odd features are relatively minor:  the movie is set at Christmastime (the opening credits feature carols and Christmas cards) and Philip Marlowe is both a P.I. and an aspiring writer.  (Everyone secretly wants to be a mystery writer, even characters in mysteries.)

The film's major oddity is that, for the bulk of its running time, the camera takes the place of Marlowe.  We see what he sees and only see Marlowe when he chances to look at a reflective surface.  Some sources claim that this gimmick was intended as a substitute for the distinctive first-person voice of the novel.  If so, it was an odd choice, as it did nothing to replicate Marlowe's voice that a simple voice-over couldn't have done better.  In fact, it makes the movie so static that it could be called a barely-movie.  It also put a lot of pressure on the supporting cast, who had to play directly to the camera.  Totter headed that group and so had most of the close-ups.  Luckily, she could handle them.

Totter from Lady in the Lake, Philip Marlowe (Robert
Montgomery) seen as hand (left) and reflection in the mirror 

Though not entirely successful, Lady in the Lake will be around for a while, in part because it's the novel's only film adaptation, in part because it was so experimental.  So Totter, who died during the Christmas season, will be seen in her prime amidst the trappings of Christmas for years to come.

Totter's death prompted a couple of thoughts.  One is that a life as long as hers makes the person in question seem almost like a time traveler.  Woodrow Wilson was president when she was born, an amazing thing.  Her Lake co-star, Robert Montgomery, who had a relatively long life for a World War II veteran, died in 1981, thirty-two years ago.  John Garfield, of Postman fame, who had a relatively short life (thirty-nine years), died in 1952, sixty-one years ago.  By his standards, Totter was granted two lifetimes and was eighteen years into a third.

The other thought is one more appropriate to this day, a day given over to life assessments and future dreams.  It is that any person working in a creative field, be it a femme fatale actress or a mystery writer, will be lucky to be remembered.  That person will be luckier still if his or her work lives on for a time.  My toast tonight will be that all of our best work will!     

30 December 2013

Social Media

Jan GrapeAs 2013 ends and 2014 begins, I'm finding myself in a somewhat melancholy mood.  Maybe even a bit vulnerable, tinged with sadness. The 29th of December is the eighth anniversary of the day my whole world changed. My husband, Elmer Grape, my first reader, my love and best friend of almost thirty nine years died.

Not using this as a plea for sympathy but just asking the question that occurs to me, every now and again. What and why are we telling people our personal information?
Young people are only now realizing that sending nude photos or sexting information to their heart throb can get them in serious trouble. Of course, adults have been guilty of it too. Think that man in the political arena in NY who recently ran for office again. Yes, I know his name, and so do you, but no sense naming him. Just as soon forget him.

People recently have sent messages over Twitter that they wish they hadn't almost immediately. Sometimes managing to get fired from their job in the process. It's also possible to lose out on getting a job because the person doing the hiring, checks out the applicants social media page. How about your lawyer checking it out when you're getting a divorce? Or your parole officer when you're out of jail and on parole? Not to many good reasons here to broadcast your innermost feelings to the whole world.

Yet I find there is much good that happens when you tell everyone that your pet is sick or has died. Other pet lovers send you encouragement, healing thoughts and reminders that our beloved pet awaits us just over the rainbow bridge. That we'll be reunited with that furry child one day. Or mentioning an illness of your pet, you may learn of a different or unusual treatment. It may be nothing more than helping you feel better until you can report your pet has recovered.

How about discussing with social media when there's an illness in your immediate family. Or a divorce? Or a death? Many writers are basically solitary people who actually don't like talking much to outsiders. Others don't think anything about sharing what's going on in their lives.

Honestly, I think sharing and getting positive responses from others, friends, family or even Facebook friends can be helpful in my times of joy, sorrow or stress.  Sometimes just discussing how you feel, helps you handle whatever is going on in your world. To me that's the good part of social media. These "out there" forms of everyone knowing everything about you is certainly something to think about and discuss.

Let me hear how others feel about being reticent or opening yourself up in this manner.
I'm hoping to reach a middle road… not telling everything I know or feel, but certainly not above asking for a hand of friendship when I feel I may need it. How about you?

I had an awesome Christmas and visit with part of my family in Pigeon Forge and Nashville, TN and am looking forward to seeing more family in the next week or two. And I'm certainly looking forward to what this bright NEW YEAR of 2014 has to bring. Look out Texas, here I come.

29 December 2013

Three Firsts

by Louis Willis

My favorite fiction in the crime genre is detective stories. Before I retired I didn’t read the introductions to anthologies because I felt the summaries of the stories would interfere with my enjoyment. Once I retired and began close reading, I discovered the introductions can be very informative, especially in putting the stories in historical context. 
I bought the anthology The Dead Witness because of the description above the title: “A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.” I wondered if the connoisseur had included any surprises, if, in fact, he met his aim “to represent the vigor and charm of the Victorian detective story at its best.” Based on the three stories I read for this post, he has done a good job. I chose the stories because the connoisseur claims they were firsts.


"The Secret Cell" by William E. Burton (1804-1860) "has never been reprinted prior to its first appearance in 1837." It predates Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," but doesn’t replace Poe as the father of the detective story because it “doesn't challenge Poe's preeminence." 
When her daughter Mary disappears, Mrs. Lobenstein, the unnamed narrator’s former laundress, asks him to find her. He hires a policeman friend, who later in life became “the head of the private police in London,” to find Mary. Their investigation reveals she has been kidnapped. Their search leads them to a “secret cell” on the grounds of a Franciscan Monastery. With the help of more policemen, they storm the fortress to rescue her. 
No way could this story be considered as the template for the detective story. It was published only once probably because it is so badly written. Reading the the first person narrator felt like listening to a garrulous old man. 
An example of the prose style: Mrs. Lobenstein’s husband “had scarcely embraced his family ere he was driven off, post-haste, to the other world....” He died.
The detective story would have been stillborn if Burton had been its father.


"The Dead Witness; or, The Bush Waterhole" by W. W. (Mary Fortune 1833-1910), published in 1866 in the Australian Journal is "the first known detective story written by a woman." She published poems and stories using male pen names. When she began writing a series "The Detective's Album" an editor changed Waif Wander to the “genderless W. W.”
Australian police detective Brooke is sent to a small town to find a young artist named Edward Willis who has gone missing for several days. Two clues, a faulty photographic plate and a missing sheep dog, lead him to a waterhole where blood was found on the ground. While he and the shepherd Dick watch the sheep drink, a corpse rises to the surface--the dead witness. A good story, though the long, well done descriptions of the scenery seem, at times, to be padding. I downloaded three of Fortune’s novels that are in the public domain from University of Adelaide Library.


“An Intangible Clue" by American Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) features her female detective Violet Strange. Green was the first woman to write “a full-fledged detective novel”, (The Leavenworth Case published in 1878) and supposedly influenced Agatha Christie. 
The editor disagrees with some critics that The Dead Letter  by Seeley Regester (pen name of Metta Victoria Fuller Victor) was the first “book-length detective story by a woman.” He argues that it is not a true detective story because the detective uses the psychic visions of his daughter to solve cases, and Regester was "an inferior writer who depended upon coincidence, exhibited little wit, and had a poor sense of pacing." 
Violet Strange, a socialite good at solving crimes, works part time for a private detective firm but doesn't want to get her hands dirty solving "low-down crime." To persuade her to help the police with the case of an old woman who was brutally murdered in her home, her boss claims that a box with her name on it was found in the house. She realizes that he in fact wrote her name on the box. At the crime scene, pretending to be a curious, dainty woman as a policeman leads her about the house, she immediately identifies the clues that lead to the apprehension of the murderer. 
I downloaded some of the Violate Strange stories from the Gutenberg Project and included them in my to-read file.


Women have come a long way. Today, no editor or publisher would dare suggest a woman use a male or genderless pen name to get published, would he?

I hope you all had a

28 December 2013

Turning life into fiction: how much do you change?

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Mystery writers are constantly challenged to do a balancing act between life and fiction. We tell lies for a living, otherwise known as making stuff up. Yet we have to get all our supporting facts right. If we put a street or building in the wrong place in a real-life town or give blood, guns, or poison properties it doesn’t have, our readers scold us via email. They may even throw our books across the room.

It’s not as if we sit down and decide in advance every detail that we’re going to use. A lot of what happens in a mystery gets thought up in the heat of the moment. In fact, depending on how you think about the art of fiction, that moment could be said to take place in the author’s brain or in the character’s reaction to what’s happening in his or her world. Some of the “facts” are emotional. Say, my character’s daughter is kidnapped. I’ve never had that experience, but I can remember how it felt the time my son got lost for twenty minutes at the beach. I intuitively draw on that memory in describing how my fictional parent feels: panicky and ridden with guilt.

We all know about the standard disclaimer: all characters and events in a novel are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people is coincidental. Yeah, right. Or better, yes and no. There’s a character in my series (no, not the protagonist) who bears more than a passing resemblance to my husband. He says I stole all his one-liners, which is not quite true. He’s got some left, and I made up plenty of the snappy cracks in the books myself. But I knew people might think my character “is” my husband. So I deliberately changed a fundamental trait. I made my character very, very sweet instead of a bit of a curmudgeon.

In my short story, “The Silkie,” I made my first foray into the paranormal. In this case, I had to transform not reality but fantasy to make it my own. I didn’t make up the concept of the silkie. It’s a Celtic legend. But the legend doesn’t put the silkie in a seaside town with a boardwalk and amusement park or make the creature a serial killer. I can’t tell you why or how this twist occurred to me. But I did it, and voilĂ —instant noir. I also made the victims (composites, not based on anyone I know) as real as real can be. That contrast, come to think of it, is the core of the genre we call urban fantasy.

What we change and how much we transform it can depend on a variety of needs, both technical and literary. Besides writing fiction, I’m a poet and songwriter. I’m a New Yorker, and when 911 happened, I wrote a song about it immediately. It helped me deal with how it felt. It also had to rhyme and scan. And I wanted the stories it told to touch people, just as I do when I write fiction.

Part of the aftermath of the attack was a remarkable openness and connection among the people in New York. We all heard each other’s stories, and my song told a few of them: the young couple who’d only been married a year, the woman who grieved for her grandmother’s quilt that she’d left in the office, why my own son didn’t go to work that day. Some I made up and tried to make ring true, like any story I write: the old man who lost his daughter, the young boy who lost his father. And one, something I experienced myself, I transformed for the sake of rhyme and scansion.

Harry’s older brother’s gone, his mom is barely hanging on
He cries as we stand patiently in line
The lady right in front of me, she pats his hand and says, “If we
Could only love each other all the time.”

Was his name really Harry? I have no idea. Were we really standing on line? No, we were in the subway, and the lady was sitting next to me. That much is fiction, but the essence of the story was true.

27 December 2013

The Annual Taint

by Dixon Hill

Welcome to the Friday after Christmas.

 Based on an old joke I repeatedly heard while stationed in the south, I’m always tempted to call this time period the Annual Taint. As in: “I-tain’t Christmas, an’ i-tain’t New Years yet. It jes tain’t!” 

That old joke had nothing to do with time-keeping or calendars, of course. And, it was actually quite vulgar, so I won’t reproduce it here. I mention it merely to explain how I came up with the idea of calling this period between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the Annual Taint.

 The kids aren’t in school. A lot of people haven’t yet returned to the office. Not a lot of business seems to get done, and those who are working tend to be a bit more lackadaisical in the approach they take to their jobs, it seems to me (though they may FEEL quite harried due to the mad influx of post-Christmas shoppers and merchandise-returners).

 All those packages that didn’t make it to their destinations by Christmas, move sluggishly through a still-bloated postal system slowly digesting the flotsam of Christmas-most-recently-past, prodded along by folks who’d really rather be sitting at home with their feet up instead. Seems i-tain’t a good time to expect quick shipping.

 The mind is often sluggish, as well, at this time of year. Too much food on Christmas day, topped by sugary treats that seem to lie everywhere about the house, in break rooms, local watering holes and in gathering spots, seemingly leech the mind’s energy.

 In fact, I just went down to fetch some cigars (desperately needing nicotine to help produce my digi-print ramblings!) and found myself driving through streets and past shopping centers that appeared to be staffed and frequented by still-breathing zombies. One fellow made a left against a red arrow—illegal here in Scottsdale. I inadvertently caught up to him at the next traffic light, and saw that he and his wife were evidently trying to figure out how to light a cigarette. Considering that he’d just run a red light, I wondered if it really was a cigarette! 

 In the ancient days of sailing ships, there was a spot in the mid-Atlantic known as the Doldrums. There, the trade winds died and a ship might sit for days or weeks before a breeze came along to set her in motion again. Sometimes the long boats were lowered and crewmembers took turns, trying to row their ship back into the wind once more. But, try as they might, they were usually forced to let the great Atlantic catch its breath before blowing them onward in their journey. 

 The Annual Taint is sort of like American Production’s doldrums. People tend to sit around and stare, while nothing much happens. For those of us in the writing business, it seems folly to expect an editor's or agent's response during this time of year.

Nor does it matter if you belong to a religion that doesn't celebrate Christmas, or even if you practice or believe in no religion at all; you’re still caught up in the Taint, along with the rest of us—it’s the nature of the season.

Frankly, I used to feel sorry for confirmed atheists with Type-A personalities, thinking they must go rather mad this time of year.  Lately however, I’ve realized they probably make enough money—having Type-A personalities, that is—that they long ago realized this is the best occasion to vacation in the Bahamas, or maybe to take pictures of the Kremlin with a snow-covered Red Square in the foreground.

 Yes, even the most productive-minded among us find it necessary to catch their breath during the Annual Taint. There’s just no choice. It seems to be a requirement imposed on us by a collective hitch in our national behavior.

 On the other hand, ‘tain’t a bad time t’ catch up on your readin’ neither. So … I encourage you to sit back and Enjoy the Annual Taint—whoever you are, and whatever your philosophical or religious leanings may be. Sit back, put your feet up, open a good book, and maybe take a sip or more of whatever you enjoy.

 I’ll see you in two weeks,

26 December 2013


Former President Bill Clinton used to like to talk about “bridges to the 21st century,” a rhetorical flourish which usually indicated investment in some new technology or educational technique. This was, of course, back in those simpler and unenlightened days of the 20th century when politicians were keen on building for the future instead of for a retreat to the 19th century or earlier.

However, the idea of bridges to the future got me thinking about bridges in writing, which like the President’s bridges, tend to rely a good deal on imagination and guesswork. In particular, every writer knows the delicate suspension construction that extends between the two commands of imaginative writing: write what you know and write what you want to learn.

In some cases, this particular bridge needs to be exceptionally sturdy. I’m currently reading Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Orphan Master’s Son, set in North Korea. Even with three big grants and a trip to the Hermit State, conjuring up a plausible protagonist and a plausible Communist Korea must have been a toughie.

Mystery writing has its challenges, too. Although a number of my Sleuthsayers colleagues have worked in either law enforcement, the military, or social work, I would guess that most writers of mysteries, suspense, and thrillers probably lead, like me, distinctly un-thrilling lives. Even those with professional experience must need some little bridges of their own. Consider the thriller which has gone from tales of intrepid secret agents on the lam with the essential microfilm or sub base plans to the present steroidal concoctions where saving the planet is not too big a challenge.

More realistic work branches out in a different way. I recently enjoyed Tuesday’s Gone by the husband and wife team that writes as Nicci French. The book’s strong suit is definitely its fine characterizations, especially of psychotherapist, doctor, and police consultant Frieda Klein. I dare say that the details of the plot, though very satisfying, are implausibly complex if one is being strictly realistic. The book works well, however, because of the strong characterizations. Our interest in the personalities involved and our anxiety to find out what happens carry us nicely over convenient coincidences and timely bursts of sleuthing inspiration. A bridge, indeed.

On a more modest level, I’ve been looking for literary bridges in a new Francis Bacon mystery, the third in what I projected from the start as a trilogy. This one is set in London but also in Tangier, in what was in the 1950’s still the International Zone administered by a coalition of European powers. Problem: I’ve never been there. Solution: a goodly amount of research, plus memories of the French and Italian rivieras, which have a similar landscape and climate.

Was this satisfactory? Only time will tell, as Doonesbury’s Roland Hedley likes to say, but I think moderately satisfactory, since Francis is an urban man without much eye for landscape. He was a painter focused on internal, not external, weather, so it was plausible to keep his focus on his relationships with other people and his observations of their interactions.

Of course, his relationships with other people, particularly the love of his life and his real fatal man, an alcoholic ex-RAF pilot, presented other challenges. In particular, how to write about Francis’s violent masochistic relationship with his lover in such a way as not to destroy the tone of the whole and the emphasis on what is a strictly imaginary adventure.

After what is now three novels about Francis, I think it is safe to say that he has evolved into a fictional character, resembling the real man, but with a tone of his own, which, as befitting my personality, is a bit lighter in spirit than the genius painter of very dark interiors. The real man was said to be camp but tough, very tough, indeed, and though a pessimist, a resolute enjoyer of life’s pleasures.

I’ve written him as cheerful and ironic and given him his late, and much missed, nanny’s voice in his ear. He’s foolish, but no fool, and I guess that sums up the imaginative bridge between what I know about the real Bacon, product of research and looking at his paintings, and the imaginary character, who is free to have bizarre and somewhat absurd adventures among the sorts of thugs and spies whom the real man would probably have enjoyed.

25 December 2013

Lawrence of Arabia

[First, a shout-out to Janice Law, who has a terrific, twisted story in the March 2014 ALFRED HITCHCOCK, called "The Raider." Secondly, a very Merry Christmas to you all, and my best wishes for a great New Year.]

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was released fifty years ago, and the recent death of Peter O'Toole prompts me to consider yet again, as a landmark in movie history.

LAWRENCE was a milestone for me personally, as well. I first saw it early in 1963, in its original roadshow release. Directed by David Lean, from a screenplay by Robert Bolt, shot in 70MM Panavision by Freddie Young, with a score by Maurice Jarre. It was astonishing. In fact, a transforming experience. Given the state of the art at the time, total immersion. I'd call it life-changing.

Early in the picture, there's a breath-taking cut. (And anybody who's seen the movie remembers it.) Lawrence, in close-up, blows out a match, and the screen opens suddenly wide to sunrise over the desert. It's a dramatic effect, but it does something else. It prefigures what's to come, and you somehow realize this, without knowing it. The movie shifts its shape, in that one piece of editing. The reason I'm making a big deal out of this cut, also, is that it made me realize, consciously, that movies don't happen by accident. I didn't think this in the theater, mind, but afterwards, as the idea began to percolate. It's worth pointing out, too, that in the course of that year, and the next two, I went back to see LAWRENCE some six or eight times, no exaggeration, and each time I saw something more. The picture deepened. It was breakthrough, for me to understand that David Lean (who began his career as an editor) was using the tools of movie-making to manipulate my response to what I was watching. Looking back, this seems naive, that it would take me so long to catch on, but it's instructive. More on this, below the fold.

My pal John Davis, a guy I'd met in boarding school, and who started college in New York with me in late '63, was a movie fanatic. He idolized Brando, and went on to be an actor, himself. That fall, we took every advantage of the New York revival houses, which were legion, in them days. LOOK BACK IN ANGER, THE 400 BLOWS, SEVEN SAMURAI. And the big-ticket new releases, TOM JONES and DR. STRANGELOVE. But of them all, John was utterly queer for LAWRENCE. He could quote the dialogue wholesale, the way O'Toole quoted Shakespeare. ("The best of them won't come for money. The best of them will come for me.") And he did a pretty fair Peter O'Toole, as well as a good Richard Burton. This says more than a little about our obsessions. Kurosawa, for example, or Truffaut. That was the year THE LEOPARD came out, too, and John could quote Burt Lancaster's lines---"Those that come after us will be jackals and dogs." Was it simple chance that we weren't head over heels for Hawks or Ford, yet, and our enthusiasms were the Brits and the Europeans? Arty, or kitchen sink, as opposed to Hollywood? I don't know. I'd like to think our horizons broadened.

David Lean, like Hitchcock, wasn't by any means art-house. They understood commercial necessities, box office, popular appeal. You're only as good as your last picture. Lean was very much involved in the revival of the British film industry after the war, with pictures like BRIEF ENCOUNTER, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, OLIVER TWIST. They did good business, but they also happen to be terrific movies. The he hit the jackpot, with BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and he was able to write his own ticket.

LAWRENCE wasn't the most obvious choice. An obscure campaign, and a hero who was something of a queer duck. "He saw the odd, and missed the even," Lawrence once remarked, although not of himself. It was intransigent material, and it wasn't an easy sell. Sam Spiegel wanted Brando to play the part, and Albert Finney was actually tested. O'Toole only came on board after they turned it down. There's a story (not on IMDb) that when O'Toole leaned over Spiegel's desk to shake hands on the deal, a half-pint of whiskey fell out of his breast pocket, which didn't inspire confidence. They spent something like a year and a half on the shoot, Jordan, Spain, Morocco. Spiegel must have been tearing his hair out, as production costs mounted, but he was already in too deep, and he kept the faith. CLEOPATRA, the next year, put Fox out of business.

Both the risk and the reward were enormous. It cost fifteen million bucks, in 1960's money. It grossed seventy million, eventually. It swept the Oscars. It made Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif bankable stars. It gave David Lean the opportunity to make DOCTOR ZHIVAGO---which for all the sentimental attachment people have for "Lara's Theme," we might as well admit is a dull thud. LAWRENCE, though, in a sense, is sui generis. It made spectaculars buzzy. But everybody in the movie business missed the point. LAWRENCE was an intelligent spectacular. That's what made it work. It wasn't a sword-and-sandals epic, although there was plenty of sand. It was about something, and it was about something you could imagine having a stake in. Lawrence spits in the fire. "That, is not an argument," one of his Arab captains says. But the movie itself is. It argues that a man can change history. Lawrence, in life, may have well seen the odd, and missed the even. In legend, he becomes larger than life.

What's it say? We write stories. Lawrence wrote his own. SEVEN PILLARS is, perhaps, not entirely candid, and even while he left stuff out, he embroidered other things. Why spoil a good story for lack of the facts? More to the point, as writers, we're often jackdaws, and feather our nests with shiny borrowings. The lasting lesson of LAWRENCE, for me---the movie, and in some part the man---is that we shape a narrative to suit our purpose. The match, the desert landscape opening before us. "Nothing is written," Lawrence says, meaning nothing is Fated. But in a fiction, of course, everything is. It all answers to a resolution. Grief is purged, innocence is redeemed, the natural order is restored. Well, maybe. We impose, in other words, a moral, and leave ambiguity to life itself.

24 December 2013

Dickens' A Christmas Carol – at the Movies

Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.  
       As I wrote in this space two years ago, so begins one of the most popular novellas in English literature. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published just before Christmas in 1843, rushed to the press since it had only been completed several weeks earlier by Dickens. That previous article discussed the back-story of this little classic in some detail, but today lets look in the other direction. While many of us read this slim volume annually as part of our holiday ritual, it is safe to say that many more revisit the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in versions of the story that have been adapted for the screen. 

Tom Ricketts as Ebenezer Scrooge, 1908
       By Wikipedia’s count, which is close enough for present purposes, there have been 42 filmed versions of A Christmas Carol over a period now spanning more than 100 years: The earliest, a 1908 silent version filmed by Essanay Studios in Chicago, starred an uncredited actor named Tom Ricketts as the miser on the cusp of redemption; the most recent, a 2009 animated motion-capture version of the story filmed in 3-D by Disney and starring a very credited Jim Carrey. Rather than discussing each of the 42, lets cull the list a bit. After all, if you are sitting in front of the tree today with your eggnog while you surf the channels looking for some filmed holiday cheer, there are really only six versions of A Christmas Carol that you are likely to encounter over the air or on DVD. And as to those, here is my holiday viewing guide.

     A Christmas Carol (2009) As referenced above, the most recent filmed version of the story is the ambitious 3-D adaptation released by Disney in 2009. The film, written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a followup to his previous holiday offering The Polar Express. As is so often the case when the adjective “ambitious” is used, in many respects the mighty efforts here have produced a version of Dickens’ story that is flawed. First, and notably, the motion capture technique that Zemeckis uses here and in Polar Express, while visually stunning, is also a bit creepy in its rendition of characters. Second, stated carefully, Jim Carrey is not for everyone. And while he works hard at his Scrooge he is still, well, Jim Carrey, an actor not known for subtle performances. Third, the movie was one of the first of the new batch of 3-D films, and as such it employs some of the older 3-D tricks – like throwing things at the audience – that James Cameron subsequently managed to leave behind a few months later with the release of Avatar. Particularly embarrassing is the prolonged scene in the Third Stave of the story, where Scrooge is shrunk to the size of a mouse and then slides down a roller coaster-like incline. When that comes on, think of it as a commercial and act accordingly. (In other words, leave the room for another drink.) The movie does have its moments, however. When not reaching for gimmicks, the 3-D can be beautiful, even stunning, And Zemeckis’ version provides an interesting new perspective for the story, situating Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley above much of the action, as they stare down through the transparent floor of Scrooge’s rooms. The film received mixed reviews, although Roger Ebert gave it four stars. 

       A Christmas Carol (1999) is graced by the presence of Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Stewart is not only a gifted actor, he is also a long-time fan of Dickens’ story and has performed it as a one-man reading in London and New York for years. The film was produced for the TNT television network and is generally available over the air during the holidays. Unlike some other versions, at least the early parts of Stewart’s interpretation have a somber, gloomy aspect to them, much in keeping with the original tale by Dickens. The approach is realistic and I like it. Remember that, as discussed in the earlier SleuthSayers’ article, Dickens intended his story as a morality tale – a condemnation of British child labor laws and the plight of the poor in England in the mid 1800s. Stewart’s version toys with the original a bit, offering up more of the backstory of Scrooge and Marley, but this works well even if it involves scenes not envisioned by Dickens. And in addition to Stewart’s bravura performance as Scrooge, watch for a good turn by Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Also watch for the montage, early on, of various denizens of the English working class -- in mines, on boats, in a lighthouse – setting aside their troubles to sing Silent Night. The scene is original to Dickens, but only rarely portrayed in filmed versions of the story.

     A Christmas Carol (1984) is yet another television adaptation of the story, this time starring the late George C. Scott as Scrooge. The film was produced by Hallmark and aired for years on NBC each December. Like the Stewart version Scott’s Scrooge is depicted in early scenes that are not found in Dickens' novella, including (again) in scenes fleshing out more of the backstory of Scrooge and Marley’s beginnings. Scott was reportedly anxious to participate in this production since he had long believed that Scrooge tended to be portrayed by others in too broad a brush. Scott’s goal was to present Ebenezer Scrooge as a hard man of business, conservative and strict, but not someone who was mean simply for the sake of meanness. Beyond Scott’s performance, highlights of the version include Anthony Walters’ portrayal of Tiny Tim. Unlike some other child actors called upon to breathe life into that role, young Walters actually looks the part – managing to convey innocence, kindness and frailty in his demeanor. Another highlight is the superb performance by the late Edward Woodward (who played the lead in CBS’ The Equalizer) as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Toward the end of Stave Three Part Two of the book, Dickens has the Ghost of Christmas Present turn like quicksilver from jovial to fed-up as he listens to Scrooge.  He looks Scrooge in the eye and delivers the following line: 
'Man,' . . . if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. 
No one, and I mean no one, delivers this line as effectively as Edward Woodward. Essayist Lewis Bayard, writing for Salon.com, called this “the best Christmas Carol ever.” Even if you don’t agree, you can’t go wrong watching this one. 

       Scrooge (1970) This version of our story is the Leslie Bricusse musical adaptation, starring Albert Finney as Scrooge, which was filmed for theatrical release. I like the version, but it is sort of an acquired taste and decidedly not for everyone. Telling a story as a musical, with certain exceptions, becomes an invitation to tell it as a musical comedy, to play it too broadly, and that light air certainly has its effect on the brooding morality of Dickens’ original story. As an example, the most hum-able song in the score, the Oscar nominated Thank You Very Much!, is sung by those who owed Scrooge money as (unbeknownst to Finney, who is joyfully singing along) his coffin is wheeled down the streets of London. Also a bit strange is the casting of Finney, who decidedly is not a singer, although, according to rumor, the score was originally written for another non-singer, Rex Harrison, who ultimately turned down the role. The film also adds an excruciating scene after the Ghost of Christmas Future in which Scrooge falls into his grave and ends up in Hell, as an accountant to Lucifer. The scene, often cut (thankfully!) in the televised version, was likely added to give Alec Guinness, portraying the ghost of Jacob Marley, one more scene. If it is still in the version you find yourself watching, well, think of it as another invitation to refresh your drink. But don't get me wrong, this version does have its treasures, including the best metamorphosis of Scrooge’s door knocker into Marley’s face ever filmed, a wonderful stint by Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Laurence Naismith, who delivers the absolute best Fezziwig of all time.

     Scrooge (1951), released in the United States as A Christmas Carol. Many (myself included) believe that this modest British production is the finest film version of Dickens’ story. Alistair Sims is so perfect as Scrooge – tall, skinny, gaunt, tortured -- that he played the role not just once, but again in 1971 when he voiced it in an animated version of the story. Interestingly, Sims was reportedly a substitute for Basil Rathbone, who was originally to have played the part. But that is mere trivia – Sims' portrayal is perfect and wonderful. The production also is true to Dickens in the sense that it is presented darkly – for me it plays better in the original black and white than in the colorized version of several years ago. In the black and white film one feels, particularly in early scenes, the desolation of the English working class that is at the heart of Dickens’ story. But at the same time Sims’ version goes beyond Dickens in some respects and, like the George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart productions discussed above, delves into Scrooge’s past life with Marley and Scrooge’s evolution into the miser that we meet in Stave One. Watch for a young Patrick MacNee (later John Steed in The Avengers) in those early scenes portraying the young Jacob Marley. 

       A Christmas Carol (1938) This is likely the earliest version of Dickens’ story that you will find on broadcast channels or streaming video. It starred Reginald Owen, who was also a last minute Scrooge substitute, taking the place of Lionel Barrymore who stepped out of the production because of arthritis, but still provided the film’s opening narration. The film is a good rendition and, perhaps, its only fault is that it has a sort of sunny disposition that makes it difficult to find the London of Dickens. Cratchit looks too well fed; Tiny Tim, too big, too healthy.  The two starving children, "Want" and "Ignorance," who Dickens revealed hidden in the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present, do not even appear in this version.  But watch for Leo G. Carroll, who later starred on T.V. as Topper and then as Mr. Waverley on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and who delivers a great ghost of Jacob Marley. Also of interest is the fact that the Cratchits are portrayed by Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, married in real life, and that one of their daughters, in an uncredited role, is played by their real-life daughter June Lockhart, who went on to a career portraying television mothers in both Lassie and Lost in Space

       Finally, if you are looking for a spoken word version of Dickens, over the years there also were many radio adaptations of A Christmas Carol. One of my favorites was a 1975 episode of CBS’ Radio Mystery Theatre starring E.G. Marshal as Scrooge. Marshal was the host of the series and this episode, as an interesting aside, is the only one in which he also appeared (er, was heard) as an actor. This adaptation is available for downloading on line. 

       So if you are looking for a little Dickens this year, you will not go completely wrong with any of the versions discussed above.  And, as noted, there are some real gems out there.

       Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and see you in 2014.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

23 December 2013

Hanging In, Hanging Out, Hanging On

I'm certain someone taught you all about prepositions long ago, but this cartoon caught my eye, and I decided that would be my topic today.  Rather than make this seem like a lesson, I've written an exercise to see how much you remember from those old school days. Please decide on your answers before going to the bottom to check them.   


1.  What's the difference between a preposition and a proposition?

2.  Who recorded "The Preposition Song"?  Why is it called that?

3.  Who is credited with coining the rule that writers shouldn't end sentences with prepositions?

4.  What word should "of" never replace?

5.  What preposition should be used with the word "different"?

6.  Who responded to an editor's demand that a sentence be        reworded because it ended with a preposition with this statement:
"This is the sort of English up with which I cannot put"?


1. A preposition shows a relationship while a proposition sometimes starts a relationship.
Tanya Tucker

2.  Tanya Tucker recorded "Hanging In."  The hook for the chorus is "Hanging in, hanging out, hanging on."

3. John Dryden, a seventeenth century poet, is credited with the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition.  Throughout history, writers have sometimes broken this rule.  Sometimes the preposition at the end of a sentence is needed while at other times, it is unnecessary and incorrect.
John Dryden

Examples:  Where is the dog? Correct.  Where is the dog at? Incorrect.
That is something I cannot agree with. Correct.
Which team are you on?  Correct.  Note that Which team are you? changes the meaning. 

4.  "Of" should never replace "have." 
Example:  I should have known he would do that.  Correct.
I should of known he would do that. Incorrect. 

5.  Grammatically correct according to text books is the phrase "different from," but that's a frequent error made by many speakers and writers who use "different than."
Winston Churchill

6.  That sentence is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.

What's wrong with the answer to question two?

BONUS QUESTION 2 (Multiple Choice)
Which is proper?
(A) between you and I
(B) between you and me
(C) between me and you

In the answer to question 2, the "in," "out," and "on" aren't used as prepositions.  They're are all used as adverbs modifying "hanging."

Many people say or write (A) between you and I.  For some reason, they think "I" sounds "more proper."  (A) is incorrect. 

Even more people, who don't care if they're proper or not, use (C) between me and you.  (C) is incorrect because grammatically "you" is named before the speaker.  

The correct answer is (B) between you and me because between is a preposition and the correct usage is to follow a preposition with the objective case of a pronoun, which is "me," while "I is the subjective case.

A personal question from me to you... I hope I haven't insulted anyone with these questions.  I'm sure all of our readers and writers made a perfect score. Now I have a question that I'd really like every one of you to answer through comments.


In the South, we stand in line to wait for something.  We tell children, "Please get in line," but many non-southerners say, "I had to stand on line to get the tickets."

What do you say and can anyone find a definitive answer whether in line is correct or on line?

Until we meet again, take care of … you!

22 December 2013

When Good Teachers Go Bad

Last week, I wrote about the attorney who argued his client was too rich for prison, and this week’s article began with a similar theme until it morphed into something else.

Kristin L.S. Beck is an athletics trainer who had sex with at least one minor. Although the victim is a child, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not consider an adult engaging in sex with a juvenile 15 years or older a felony. The 30-year-old was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor, and is not required to register as a sexual offender.

Beck’s lawyer argued for no sentence at all, claiming his client was the victim and added she voluntarily forfeited her license as an athletic trainer working with students.

“I'm not sure jail time would achieve anything,” he said.

The judge compromised, giving her six months behind bars, but he chastised her for betraying the public trust.

What we think we know

As I mulled over the article, it seemed to me I’d been reading a lot about women teachers having sex with minors. Curious, I googled.

teachers apple

One of the first sites I turned up listed thirty-some teachers. Naturally, Florida is one of the worst offenders. Only three were male, one out of eleven. I googled again, recognizing such names as too-pretty-for-prison Debra LaFave who prosecutors and judges in two Florida counties let walk. And Mary Kay Letourneau, the teacher who bedded one of her sixth-grade students and, after being given a pass by the judge couldn’t stay away from him, and following re-arrest and time  in the clink, eventually married him. And Pamela Smart who persuaded her 15-year-old paramour to murder her husband.

Wait. I know teachers. For some reason, I’ve dated an inordinate number of educators and many more are friends, including my writing buddies. Every one I know is dedicated, hard-working, and concerned about their students. It has to be every vulnerable teacher’s nightmare to be falsely accused. But, as every teacher knows, there are always a few bad apples.

What’s going on here?

Something else is happening. One writer bemoans that dozens of women teachers are being accused of sexual acts. As it turns out, the writer was wrong: not dozens, but hundreds. Names poured out of my screen. Hardly digging at all, in less than an hour I turned up more than 400 cases:

Kelly A•••Christina G••••••••Alexa N••••••
Tabitha A••••Donna Carr G•••••••Amie Lou N••••
Susan Christina A•••••••Kelly Ann G•••••Linda N••
Shelley A••••Jennalin G•••••-C••••Cheryl N•••••
Toni A•••••Lindsay G•••••-Y••••Angela Sue N••
Brianne A•••••Ellen G•••••••Kristine N•••
Tina Marie A••••Jacquelyn Faith G•••••••Rebecca N••••••
Barbara A•••••••Sandra ‘Beth’ G•••••Christine N••••
Ethel A•••••••Rachelle G••••••Amy N••••
Melissa A•••••••Robin G•••••••••Amy N••••••••
Melissa Ann A•••••••Stephanie G••••••••••Carrie O’C•••••
Bethany A•••••••Jennifer M. G•••Kristi Dance O••••
Jamie A••••••••Lisa G••••Christina O•••••
Melissa A•••••Helen G••••••Jody O••••••
Amanda A••••Brandy Lynn G•••••••Brenda O••••••
Kari Jo A•••••••Christel C. G••••••Laura P•••
Sherri Lynn B••••Marla G••••••-H••••••Angela P•••••
Brenda B••••••••••Lisa G•••••••Janet P•••••
Leslie B••••Jamie Nicole H•••Cameo P••••
Erica B••••Summer Michelle H•••••Karen P•••••
Pamela B•••••Emily Suzanne H•••••••April P•••••••••
Melissa B•••Katherine J. H•••••Alison P•••
Nicole Andrea B•••••••Emma Jean H••••Naomi P••••
Bella B••••••Dr. Allison H•••••••Carrie P••••••
Janelle B••••••Georgianne H••••••Kelsey P•••••••
Ashley Jo B••••Stephanie Diane H•••••Candace R. P•••••
Amy B•••Holly H••••••Linda P••••••
Kristin L. S. B•••Cathy H•••••••••Kaci P••••••••
Rebecca B•••••Kristal Renee H••••Nicole P••••••••
Allanah B•••••-W••••Maria Guzman H••••••••Nicola P•••••••
Shannon B•••Shannon H••••••Michelle P••••••
Anna B••••••••••Wendy L. H••••••Julie P••••••••
Sandra L. B••••••Katherine H••••Stephanie R•••••
Janelle Marie B•••Rachel Ann H••••Shebana R•••••
Joy B•••••••••Symantha H••••Beth R••••••
Michelle B••••••Deanna H••••••Makayla Dawn R••••••
Deanna B•••Becci H•••Lauren R••••••
Rebecca B•••••Crissy H••••Danielle R•••
Rebecca B•••••••Adrianne H••••••Deborah R•••••
Sandra B••••••Meredith H•••••Courtney Sue R••••••
Loni B•••••••Abigail H•••••••Jennifer R•••
Valynne B•••••Sarah H•••••Claire R•••••••
Courtney B•••••Rachel L. H•••Kristy C. R•••••
Rebecca Ann B•••••••Diana H•••Karen R••••••
Kristyn B•••••Kanesa H••••••Liza-Anne R••••••
Keri Ann B•••••Stacy H••••••Rebecca R••••••••-S••••••
Cheryl B••••••Cynthia H••••••Trina R•••••
Mariella B••••••Emily Elizabeth H••••••Valerie R••••••
Sherry B•••••Amy Lynn H•••••Pamela R••••• T•••••
Sarah B••••••Christine H••••Marcie L. R•••••••
Alini B••••Janet H•••••Sharon R•••••••••
Christy Anne B••••Ellen H•••Erica R••••••
Rosanna Encinas B••••Heather I•••••Kellie R•••
Laura-Anne B•••••••Amy Bass J••••••Tamara R••••
Rita B•••Hope J•••••Amira S•’D•
Sheree B•••••••Nicole J••••••Maria S•••
Whitney Dow B•••Urszula J••••••••Megan S••••••••
Ashley B••••••Courtney J••••••Kristy S••••••-T•••••••
Rachel B•••••••Amber S. J•••••••Donna Lou S••••••
Stephanie B•••••••Sarah J•••Lynn S•••••••
Kimberly B••••Christine Marie J•••••••Christine S•••••••
Lucinda Rodriguez C•••••••Kasey J•••••Stacy S••••••
Christine C••••Hope J••••Jennifer S••••••
Wendy C•••••Marie J••••••Dawn Marie S•••••••••••••••
Diana C•••••Danielle J••••Wendie A. S•••••••••
Christina C••••••Sarah J••••April S••••••
Gwen C••••••Christine J•••••Heather S••••••
Katheryn L. C••••••Meredith K•••Beth S•••••••
Harriett Louise C•••••Elisa K•••••••Bethany S•••••••
Amy Kathleen C•••••Denise K•••••Leah S••••••
Katie C••••••••Rebecca Lee K•••••Michelle S•••••••
Melissa C••••Jodi A. K••••••Natasha S••••
Beth Ann C••••••Heather K••••••Joan Marie S•••••
Heather C•••••••Tammy K••Pamela S••••
Whitney C•••••Irene K•••Christy Lee S••••
Michelle Rose C••••Mariane K••••••Sheral Lee S••••
Jodi C•••••Kirsten K•••••Melissa S•••
Jennifer C••••Haven K••••••••••Samantha S••••••
Lisa Lynette C••••Jodi K••••••••••Amanda S•••••
Susan C•••••••Anne K••••Mary Jo S••••
Tammy C••••••Melissa Diana K•••Christine S•••••
Stephanie C•••Abby K•••••Ashley S••••••
Angela Christine C•••••Kym K•••••Yvette S••••••
Brittni C••••••Nicole K•••••••Stephanie Ann S••••
Angela Renee C••••Michelle K•••Angela S•••••••
Andrea C••••••Debra Beasley L•F•••JoAnn S•••••••
Amanda Leigh C•••••Adrienne L•••••••Erin Baynard S••••••
Kellie Ann C•••••••Margaret L•••••••Meghan Allison S••••••
Julie Gay C•••••Shanice L••••••Jenifer S••••••
Lauren C•••••••Melissa L•••••••Elizabeth S•••
Megan C••••••Lisa L•••••Sara S•••••
Kimberly C••••Christina L•••••Lakina S•••••
Tara Lynn C••••Heather L•• B••••••••Kristen S•••••••
Elyse C•••••••Autumn L•••••••Beulah Nicole G••••••• S•••••
Kahtanna C•••Mary Kay L•••••••••Abbie Jane S••••••
Kelly Lynn D••••••Vicky Lynn L•••••••Traci T•••
Heather D•••••••••Jill L••••Jennifer T••••••••
Gay D•••••••-S••••••Amy Gail L•••••Michele T•••••
Kathia Maria D••••Angela Simmons L•••••Katherine T••
Margaret •• B••••••••Jennifer Dawn L•••••Tanya T•••••••••
Teri K. D••••Elizabeth Claire L••••••Erin T•••••
Melissa Michelle D•••Nicole L•••Heather T••••••
Melinda D•••••Chantella L•••••Lauren T•••
Diane D•M••••••-S•••••Julia L•••Deborah Lee T•••••
Jennifer D••••••Kimberly L••••Rebekah T•••
Megan D•••••Jennifer M••••••Sarah L. T••••••
Melinda D••••••Jennifer M••••Gay Lyn T•••••
Julie A. D••••Kesha D. M•••••Pamela Joan Rogers T•••••
Erica D•P•••Kristen M••••••Jennifer T••••
Nadia D•••Lisa Robyn M••••••••Erica U•••••••
Cara D•••••Amber M•••••••Michelle V••M••••
Stefanie D••••••••Christy M•••••Rachelle V•••••••
Pamela D••••-M••••Katryna M•••••Sheila V••••••
Dorothy Elizabeth D••••Elisa M•••••••••Jamie W••••
Jennifer D••••••Andrea M•••••••Jaymee W••••••
Stephanie D•••••Tina M••••Danielle W••••
Tara D•••••••Lindsay M••••••Stephanie Jo W••••••
Christine D•••Cindy M••••Allenna W•••
Andrea E••••Melissa Kellie M•B••Donna W••••••••
Susan E•••Christine M•C•••••Amanda W••••••
Amy E••••Carrie M•C•••••••Gina Marie W••••••
Christine E•••••Cristina M•C•••April W•••••
Rhianna E••••Melissa Dawn M•C•••Kelly McKenzy W•••••
Amy Rita E••••••••Michelle M•C••••••Melissa W••••
Celeste E••••••Amy M•E••••••Crystal W••••
Teresa E••••••••Lynnette M•I•••••Dawn W•••••
Jennifer E•••••••Regina M•K••Kathy W••••
Darcie E••••Alexandra Elizabeth M•L•••Shelley W••••
Michelle F•••••Erin M•L•••Jennifer W••••••
Diana Leigh F••••••Amberlee Evonne M•••••Heather W••••••
Rachel L. F••••••Elizabeth M•••••••••Amber Renea W•••••••••
Laura Lynn F••••••Amy N. M•••••Christy A. W•••••
Marcy R. F•••••Kelly K. M•••••Kacy W•••••
Carol F••••••••Julie Ann M••••Tawni W••••••••
Stephanie F•••••••Michelle M•••••Robin W•••••
Ashley F•••••Cris M•••••Emma W•••
Lisa F•••••Emily M•••••Jessica Bailey W•••••••
Ronda F•••Alison M••••••Toni Lynn W••••
Andrea F••Melissa M•••Kimme A. W••••
Chandra F•••••Elizabeth M•••Amy Y••••••••
Natalie F•••••••Antonia M••••-J•••••Shannon Y••••
Lynne F••••••Franca M••••-J•••••Melanie K. Y••••
Kenzi F•••••Allison M••••••••Heather Lynne Z••
Gail E. G••••Karolyn N••••Michelle Z••••••••
Zenna G••••••Sheryl A. N•••••••Maria Z•••••
Some of the above cases have yet to go to trial while charges in others have been dropped.
A person is not judged guilty until determined by a court of law.

This is a sizable sampling, not a comprehensive list, but I'm making a point. Columnists casually speak of 'dozens', but there appear to be hundreds, perhaps thousands plus many unreported.

I could be wrong, but I don’t for a moment believe predation by female teachers (and aides, coaches, PTA members, etc.) outnumbers male’s by eleven to one. Slate writer William Saletan attempts to extrapolate from general rape statistics. Contrary to an US Department of Education survey that says in 2004 that 43% of complaints were against women, he claims assaults by male teachers outnumber female by 25-to-1 and echoes popular opinion that female aggressors are “less vile.” He intimates that male ‘victims’ are almost grown up and can better tolerate harassment.

He appears to miss the point that many Americans don’t regard sex with a female teacher a crime. Thanks to reluctance of victims and their families, fewer female teachers are accused, fewer yet are charged, fewer are prosecuted, and still fewer are given jail or prison sentences and required to register as sexual offenders. It’s a bit like that tree falling in a forest: If a teacher is let off, is it a crime?

As a 2007 NPR segment pointed out, fewer women teachers face criminal penalties. The day after Debra LaFave was allowed to walk, a male teacher was given twenty years for the equivalent crime. Elsewhere, a former Miss Texas contestant had her case dismissed without trial. The grand jury found the relationship ‘endearing and flirtatious.’

What’s a crime in one state may not be a crime in another. If the age of consent is 15 or 16, then a felony may not have been committed. Worsening the problem, laws that acknowledge women can be capable of sexual assault have been slow to catch up.

One teacher said an internet search she conducted suggested she wasn’t engaging in a crime. Often, boys and even their families refuse to cooperate with authorities. The British National Association of Women Teachers has said that teachers who have sex with pupils over the age of consent should not be placed on sex offender registers.

The Association went on to say statutory rape laws were out of date. They weren’t alone. In comments following some of the articles I researched, many readers suggested the age of consent should be lowered to 14. Fourteen! Perhaps not coincidentally, this age cropped up most often in case searches (varying from ages 9 to 17).

Former US Secretary of Education and former Houston School Superintendent Roderick Paige taught us thousands of ways to manipulate school statistics. We don’t know how many teachers are simply dismissed rather than prosecuted, which makes a shambles of statistics maintained by Departments of Education. We don’t know how often a woman is allowed to plead to a misdemeanor or non-sex crime, whereas her male counterpart may be charged with statutory rape, sexual assault, or creative charges like false imprisonment.

The adage ‘Women get months, men get years’ isn’t quite accurate, but New Jersey courts convict a sizeable majority of men but less than half of women, and they sentence men to terms 50% longer than that of women. Nancy Grace says, “Why is it when a man rapes a little girl, he goes to jail, but when a woman rapes a boy, she had a breakdown?

While I’m surprised by mounting evidence, I am willing to adjust my stereotype. I once consulted for Sinai Hospital outside Baltimore where they gathered reams of statistics. According to one curious number, domestic battery by women outnumbered assaults by men. (While more wives assaulted husbands, men tended to inflict more harm because of sheer physical strength.)

I mentioned this to a psychiatrist friend in New York and later to another in Virginia. Both confirmed that finding. The Virginia doctor said she believed the reason was that women didn’t feel constraints, whereas sensible males have been taught to never hit a woman. The reverse is not taught.

With that little bit of knowledge, I could understand more or less equal numbers, but without hard statistics it’s difficult to judge. As mentioned the other day in comments of a SleuthSayers article, our society doesn’t trust men. At the same time, we take greater steps to protect our daughters than our sons. Because women teachers are trusted, is it possible some see an opportunity? Or, more kindly, does emotion and sensation slip under their guard?

This phenomenon isn't a fluke and we can’t blame incidents on ‘trashy women’. These are women with bachelors degrees, sometimes masters and doctorates, as in the case of Dr. Allison Hargrave, seducer of a troubled 13-year-old girl. These women are articulate, smart, poised community figures. Many have won awards. They held such promise.

And now?

Like many men, it’s much easier for me to sympathize with women, but can’t we find a better way to deal with this situation?

Why does one teacher receive a 25- or 30-year sentence while branded a pedophile and another's given no sentence at all? I’ve suggested before in a different context, we need to balance sentencing. First, we must decide whether an act constitutes a crime and at what level: Misdemeanor? Felony? Or simply bad judgment? And once that's determined, we need to be fair, sensible, and consistent.

The too-pretty-for-prison defense has to vanish as do overly harsh sentences. Educator-of-the-Year Ethel Anderson wasn’t pretty and she wasn’t white. She received 38 years for her relationship with a 12-year-old. Hundreds of others received a virtual slap on the wrist if they were reprimanded at all.

Society clearly has both a problem and a vested interest. We entrust our children to our teachers, people we want to care about and train our children. How do we solve this problem?