Saturday, August 10, 2013

Carole Haber's "The Trials of Laura Fair"

Carole Haber is professor of history and dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West:
As I have worked on the story of Laura Fair over the course of several years, I am continually asked if this tale is fiction, although of course the book is completely non-fiction. I have also been queried – sometimes in jest, sometimes seriously – about when the movie will appear. Although the majority of action occurs in the 1870s, the story’s themes of murder, reputation, and sexuality certainly resonate today. As such, it is not hard to envision today’s actors playing the roles.

The role of Laura Fair needs to be handled by someone who can be as mercurial as she. Tall, fair-haired, and beautiful, Fair could be assertive and bold one minute, seductive and sexual next. At times she was irrational and uncontrollable, while at other moments, she was submissive and passive. In everything she did, she drew public attention and comment. While much of the story takes place while Laura is in her thirties, the actress also needs to able to age from a young woman to advanced age. For the title role in the movie I envision the part being played by Charlize Theron or Kate Winslet.

Laura’s lover, AP Crittenden, was a dominate figure in legal circles in California and Nevada. Friends with the leading politicians and bankers of his time, he appeared to believe that his behavior had little relationship to the norms of middle-class Victorian society. He seemed convinced that by juggling the wants of both his wife and lover, he was demonstrating his supreme manliness: Jeff Daniels.

Clara Crittenden, although anxious to present herself as the good wife and mother, clearly had a backbone of steel. Her numerous interactions with Laura as well as her trial testimony revealed that while she was well aware of the societal role she was meant to play, she was able to use this role to her advantage to gain both sympathy and support: Holly Hunter.

Benjamin Lyford: As the leading medical witness for the defense, Lyford showed himself more adept at confusing the jury than convincing them. Judged by the press to be more a con man than a scholar or a professional, he created a story of his life that bore little resemblance to his actual history. Having gained experience as an embalmer and perhaps an abortionist, he represented to many -- both in the court and out – the limitations of 1870s medical practice: Leonardo DiCaprio.

N. Curtis Greene, Laura’s lawyer in her second trial, was able to manipulate the hearing according to his own narrative. He was not only able to control Laura – perhaps the only man to ever really do so -- but, to his delight, he was able to humiliate legal medical experts. As his post-trial interview demonstrated, he was convinced that he was the smartest, most able legal mind in the state, and that only he could defend Laura Fair: Kevin Spacey.

Emily Pitts-Stevens. As California’s leading suffrage advocate, she was the chief supporter of Laura Fair. Through her journal, The Pioneer, she waged war on women’s subordinate role in society. She surprised observers by relative youth, her attractiveness and her fierce independence:Natalie Portman.

Mark Twain: Hal Holbrook, obviously.
Learn more about The Trials of Laura Fair at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue