Friday, April 24, 2020

Mariah Fredericks's "Death of an American Beauty"

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history.

Here Fredericks dreamcasts an adaptation of Death of an American Beauty, the third Jane Prescott mystery:
My son once asked me if I thought Lupita Nyong’o could play Jane Prescott. And while I’m not sure that the novels would adequately reflect the experience of a lady’s maid in 1910s New York as played by Ms. Nyong’o, it’s good casting. As an actress, Ms. Nyong’o projects a rare combination of penetrating intelligence and emotional generosity. There’s a depth of kindness to her that I associate with Jane, something she shares with the first actress I thought of, Carey Mulligan.

My new book, Death of an American Beauty, is the third in the Gilded Age Jane Prescott series. It is 1913, Jane is on vacation and is staying at her uncle’s refuge for women who are leaving the world’s oldest profession. It is the night of the refuge’s annual dance, known as The Whore’s Ball. One of the women is found murdered, and Jane’s uncle becomes the prime suspect. To clear him, Jane has to search for Otelia Brooks, a woman who came to the refuge years ago and may be the only person who survived an attack by the killer.

As a female servant who solves murders, Jane has to have allies; there are places she can’t go alone, people she would not have access to without help. Her key ally is tabloid reporter, Michael Behan. Mel Gibson circa Gallipoli was my starting point for this character. Frank Dunne’s arc from cocky, ridiculously good-looking guy to shattered awareness has notes I like for Michael. If you can’t stomach Gibson, feel free to swap in Dominic West or Morgan Spector. For Jane’s uncle, the difficult, principled Reverend Prescott, I have always thought of Ian Holm. For Jane’s friend, Anna Ardito, let’s resurrect Anne Bancroft. (Let’s resurrect her anyway.) If Ms. Bancroft is otherwise engaged, Susan Sarandon would be wonderful. She looks the part and the politics match.

Death of an American Beauty introduces some new characters to the series. I would love to see Viola Davis in the part of businesswoman Otelia Brooks and Don Cheadle as her husband, Norman. Jane strikes up a lively romance with an ambitious songwriter, Leo Hirschfeld. He could be played by Oscar Isaac with just a touch of Ben Feldman (Mad Men, Superstore) for sweetness. And since I’m obsessed with Succession, I want J. Smith-Cameron for Mrs. Rutherford, the social climbing wife of the owner of the city’s most fabulous department store.

One important part I found hard to cast was Louise Tyler, née Benchley, Jane’s shy employer who is unsuited to society life and to whom Jane feels enormous loyalty. So few actresses are allowed to be individual enough that they can believably play awkward, while hinting at great potential. One instinct took me to Shelley Duvall, another to Gwendoline Christie. I thought of Cynthia Nixon, who did such a wonderful job as Eleanor Roosevelt in Warm Springs. Then my friend Leontine Greenberg suggested Sally Hawkins and I think Ms. Hawkins gets the part.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

--Marshal Zeringue