Death at the Selig Studios: Frances McNamara
Take a trip back in time when the movie industry was just beginning and the name Nickelodeon dominated it. Nickelodeon, in which “nickel” the US 5 cent coin has been joined with the Greek word for an enclosed theater adopted by the 18th century Odeon Park, was first used in 1888 by Colonel William Austin for his Austin Nickelodeon, a dime museum. But, in 1905 the term became more popular by Harry Davis and John Harris who opened a small storefront theater on June 19, 1905. Within these theaters silent movies were shown and the concept of the five –cent theater showing movies continuously was born. The year is 1909 the theater is called The Selig Theater and the events that take place will bring the silent era back to life in the present. Millions of people went to visit these theaters as Emily Cabot who delivered some identity cards for Detective Whitbread learns first hand that a murder has taken place in one of these theaters and that her brother Alden might be the killer.
Death at Selig studies introduces us to Emily Cabot. Emily Cabot is a lecturer at the university and gets drawn into helping to solve this murder. The setting is Chicago, which is now the hub or center of the U.S. film industry. During a filing at Selig studios, producers of these nickelodeon films reach out to Detective Henry Whitbread of the Chicago PD informing him of a shooting. Emily Cabot is there and since her brother is involved she is allowed to go along with the detective to deal with Alden and try to make sense of what really happened. Alden worked for the Tribune as a reporter so why was he there and why was he found bending over the victim’s body?
Emily has agreed to help find the killer and realizes that she might come up against some obstacles such as Kathlyn Williams the star of many of the movies and the reason why Mr. Hyde, the murder victim might have been killed because as a censor he decides whether scenes in the movies are appropriate for the public to see and he never approves hers and that means they have to be done over and over again until they met his standards which they did not. Emily learns that her brother who is married to Claire might be more than just colleagues with Katherine. Angered by her questions and interference, his new job as someone who creates the scenes and scenario writer for nickelodeons, he becomes defensive when she questions him about his career choice and his desire to relocate to California.
Things spiral out of control as we learn more about the animals in the movie and the dangers they impose. A lion is killed because he becomes to wild and then Leeder, the producer who sees Alden leaning of George Hyde’s body is mauled to death by a leopard. Why was he in the cage? What role did Olga who trained the animal’s play and what about Alden this time? Emily and Detective Whitbread find themselves embroiled in another murder at the studio and Col. Selig along with Fritz sent by the mayor has to sort it out. Leeder would threaten women and did would make indecent gestures threatening to not give them parts in the movies if they did not agree to his advances. But, Kathlyn was different and special and everyone wanted her but the question is even though she was married and getting divorced what about her relationship with Alden?
Tom Mix and Bronco Billy were at odds each one hoping to get their own accolades and Billy leaving Selig for another studio might have reason to go after someone at Selig.
Inventors in the United States like Thomas Edison developed movie cameras since the late 1880’s. Early films could only be seen as peeps shows until the late 1890’s movies could be projected on the screen. Lizzie, Emily’s daughter is caught up with the filming of Oz, but Claire, Alden’s wife learns the harsh truth behind his relationship with Kathlyn and things take an ugly turn as she decides to send him on his way. Woods Hole is where Emily and her family and Claire and hers are to spend the summer but within this framework of murder things might not turn out the way they expected and the murders might lead to something no one expects. Lizzie decided to do something on her own with Penny and the other children causing both sets of parents to have to search for them and each side blaming the other. While Emily and Alden are about to have it out because of the lies he told and the untold truth about where he really was when Leeder was killed.
The members of the movie theater are arrogant and unfeeling and seem only bent on making the films and not really showing any feelings for the two men that were killed. Although Selig wants the murders solved his budget is in question and the actors must get paid so, movie first. But, with Emily and Whitbread focused on interviewing each member of the cast and crew again and the disappearance of the children things seems haywire and the pieces of the puzzle have yet to reveal the face of the killer. Will it be someone on screen and part of the movie?
Babe Greer and Alonzo Swift seemed to be an item yet both had secrets to hide. Kathlyn too had to hide the fact that she had a son and her ex-husband could not learn about her dealings with the movies, and the threatening notes she got or she would lose it all. A simple photo would lock things into place but who shot George Hyde? Who made sure Leeder was in the leopard cage? Why is Alden always covering for Kathlyn? Did she shoot Hyde? She met him at the studio and shot him or did she? Did he blackmail her about Vic and Copper King and knowing that her ex might find out she silenced him? Did she? Was it Colonel Selig who had the most to lose it things went sour and the films could not be completed? Who decided to censor Kathlyn? Was Alonzo next if he did not go along with the plot that someone created? Leeder was a lecher and he suspected something and blackmailed someone and wanted to prove he was a strong guy. Who wanted the blame shifted to Kathlyn and blames her for the murder of Hyde? An event that was to announce the engagement of Swift to Greer so why did Emily get sick and did someone drug her drink?
Alden confessed to killing Leeder because he was blackmailing Kathlyn. If he did not confess who was left? And who killed the censor and why was Alden so devoted to Kathlyn? What about Clara? Was Hyde being blackmailed? Why did Clara give Alden 10 thousand dollars and not ask why he needed it? What role does Edison play and where did Selig go when things started to heat up?
The ending will shock readers as someone was so desperate that they created what this person thought was the perfect murder, the perfect scapegoat and a delusional ending that would change the tables on Kathlyn and her life forever. When Emily and Fitz come face to face with a killer will anyone step in and safe them? An ending that for some will be a different beginning as Clara has to make a decision that will change her family’s life forever.
Deceptions, blackmails, deceit, greed, revenge, hate and just plain selfishness, as author Frances McNamara takes readers inside the movie industry in the 1900’s learning about the first silent movies, the dangers involved using animals and the excitement it created for everyone young and old as the conclusion will allow readers to learn just who committed the DEATH AT THE SELIG STUDIOS! Emily Cabot is a strong character with definite sleuthing abilities and maybe Whitbread needs to reconsider not using her again as she played an important part in solving the murders. A definite must read
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/Mj network/MJ magazine