Times Square about 1940, in a postcard listed on EBay at $12.50.
In case you just tuned in, I’m using Louella Parsons’ May 15, 1944, item on Rouben Mamoulian being replaced as the director of “Laura” to take a meandering look at the making of the film, which was released in Los Angeles in November 1944. Previous posts have examined the writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary and the state of the detective story in 1941, when she was writing the novel.
Before getting into the locations used in the book, I thought it would be useful to touch on the general atmosphere of the novel.
“Heat Spell” by Weegee, May 1941, via Historical Times.
In her autobiography, Caspary says that she finished the manuscript for “Laura” on Christmas morning 1941. Weeks earlier, the U.S. had been plunged into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor, but there are only scattered references to contemporary events in the book.
On the opening page, Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the movie) says:
“Mark McPherson!” I exclaimed, and then, assuming the air of one who might meet Mussolini without trepidation, I bade Roberto ask Mr. McPherson to wait. Mahomet had not rushed out to meet the mountain.
A few pages later, Waldo says:
While a not inconsiderable share of my work has been devoted to the study of murder, I have never stooped to the narration of a mystery story. At the risk of seeming somewhat less than modest, I shall quote from my own works. The sentence, so often reprinted, that opens my essay “Of Sound and Fury,” Is pertinent here:
When, during the 1936 campaign, I learned that the president was a devotee of mystery stories, I voted a straight Republican ticket.
Far into the book, on Page 209, Waldo says that a trial of Laura in the killing of Diane Redfern would be sensational news: “War would be relegated to Page 2.”
The time of year, however, is closely delineated: A hot summer in New York. In reading the opening of the book, one is reminded of Weegee’s photo of children sleeping on a fire escape because of the heat, taken in May 1941.
As with the movie, Waldo narrates the opening:
“The city that Sunday morning was quiet. Those millions of New Yorkers who, by need or preference, remain in town over a summer weekend had been crushed spiritless by humidity. Over the island hung a fog that smelled and felt like water in which too many soda water glasses have been washed. Sitting at my desk, pen in hand, I treasured the sense that, among those millions, only I, Waldo Lydecker, was up and doing.”
To get a feel for the city as it was then, here are color slides of New York in 1941 taken by amateur photographer Charles W. Cushman.
To be continued.