Remains to Be Sceneby R.T. Jordan
It kind of looks that way when the untimely death of her
Polly Pepper is a living legend, straight from television's golden age, complete with the star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. But these days, it seems her only time in the spotlight is accepting some yes-your-career-is-over Lifetime Achievement Award. Really, would it kill someone to offer her a decent role?
It kind of looks that way when the untimely death of her dear friend, Trixie Wilder, opens up a part in the blockbuster teen musical Detention Rules...but as a grandmother?! Although she's completely insulted, Polly knows she should audition, especially when she reads in Daily Variety about who else is being considered Sedra Stone, her rival who stole Polly's second husband-and her third. When Sedra gets the role, Polly is incensed, but not for long. Because soon Sedra is dead after falling from a diving platform into an empty pool.
Now it's up to Polly to solve Sedra's murder and see to it that someone will be starring in a real-life drama, tentatively titled Life Without Parole.
"What if Carol Burnett had starred in Murder She Wrote? Jordan answers that question with a wink and a giggle in his debut mystery starring Polly Pepper. The dish on real-life Hollywood, past and present, enlivens the start of a promising series."Publishers Weekly
First, aging actress Trixie Wilder is murdered on the set of Detention Rules, a movie about a high school featuring two starlet ingénues. Then Sedra Stone is given the part, eliminating Polly Pepper from contention. When Stone is found dead at the bottom of an empty swimming pool on the set, Polly Pepper, the once-famous star of The Polly Pepper Playhouse, a long-running TV variety show, decides to find out what happened to her nemesis (Sedra not only got acting parts that Polly wanted but also stole two of her husbands). Full of Hollywood types bent on success and willing to do anything to get it, Jordan's zany, name-dropping tale is full of snide comments and vicious sniping at what has become the norm in the movie capital of the world. This is laugh-out-loud funny. Jordan, a senior publicist for Walt Disney Studios, lives in Los Angeles and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Jo Ann Vicarel Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Read an Excerpt
REMAINS TO BE SCENEA Polly Pepper Mystery
By R.T. Jordan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 R. T. Jordan
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I want a job like Marg Helgenberger's," Polly Pepper pouted as she sat reading The National Peeper at the poolside patio breakfast table on the sprawling grounds of her Bel Air mansion. While sipping a Bloody Mary through a crystal straw engraved with her initials, she read and agreed with the lead article. The opinion of the writer-that Marg had a very cool career on "CSI"-made her envious. Polly sniffed. "I can do Marg's job in my sleep! Don't we solve those damn murder cases before anyone, including that sexy Gil Grissom?"
Polly recounted a recent scenario from her favorite television series. "Hell, as soon as the bride-to-be slept with the male stripper from her bachelorette party it was obvious that the jealous fiancé asphyxiated the stud. It didn't take a forensic expert to figure out that all those Ziploc bags filled with the bits and pieces of the corpse could be traced back to said fiancé!" She then turned the page and began reading about a mass grave of family pets exhumed on Reba McEntire's estate.
Wrapped in a pink silk monogrammed robe, with her dyed red hair and most of her famous face shrouded behind a curtain of paisley scarf, Polly looked up from her paper and absently peered over the rims of her designer sunglasses. She blinked with annoyance and then stared at her handsome but disheveled son, Tim. He was seated opposite her, wearing shorts and a nearly diaphanous T-shirt that was threadbare after years of use. Polly supposed it was his adult version of a security blanket.
Tim clutched a coffee mug with both hands holding tightly, as if it might escape. His body was hunched over Doonesbury in the Los Angeles Times.
Without question, Tim was the light in Polly's life. Bright, talented, articulate, popular, and every inch the sum total of a good gene pool and private physical fitness trainers, Tim was pretty much the perfect son. As for a career-that was spotty; however, nobody in Beverly Hills was a better party planner than Tim. He was meticulous, and his theme soirees made Polly equally famous as a revered hostess. But at ten o'clock in the morning it was still too early for him to make coherent conversation. Until his infusion of caffeine, grunts were the extent of his ability to communicate.
Polly's eyes darted from Tim to their maid, Placenta, who, in the starched white uniform that she loathed wearing, was well into her daily chores, scooping out purple bougainvillea petals from the koi pond. To Polly, Placenta was an oddity because she was more interested in the lives of ordinary people than what she called the "superficial set dressing of Hollywood." Placenta occupied her time and mind with what she considered to be more significant cultural events, such as the bits of fingers that litigious patrons of fast food restaurants slipped into their soups and chilies. She was bored by Polly's discussions of the mercurial whims of ancient celebrities, most of whom were presumed by the general public to be dead anyway.
This morning, neither Polly's only offspring nor her servant seemed to pay any attention to what she had to say. It occurred to Polly that practically anyone else of a certain age on the planet, if provided the opportunity of being seated at Polly Pepper's breakfast table, would have hung on her every word, gesture, and puff of cigarette smoke.
Polly cleared her throat, raised her voice half an octave, and continued her rant. "It says that the 'CSI' writers and producers have tons of technical help to keep the audience constantly guessing. Heck, we usually know in the first two or three scenes! We should have our own show. 'CSI: Hollywood.'"
Without looking up from the comic strip panels, Tim yawned, and in a groggy voice he forced out a sentence almost in monotone. "A whole series about stars who have gone missing from the tube since before the turn of the millennium-like you," he said, then took another gulp of coffee.
Tim's sarcasm buffeted Polly like an unexpected bad review. "I'm iconic!" Polly huffed. Her memory flashed on the tough but fulfilling life she'd once known as an international television superstar. For a time, she was the biggest. The highest paid. The most honored. The most beloved. An entire room in Pepper Plantation, her famous home, overflowed with Emmys, People's Choice, and nearly every other showbiz award-a testimony to her stature in Hollywood. Like Bette or Cher or Barbra, Polly's first name alone was all the identification anyone needed in order to know about whom one was speaking. Only a Maori Aborigine or a Gen-Xer might be excused from knowing that Polly Pepper was a goddess from the golden age of television's musical/comedy variety hours.
With a singing voice just slightly less raspy than Rod Stewart's, and dancing aptitude limited to a soft shoe, Polly had hit the talent jackpot with brilliant comic timing that turned ordinarily lame chicken jokes into labor-inducing convulsions. She parlayed her minimal talent into stardom and her own wedge of cement on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. With her trademark feet-on-the-ground personality, viewers, if asked, would describe Polly as "a real live person."
Two decades had passed, however, since her hit variety series, "The Polly Pepper Playhouse," disappeared from the airwaves. Another decade has flown by since the network pulled the plug on her attempted comeback in the critically skewered sitcom aptly titled, "PP!" And more recently her big-budget Broadway-bound musical bio of Typhoid Mary was pronounced D.O.A. in N.Y.C. (although a dance remix of the show's best song, "Bacteria," became a hit at clubs). Her career now was reduced to playing Mame or Dolly each summer in what she euphemistically refers to as her "Mortgage Tours." After three decades in show business, Polly Pepper's luster was fading faster than Scott Peterson's virginity in San Quentin.
Tim, usually sensitive to his mother's vulnerability, and now realizing that his attempt at levity so early in the day had been unkind, mumbled to his mother, "Honey, you'll always be a star, and I know that you'll get another series. The Young Turks who run this town just haven't caught on to how much the general public loves you, and wants you back in their living rooms," he said.
"You think I still have some market value?" Polly asked.
"Like Vicoden," Tim insisted.
Still, Tim's smart-aleck remark had magnified what Polly had been feeling for too long-that she was a relic, like something once treasured but now stashed away in an attic and forgotten. For the past several years she and her analyst had tried to justify her diminished position in the hierarchy of Hollywood by deciding that a "has been" was better than a "never was," and that after her many years of hard work and self-sacrifice, she was entitled to an extended hiatus. But her ego was too big to accept anonymity for more than the tick of the second hand on her Cartier wristwatch.
The truth was that she missed those exhausting years when she was forced to be out of bed by 5:00 A.M. The chauffeured car would take her to the television studio, and by seven she was meeting with her producer and writers and reading the script of the comedy sketch routines for the week's show. By ten, she would be in the rehearsal hall with her choreographer learning a dance number with Robert Goulet, Betty White, or Benji. The afternoons were reserved for meetings with the network suits, lunch with a TV Guide reporter, or working with her personal assistant to respond to the thousands of letters that arrived in bulk each week.
Those letters were indispensable to Polly. Most important, they confirmed the public's adoration of her, and they were used as a barometer of what her fans liked and disliked about each week's guests, sketches, and the selection of musical material. Second, the mail was used as a prop on the program. In a novel and always hysterically funny way to open each week's hour of comedy and music, Polly would call for the house lights to be turned up-the better to emphasize her accessibility. She would then sit in a wingback chair that was placed at the foot of the stage, beside a coffee table on which sat a large fish bowl filled with mail. She then invited a volunteer member of the studio audience to hold the fishbowl while Polly closed her eyes, turned her head, and reached inside. She removed what was presumed to be an arbitrarily selected envelope.
Polly would slip a pair of reading glasses on, open the envelope, clear her throat, and read aloud the message. The questions were always intentionally provocative inquiries about Polly's personal life or peculiar problems that required her sage but amusing advice.
Of course, this was a scripted and well-rehearsed gimmick. Polly and her staff of writers selected and embellished the lamest missives. It was clear to Polly from the content of the semi-literate mail that she was a darling among gunhording trailer-dwellers, rather than the class of sophisticated PBS-supporting left-wing liberals to which she aspired.
The staff writers on "The Polly Pepper Playhouse" composed Polly's supposedly extemporaneous sidesplitting responses. A typical recitation at the top of the show's one-hour broadcast would find Polly in a serious ladylike demeanor, opening an envelope and reading, "'Dear Polly, do you sleep in the nude?'" Polly grimaced in a way that made audiences roar with laughter and anticipation of her response. She blushed on cue and feigned embarrassment. Then, with a wink of an eye, looking straight into the camera she asked in a sultry voice, "Am I alone?" The audience nearly busted a collective hernia with Polly's seemingly spontaneous and naughty wit. The phrase, "Am I alone?" quickly made it into the vernacular of pop culture.
Or, "'Dear Polly. You're such a common and down-to-earth star with lots of ex-husbands (that same wide-eyed look of unease crossing her face) and lots of Emmy Awards, too. What's the difference between your ex-husbands and your Emmy Awards?'" Without missing a beat Polly replied, "The difference, my darling, sweet, invading-my-privacy fan, is that if my ex-husbands were all in a car that drove off a cliff, I'd feel terrible if my Emmys were in the trunk!
"Thank you, everybody," she would declare and quickly stand up as if putting an end to the public humiliation. "Tonight we have a fabulous show for you. Don Adams is here! (Applause.) The Captain and Tenille are here! (Applause.) Jack Klugman is dropping by! (Applause.) Our regulars, Arnie Levin, Tommy Milkwood, the lovely and talented Laura Crawford! (Applause.) And of course the Polly Pepper Prancers! We'll be right back after these messages from our sponsors and station identification. Don't you dare go away!"
But the audiences did go away-eventually. Now, Polly's glory days of hard work, discipline, and #1 Nielsen ratings had morphed into a star's worst fear-looks of vague recognition and whispers between strangers who ask, "Didn't she used to be ...?"
Slowly slipping back to reality, Polly exhaled loudly as she refocused on her present life and turned the page of The Peeper. Her eyes focused on a picture of Lindsay Lohan, which set her off on another rant. "Good God," Polly winced. "Look at those bazongas! Who did that tramp have to kill to get into all those Disney movies? Remind me to call her up and ask to recommend a hit man. Although it's probably her mother."
Polly noisily sucked up the last of her Bloody Mary, then impatiently wiggled the glass high above her head. "Oh, Placenta, darling," she cooed.
Placenta dumped soggy bougainvillea petals into a trashcan and wiped her hands on her apron. She marched up to the table and snatched the glass out of Polly's grasp. "Don't exhaust yourself," she sniped. "And if you're thinking of killing off young movie stars for a role, skip Lindsay or that Duff girl. Try being age appropriate for once. Think Faye Dunaway."
"Does anybody even remember her?" Polly scowled.
"Whatever. But you're never getting a Nicole Kidman hand-me-down, honey, no matter how hard you cry, or how young you think prosthetic makeup can fool the gullible public into believing you are."
Tim, finally emerging from his semi-catatonic state, looked up from the newspaper and said, "There's only one actor on the planet who Polly Pepper wouldn't mind being poured into an urn and sealed away forever in a vault at Forest Lawn."
"Polly Pepper would never wish ill upon a fellow thespian," the star said. "It says so on my official Web site. Or in that otherwise horrid unauthorized biography."
Setting down his coffee mug, Tim prodded, "I suppose the initials Sedra Stone no longer mean anything to you?"
Polly sat perfectly still-as one who isn't sure whether to laugh or cry is wont to do.
Placenta, dumping a can of V-8 into a tumbler and measuring in a couple of fingers of vodka, some Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, and a celery stalk, looked at Tim as if he were crazy to bring up the taboo subject of Sedra Stone. She braced herself with a surreptitious slug from Polly's Bloody Mary before moving to the table and tentatively placing the glass before her mistress.
Polly gave Tim a cold stare, then dipped her straw into the drink and took a long pull that drained half the glass. She smacked her lips in satisfaction, and said, "Tim darling. Just because Sedra Stone stole your semi-daddy ..."
"And your second pathetic excuse for a husband, too," Placenta added before quickly walking from the patio through the open French doors leading to the kitchen.
"... doesn't mean I hold the slightest grudge against her," Polly continued. "We all do what we have to do to succeed and survive in this crummy town. I certainly wouldn't trade all the combined Oscars on Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep's mantles for Sedra's mucky Karma."
Sedra Stone was Polly Pepper's biggest rival in Hollywood. Also a legend from 1980s television, she was the antithesis of Polly Pepper. Her long-running primetime soap opera "Monarchy" gave Sedra fame, fortune, and an identity that, all these years later, was still synonymous with a steely disposition, mastery at manipulation, and an acid tongue that could sizzle through an umbilical cord. On screen she usually played an emasculating CEO who would lie, cheat, embezzle, murder, and have sex with half a dozen board members from competing corporations before lunch. She would then move on to seducing hard-bodied and equally unscrupulous male office assistants who were younger by more than half her years before the Swiss weenies were served at cocktail hour.
She was equally malevolent offscreen. At the height of her fame, even naïve young school kids who didn't get the joke would giggle and repeat, "What's the difference between Sedra Stone and the Titanic? More men went down on Sedra Stone. Tee-hee."
Polly wagged a finger. "No, Tim darling," she said. "When it comes to failed and scandalous Hollywood marriages, I've learned a lot from dear Debbie and Liz. Anyway, Sedra's rat droppings in this town. She can't get arrested."
"Except for that time she took a swing at that hunky Beverly Hills traffic cop when he forced her to take a Breathalyzer," Tim chuckled.
"Mark my words, dear heart," Polly continued, "directors would surely come to me before they would ever think to hire Sedra. On the other hand ...," Polly thought for a moment. "This town could actually do without that Trixie Wilder and her ilk."
"One less character actor might make way for a star to get her face back on screen," Tim agreed.
"At this stage, I wouldn't mind having Trixie's career," Polly said.
"At least she's got one," Tim said.
"You can have it," Placenta said, overhearing the banter as she hurried from the house into the bright warm morning.
Tim interrupted. "Trixie Wilder? She's not even a star," he said. "Oh, she was fun on that Bob Newhart thing years ago, but that's so far in the past it doesn't even appear on 'Nick at Nite.' She does character bits. People recognize her from commercials and cameos, but they don't even know her name."
"Trixie takes anything that comes along, so she'll never stop working," Polly lamented.
"One day she'll be dead and she'll still play the role of the corpse that the coroner pulls out of a morgue refrigerator, when someone comes to identify what's left of a serial killer's victim," Tim laughed.
Excerpted from REMAINS TO BE SCENE by R.T. Jordan Copyright © 2007 by R. T. Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
R.T. JORDAN works as a senior publicist for Walt Disney Studios and divides his time between homes in Los Angeles and Edinburgh. He's currently working on the next Polly Pepper mystery.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Polly Pepper is a Hollywood legend, a superstar at the level of Elizabeth Taylor and Lucille Ball. She had her own Television Show in the way of the Carol Burnett show and won many Emmys and Oscars. Now that she is older, the jobs have dried up. She lives in a luxurious famous Hollywood estate Pepper Plantation with her maid Placenta who is just like family and her son Tim, an events planner so she is never lonely.------------------ On the set of the flick Detention Rules, character actress Trixie Wilder is murdered even though the police think it was an accident. Polly¿s agent calls her to see if she wants Trixie¿s role but when she arrives at his office she learns that her arch-enemy Sedra Stone, who stole two husbands from her, got the part Polly is furious. When Sandra is murdered Polly takes on the role and decides to conduct a little sleuthing only to learn everyone hated the victim from the security guard she dissed to the actress she picked on to the director who hared her for making his job a living hell.------------- R.T. Jordan has written a very funny amateur sleuth tale with characters that are witty and nice that readers can¿t help but like them. Even though the heroine was a major star, she never let success go to her head as she still knows how relax and have fun. Getting the part validates her image that she can still perform while readers empathize with former superstars who are discarded as they age.----------------- Harriet Klausner
Polly Pepper was a star back in the Golden Age, but she hasn't had a film role in ages and is really POed when her old rival gets the part in a new film after the character actress dies of a heart attack. Was it really a heart attack? Then comes a twist when old rival is found dead at the bottom of the high school pool with no water. Who killed her? Should Polly risk taking on the role since there have been two deaths? Polly with her faithful servant, Placenta, and her gay son, Tim, set out to solve the mystery and get Polly back in the limelight. I didn't like it. At least 1/3 of the pages were filled with name dropping, and film history per se. There really wasn't much character development and the mystery was very easy to solve. Not a series I will continue anytime soon.
VERY FUNNY AND INTERISTING!
The first in what I hope is a very long series. The characters are GREAT!!. The story line is fantastic! Who is the culprit? -You are kept guessing till the end - A must read for all.
Remains to be Scene is a very funny, stylish who-done-it well reflective of the current Hollywood milieu. Who bumped off Trixie Wilder and Sedra, two aging character actresses on a contentious movie set? The usual and not so usual suspects include: two ambitious starlets, a star-struck security guard, a scheming director, a good looking male starlet, a hovering stage mother, and throw in a Johnny-come-lately screenwriter. R.T. Jordan conjures a spicy stew of plot twists and labyrinthe turns that will whet your mystery appetite. Our Lady-in-Charge is Polly Pepper, a beloved musical/variety star from the golden era of television. Along with her loyal family including son Tim (mastermind of great Hollywood soirees) and Placenta (Domestic Diva extraordinaire in the Hazel and Thelma Ritter tradition), they put their minds together in solving this mystery. Mr. Jordan has a scintillating mix of charming and not so charming characters. And it's great fun to follow the zany plot turns. This all contributes to great escape, but with engaging and thoughtful overtones.