by Sue Ann Jaffarian
I’m sure most folks will be surprised to learn that my favorite ghost is not Granny Apples, the ghost who haunts my Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries. Nor is it the dashing Captain Daniel Craig who stole Mrs. Muir’s heart. Or Sir Simon of Canterville fame.
My favorite ghosts (yes, plural) are George and Marian Kerby, the partying, high society couple of Topper fame.
When I was a kid, I watched black and white reruns of the 1950s TV sit com Topper, along with airings of the several movies involving the same characters. I loved them all. The Kirbys were fun, attractive and witty. In the TV show, they died in a skiing accident, along with Neil, their St. Bernard, who died trying to save them. Neil is also a ghost and has a penchant for slurping martinis.
When I set out to write a mystery series involving ghosts, I wanted to draw inspiration from the Kirbys. To do so, I purchased CDs of the old TV shows and movies. I also went to the source – the novel Topper written by Thorne Smith, which I had never read until then.
As with many novels turned into TV shows and movies, the original Topper had been rewritten in many ways. In the book, the Kirbys died when their sports car slammed into a tree. There is no dog. While all versions are humorous and feature ghosts that turn the mundane life of a stuffy banker upside down, the humor in the book is biting and more sophisticated, sometimes bordering on mean-spirited. In the TV/film versions, Cosmo Topper is a straight-laced banker happily married to a ditsy but charming society matron. In the book, Topper seems unhappy in his marriage and the Toppers appear to be stuck in a dull, unloving, and frightfully proper relationship that would make me want to hang myself. The novel-based Kirbys are more fun than the Toppers, but bicker much more than their TV counterparts, with George Kirby being over-the-top jealous and slinging accusations at his ghost wife, who comes off as a self-centered, manipulating seductress.
While the TV show and movies were pure entertainment, the book explores a lot of issues of 1920’s society that are still applicable today, such as mind-numbing conformity and hypocrisy, and the desire to break free of prison-like expectations.