Monday, October 31, 2011

Topper Tops Granny

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.
I might have enjoyed the book more had I never encountered the Hollywood-ized Topper. Thorne Smith’s novel was funny and poignant and his wit razor sharp – generally things I enjoy a great deal. But I wasn’t ready to have the reality of the book rip off the rose-colored glasses of one of my favorite childhood memories.
That said, Topper, the novel, is a great read, and the Topper TV show and movies are hilarious to watch, but like caviar and a jelly donut, they should be savored separately.

My Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series is a cross between Cold Case and Ghost Whisperer, with a healthy dose of Topper - the TV version.  The third book in the series, Gem of a Ghost, will be out by the end of January 2012.

Granny Apples may not be my favorite ghost, but you didn't think she'd let me off easy by not plugging her latest adventure, did you?

10 comments:

Dru said...

Great post and I love the Topper movies and TV shows.

Susan Russo Anderson said...

Thanks so much for your Topper post. A real walk down memory lane.

NoraA said...

As a true child of the 50's I loved Topper. The ghosts who led him around and his gentle air of cluelessness made it fun to watch. It didn't hurt that Topper's wife is also Glinda the Good Witch of the North.

Anonymous said...

The Ghost from The ghost and Mrs. Muir Rex Harrison was sexiest ghost ever.

Lady Ursula said...

I had not heard of "Topper" the TV show. I'll have to check it out!

TracyK said...

I loved Topper! But, I must admit, I loved the Cary Grant version - but then again, I love just about ANY Cary Grant version of anything.

gregkshipman said...

I, too, am a major fan of the movie, 'Topper'. For a kid like me, Cary Grant and Constance Bennet were the coolest couple behind Nick and Nora Charles (no couple could beat their ultimate cool). I never saw the tv show but the movie wwas all of that plus a peanut butter sandwhich. Thanks for the 'ghost-host' Sue Ann, memory lane is a nice place to stroll

Thomas Pluck said...

Loved the movie, I'll have to read the book...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by to say "Boo!" It's nice to know so many of us remember Topper.

Kelli Stanley said...

What a wonderful post, Sue Ann!! I loved the Topper movies, but haven't seen the TV show or read the book--thanks so much for telling us about them!

And congratulations on another wonderful Granny Apples!!