Sept/Oct 2005



Once upon a time, long ago yet not so far away, a story was told to me. I remember the teller well — quite well indeed, as you will soon see. I remember the exact location, too — I can still see the sunlight poking incongruously through the curtains as this strange tale of a mystery from an impossibly distant past unfolded...

It would have been forty years ago now, when I first heard the story. It concerned a woman, young and alone, who had made her way back to the old family estate, an estate that, though presumably at least somewhat welcoming in days gone by, was now the very model of the Old Dark House. She entered, and looked around her. The furniture was all covered in sheets, and it was apparent that no one had lived there for quite some time. (I remember at the time being particularly impressed at the vision of the sheets on all the furniture. It was decidedly chilling and, hence, delightful to my ghoulish young mind!)

The woman went into the dining room, wherein stood a long table, surrounded by thirteen chairs. And she remembered... She remembered being at the table when her grandfather sat at the head. She remembered asking him why, when there were never more than twelve family members present, there was always a vacant thirteenth chair at the table.

If all this is beginning to sound like a bad movie, that is only because that's exactly what it was!

The Thirteenth Guest was originally a novel written in 1929 by young Maurice Coons, who decided to change his name to "Armitage Trail" for this and one subsequent novel — a little thing called Scarface...

One wonders what else he might have given us... We'll never know, since within two years he was dead of a heart attack at age 28.

At any rate, the novel was made into the film The Thirteenth Guest in 1932, featuring a young Ginger Rogers, but we are more interested in a later version... for the film was remade in 1943 on a shoestring budget as The Mystery of the Thirteenth Guest, and directed by Bill "one shot" Beaudine.

The reason we are mostly interested in this remake is that the person who played the woman as a young girl in the '43 version is the very one who told me the story of it, some forty years ago!

It was her one and only appearance on the silver screen.

And I remember it all so well, as she went on to open a book store some twenty years after telling me the tale. Yep, Sheryl Anderson, founder of Book Again and mother to myself, played the leading lady as a young girl in that 1943 mystery!

Oh ­ you want to know exactly why there was a thirteenth chair? So did I, back then — and Mom couldn't tell me. I spent decades wondering about it — and now...

Well, you'll just have to read the book!