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
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
Well, you'll just have to read