Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Was Harriet the Spy inspired by Harriet from The Hours Before Dawn?

            I spent a lot of time on Tuesday working on my essay. I’ve whittled it down to ten pages of text and organized it a bit more, though I still don’t have a solid thesis with one week till the deadline.
            I watched The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Gena Rowlands plays a mother named Louise with two school age daughters and one baby boy. The daughters love to play spy and the youngest one’s name is Harriet, one year before Harriet the Spy was published. Louise’s husband is away and, interestingly, there are no males older than seven months in this story. A dark haired woman named Vera arrives at the door saying she’s there about the room. Louise and her husband had been considering renting a room but she hadn’t put up a notice yet, so she just assumed that her husband did. Her baby, named Lonnie is in a high chair in the kitchen and Vera is taken with him immediately. She rents the room and moves in that evening while Louise is having coffee with her friend Grace. As Grace and her daughter are leaving, Grace asks Louise to come to a fashion tea the next day but she says she can’t find a baby sitter for Lonnie. Vera offers to look after him, and following some hesitation, Grace agrees. Vera says she is going upstairs to bed but before going to her room she enters the nursery and begins talking to Lonnie. She calls him “Michael” and tells him everything’s going to be alright because she is never going to leave him.  The next day after Louise leaves for the tea, Vera takes Lonnie to an apartment she rents in another part of town. Her landlady greets her at the door and sees the baby but she thinks it is Vera’s because up until this point Vera’s been carrying a large, blanket covered doll around, which the landlady has thought was a sleeping baby. When Louise comes home and calls out, “Where is everybody?” there is no answer. She begins to look worried. She runs upstairs to the nursery and Vera and Lonnie are there. More incidents follow and Louise is starting to be creeped out by Vera. Her daughters, who think that Vera is a spy, have been playing spy themselves (one year ahead of the book Harriet the Spy) and say, “We found a book in the spy lady’s drawer that had daddy’s name in it!” After scolding them for snooping Louise went to look at the book. The page indeed had her husband’s name along with the names and addresses of two others. She took the page and went to the other addresses. The two mothers she met each had seven-month-old boys as well that had been born at the same hospital as Lonnie. Each confirmed that Vera had come to see them. The first was under the pretence of representing a baby-modelling agency but Vera was not interested in the blonde boy and the second was a response to an ad for a secretary but Vera lost interest in the job when she saw that the couple was Black. Louise then went to the hospital where Lonnie was born to find out if any other women had given birth around the same time. The nun told her that there had only been one other, and that was a woman named Williams, whose baby had died at birth. The next time Louise sees Vera she comes in while Louise is having coffee. Louise tells her that her husband is coming back the next day and she’s about to gently tell her that she would like her to move out when Vera announces that she’s found a place and will be moving out tomorrow. Louise is relieved but she holds back expressing it. Vera asks if she could have a cup of coffee. While Louise is in the kitchen, Vera slips some sleeping pills into Louise’s coffee. A few minutes later when the drug has started to take effect, Louise is struggling to stay conscious as she thinks she sees the blurred image of Vera in front of her and holding Lonnie. Vera tells her that she’s taking Michael away because he’s really her baby due to the fact that their babies were deliberately switched at the hospital and she ended up with Louise’s dead one. The last thing that Louise sees before the dope overwhelms and she loses consciousness is Vera walking out the door with her baby.
            Several hours later Louise’s daughters are desperately trying to wake their mother so they can have breakfast and go to school. Louise wakes up, finds that Lonnie is gone and then calls the police. That afternoon, one of her daughter’s walks in wearing a grown up coat, “Look mommy!” she cried, “It’s the spy lady’s coat and I found a secret message inside!” The secret message was a rent receipt for another address in the name of Williams. Louise called to notify the police but the lieutenant on the case wasn’t in. She left the address and said she was going on ahead. When she gets there she barges in demanding to see Lonnie, Vera blocks the door and tells her, “Michael is asleep and Michael is not your baby.” Louise says, “That baby is not yours! Your Michael is dead!” Vera responds, “Your Lonnie is dead!” “Hospitals don’t make mistakes!” “They meant to do it!” “I was conscious every minute while Lonnie was delivered!” “I want you to go away and stop annoying us!” The door buzzer goes off. The female police officer is extremely polite and smiling. Vera invites her in. The officer, still smiling, tells Louise that she’s been asked to come upstairs and straighten everything out. She asks how old the baby is and Vera tells her. The officer says, “I’d love to have a look at him. Where is he?” She says she doesn’t want him to be disturbed. “I just want you to tell her that he is my baby!” The officer says, “I thought you’d like to set the record straight.” “The records were changed.” “But you don’t want to leave them that way do you?” “No!” “Well we really ought to go to the hospital and confirm the fingerprints and footprints that were taken at birth. We could go together. You and Michael and I.” “I’ll go and get Michael ready.” She goes to the nursery and Michael begins crying. Louise tries to rush in but the officer gently stops her. Vera picks up Lonnie and tries to comfort him but he keeps on crying and she begins to get upset and shake him. This was a real crying baby in distress being shaken while he was in distress. I guess in 1963 that was considered hunky dory for a television show set. The officer takes the baby from her and hands her to Louise. Vera sits in the living room complaining that it’s because Michael spent too much time with Louise and so he doesn’t know her. Louise comes out of the bedroom holding Vera’s large baby doll in a blanket and says, “He’s quiet now.” She hands it to Vera and she carries it lovingly as she is taken away.
            This teleplay was based on the novel “The Hours Before Dawn” by Celia Fremlin, which was published in 1958. I suspect that the spy-obsessed daughter named Harriet Henderson in that book was the inspiration for Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.
            As I was getting ready for bed the wifi signal had been off for more than 12 hours. I checked and saw that the donut shop downstairs was on my network list even though I’d set it to automatically connect. I tried to reconnect but the password seemed to be no longer the same. I tried a few combinations and then gave up and connected to the café across the street instead, whose signal is fine for overnight. I would go downstairs to find out the password the next day.

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