How a Mystery Writer in Connecticut Got Involved in the Tommy Rall Case in Texas

December 31, 2019 at 12:15 pm (Uncategorized)

2007:

A decade ago, my daughter and I were watching the film SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and she remarked that the man who played brother Frank was the best dancer of them all.  “Who is that?” she asked, and because I’d been raised in the ’50s and knew all the stars from then, especially those in musicals, I answered immediately, “Tommy Rall.”  So we watched KISS ME KATE, MY SISTER EILEEN and every other Tommy Rall film I could name.  When we ran out, I went to IMDb, then in its infancy, to look up his other movies.  There was almost nothing there.  Off I went to the library at the university where I work to find out more about him; when I’d gathered all the info I could, I posted a mini-biography and updated credits on Tommy Rall’s page on the IMDb.

Over the years, I have gotten the occasional e-mail from someone who has read the mini-biography, asking me about which films are best or how to contact him (I don’t know).  But in October 2006, I got an e-mail from a woman living outside of Houston who said her daughter was taking dancing lessons from a man who claimed he had danced in ’50s movies under the name of Tommy Rall; she was growing suspicious of his claims.  Could I tell her if TR lived in Houston?  I replied I was pretty sure he lived outside of Los Angeles and was no longer dancing, but I wasn’t 100% positive the man in Houston was an impostor.  She wouldn’t give the name he was now using (she didn’t want to get him in trouble, she said) but she did send me his photo and his so-called credits.  The credits were wrong: sure, he mentioned SEVEN BRIDES and KISS ME KATE, but also HELLO DOLLY and WEST SIDE STORY (nope to both).  I was sure the man was a fraud but I couldn’t prove it – and I was furious that this man was taking credit for Tommy Rall’s work.

Now why, my friends have asked, would anyone try to impersonate Tommy Rall?  Well, he couldn’t very well say he was Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, could he?  But Tommy Rall was the second lead in many movies and has great dancing credits (including American Ballet Theatre) and who really knows what he looks like now?  I tried several ways to get in touch with the real TR, but he obviously doesn’t want a lot of attention from fans.     After several unsuccessful searches, I found a relative of TR’s who offered to relay my information to him (by this time, it was late December).  In January 2007, I got a letter from the real TR (!!!), indeed living outside of LA, who said he would like to get the Screen Actors Guild after this man, if I could find out his name.  (He also sent a glossy 8X10 photo signed “the real Tommy Rall” – it’s on my wall now.)

The original woman in Texas still refused to give me the name.  But coincidentally, a teenager from Texas posted on the TR bulletin board at IMDb [bulletin boards no longer exist on IMDb] a message reporting that TR had just come to her high school to talk about his life in movies.  I posted that he was an impostor and could she please give me the man’s name?  No answer.  A day or two later, a dance teacher from outside Houston posted the man’s name (Ric Brame) and the name of his dance studio – she had been suspicious of him for years, she said.

I relayed the name and the name of the studio to TR.  A week later, I got a phone call from a reporter from the Houston Chronicle wanting to know how a woman in CT got involved in this case.  It seems that TR had notified not just SAG but the sheriff’s office and the Chronicle.

Mr. Rall declined to take Brame to court.  But Brame wrote a letter of apology – in which he admitted to posing as Tommy Rall for THIRTY years, both in Florida and Texas – which was sent to TR and to all the dance studios at which he had taught.  The reporter says Brame’s wife has left him (he had lied about his identity to her too!).  Since there’s no criminal case, the Chronicle has also decided not to print the story.*

I guess it’s over and I do have that nice photo on my wall.  But I keep thinking about the thirty years worth of students who were deceived.  (There are several on the internet who have mentioned in various places that they studied with “Ric Brame aka Tommy Rall.”)  Don’t they deseve to know?

Some day I might use it in a book.

*They finally printed the story when Brame was arrested for sexual abuse.

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Upsetting Modern Developments

January 9, 2010 at 2:06 am (Detectives, Mysteries) (, , )

Think of your favorite detective in a mystery (or mystery series) set in an earlier time period. Which modern device or custom would most upset him or her?

Would Nero Wolfe be appalled by a microwaved panini? Would Lord Peter, who collected rare books, be aghast at a Kindle? Would Sherlock Holmes forbid Watson from tweeting while the game was afoot? And if Alan Grant fled to Scotland to for a much-needed rest, would he be disturbed by the ring of his cellphone? What about Kinsey Milhone, still living in 1982 – would she use Google maps or be disdainful of them?

How would YOUR favorite detective react to life in 2010?

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Mysteries for Reading on Planes

June 23, 2009 at 6:22 pm (Mysteries)

51fX-8JcVlL._SL160_AA115_Recently packing for a trip to Alaska, I had to decide which books to take for reading on the plane. I don’t like to fly – not quite a white-knuckler, but still not a happy flyer. I wanted something funny and distracting, so I chose Jeffrey Cohen’s A Night at the Operation. It was a good choice!

So which book(s) would you take on a long plane ride and why?

See below for a photo of me with Terry Miller, managing editor of the Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News and a fellow Dorothyler.Ketchikan0003

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Collaborative Misfires

April 4, 2009 at 5:45 pm (Detectives, Mysteries) (, )

hillbs1There are some teams that should never be: pairs of people who are destined to drive each other crazy. Which two detectives should never work together and why? Nero Wolfe and Kinsey Milhone? (He doesn’t think much of women and she would hate his blustery ways as well as his misogyny.) Lord Peter Wimsey and John Rebus? Sam Spade and Miss Marple? Does it have to be a hard-boiled detective teamed with a traditional/cozy one, or are there other disastrous pairings that you can think of?

I think I’d nominate Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler and Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel as an awful mismatch. Though neither is really hard-boiled, I’m sure Kate would abhor Andy’s coarse mannerisms, and he would find her way of talking (in semi-colons) incredibly off-putting – much worse than Ellie Pascoe – and her associates much too ‘poncey.’ crossanalysis1

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Which Detective Do You Pick to Prove Your Innocence?

February 10, 2009 at 1:25 am (Detectives, Mysteries) (, )

lord-peterSupposing you were unjustly arrested for a crime. Which detective would you hire to prove your innocence? Would you pick a professional PI like Spenser or Nero Wolfe or Kinsey Milhone? A gifted amateur like Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? Would your answer be different for different crimes?

For myself, I think I’d choose Lord Peter. No matter what the crime, he would get me off. And it would be such fun to hear him talk “piffle”!

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Detectives in Love

December 17, 2008 at 2:43 am (Detectives, Mysteries) (, )

strong-poison1Golden Age mysteries were not supposed to include much romance. Yet many detectives of that period did fall in love and even marry. Lord Peter courted Harriet Vane through three books, beginning with Strong Poison, and finally married her in the fourth. Albert Campion had that silly infatuation with Linda Sutane in Dancers in Mourning, but he finally came to his senses and married Amanda Fitton.

But my favorite and the one who, I believe, started it all, is Philip Trent in Trent’s Last Case. Written in 1913, TLC is thought by some critics and mystery fans to be the first real Golden Age mystery ( a few years before the “Golden Age” began). I love the book, and I love the havoc that Trent’s passion wreaks on his solution of the case. [The “nom” that I use on the DorothyL e-list is Mabel Manderson, who just happens to be Trent’s beloved.]

So who is your favorite detective in love? It doesn’t have to be a Golden Age detective – and it certainly doesn’t have to be a male sleuth. Just tell us who he/she is and why he/she is your favorite detective in love. trent3

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Writing a Detective’s Biography

October 23, 2008 at 1:26 pm (Detectives, Mysteries) (, )

If you were commissioned to write a biography of your favorite detective, who would be the people you would most like to interview?

If your detective has a Watson-like narrator, consider interviewing someone else. Wouldn’t Mycroft Holmes be able to tell you things that John Watson never knew about Sherlock? Assuming Archie Goodwin has told us everything he knows about Nero Wolfe, would an interview with Saul Panzer or Inspector Cramer be more informative?

Some fictional detectives may be a real challenge. Could you find some of the men in Spenser’s division in Vietnam? Does anyone know anything about Spenser’s boyhood, other than what he may have told Susan about it? Could you learn about Kinsey Milhone’s childhood from her estranged cousins? What about that policeman who worked with her father?

I’d like to do a biography of Lord Peter Wimsey. I’d interview Lady Mary about Peter’s boyhood and Bunter about his war experiences; then I’d try to find some of his Balliol classmates to learn about his university years. I think I’d also like to find Barbara, the woman who jilted him.

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Invite a Detective to Dinner

September 16, 2008 at 3:20 am (Detectives, Mysteries) (, )

If you could invite two detectives to your home for an evening of good food and interesting conversation, who would they be?

You could choose a couple like Nick and Nora Charles, in which case you’d better have a lot of liquor on hand. Or if you’re in matchmaker mode, how about having two unattached detectives? Would Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone get along with Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin? (And while I’m thinking about Archie, let’s assume that you don’t have to cook; we’ll have Fritz Brenner cater the event.) Or it could be just two men or two women whom you would find entertaining. Imagine sitting and listening to Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion converse! (Could you get a word in edgewise?)

For myself, I’d like to have Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant to dinner – he’s so charming, witty, and kind-hearted – and EC Bentley’s Philip Trent, who was the first “human” detective. I think I’d feel comfortable chatting with both of them. And I bet they’d really like each other.

Whom would you invite and why?

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Best mystery movies

August 16, 2008 at 8:50 pm (Mysteries) (, )

Do you have a favorite mystery movie? There have been a few truly great ones, some based on books, others from original screenplays. I think my favorite of all time is Laura (1944), based on the Vera Caspary novel. The screenwriters stuck quite closely to the book, except for changing Waldo’s physique from fat to thin in casting Clifton Webb. I love that the police detective is completely obsessed with the murder victim and her portrait, and would be pretty close to a breakdown if not for a twist of the plot (which I won’t reveal here). Years after falling in love with this film (and the title song written by the great Johnny Mercer and the almost unknown David Raksin), I found out that the star, Gene Tierney, had gone to Miss Porter’s School where I taught – though she went there before I was born – and that her tragic life was the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d.

My favorite mystery film from an original screenplay is The Last of Sheila (1973) written by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. It’s a great example of writers playing fair with the viewer.

What’s your favorite mystery movie?

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Mystery movies: a wishlist

July 21, 2008 at 11:43 pm (Mysteries) (, )

Do you ever read a mystery and think what a great movie it would make? I do. I love Lawrence Block’s Burglar books and wish someone would film them. (The only one ever filmed had Whoopi Goldberg as Bernie and was just awful.) But with a good actor in the lead and a writer/director who adhered closely to the original books, I think some of them could be fabulous movies. Whom would I cast as Bernie? Perhaps David Strathairn or Richard Jenkins – someone whose face had a lot of character. I think I’d start with The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart.

So what is your favorite mystery that’s never been filmed? And who should play the role of the detective?

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