Saddam Hussein Comes To Westport

Watch out, Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.  Saddam Hussein is taking your literary place.

The 1955 novel about materialism, conformity and social-climbing began:  

By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it. There were many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling.

Tom Seligson grew up in Westport during those 1950s.  After boarding school (with a classmate named George W. Bush), he’s enjoyed a long career as an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and writer.

Tom Seligson

So it’s no surprise he chose Westport for the setting of his 4th and latest novel, King of Hearts. (Seligson calls the town “Soundview” — a reference to his current Compo Beach home.

What may be surprising is the plot:  2 unsolved mysteries of the Iraq War.

The 1st concerns whatever happened to one of Saddam Hussein’s most feared associates:  the “king of hearts” on the U.S. military’s Most Wanted cards.  He has never been found.

The 2nd mystery is what happened to the $1.5 billion stolen from the Iraq Central Bank at the beginning of the war.  “The government said all the money — which was in euros — was recovered,” Seligson says.  “Of course, they also said the WMD would be easy to find.”

Like the successful formula of “Law & Order,” Seligson wanted those 2 large mysteries to be revealed in the course of a separate, smaller investigation.  A murder in a suburban town seemed a good starting point for his international plot.

A good character to throw into the mix would be a seasoned detective who was an Iraq veteran.  That way, he’d have a personal connection to any unresolved mysteries from the war.

As for Westport:  “It’s always more fun to write about something you know,” Seligson says.  “It gives you a chance to have your characters express your own thoughts and feelings about your home town, whether it’s McMansion fever, or how where you go on vacation becomes a competitive sport.”

Many of the sites in “Soundview” are easily recognized.  The story opens with a murder in a place much like Earthplace; the neighborhood closely resembles Old Hill, where Seligson grew up.  (In 1962 a woman was murdered and her teenage daughter raped and abducted in that very neighborhood.)

Other scenes are set at Compo Beach, the police station, along the Saugatuck River, and at a real estate office like the one that was next to Westport Hardware.  The agent is a colorful character inspired by a larger-than-life soap actress-turned-realtor Seligson knew long ago.

In “Soundview,” people have coffee at Starbucks, and dinner at a barbecue restaurant downtown.

As a good writer, Seligson did plenty of research — even into a town he knows intimately.  To learn more about the life of a Westport policeman, he interviewed his old friend Tony Giunta.  The retired cop “is not to blame for any and all liberties I took,” Seligson notes.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit spawned a movie, starring Gregory Peck, Lee J. Cobb and Keenan Wynn.  It was filmed here; the last scene shows Peck getting into a car near  Achorn’s Pharmacy.

No word on who would star if a film version of King of Hearts were filmed in “Soundview.”  But Achorn’s is still here.

(King of Hearts was published last week.  For more information, click here.)

19 responses to “Saddam Hussein Comes To Westport

  1. be careful of calling attention to The Book’s Westport connections you don’t want to be giving ‘book club members’ license or encouragement to poke around.

  2. It’s is rather incredible that Gregory Peck walked Main Street not only when shooting The Man in The Grey Flannel Suit, but also as a visitor (with his wife) while shooting another movie nearby in 1990.

    Without Googling..Can you name that hilarious flick?

  3. The Longshore 50th website features a wonderful video clip of Beryl Buck Miller, wife of longtime pro George Buck, and herself a fine golfer who later became a tourng professional and teaching pro, sharing a story of the day Gregory Peck saw her practicing on the 18th green and asked her if she could give him a golf lesson. He was in town to film the movie, and according to Beryl, he did end up taking golf lessons at Longshore from George Buck. Here’s the link to video clip:

  4. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Other Peoples Money was shot in Georgetown at the factory that is now a huge eyesore

    • No it was shot in Seymour, I lived there at the time, the brick factory right on the other side of the river from the highway bridge!

  5. The book is an interesting fast read.

  6. The Dude Abides

    I find it difficult to conceptualize on how the Westport setting relates to the mysteries of Iraq but I will bow to the author’s imagination and buy the book. I know that Sloane Wilson (the author of “Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”) was born in Norwalk but do not know if he grew up here??? It is a good read and the movie has some great scenes driving from the Saugatuck train scene toward the beach before I-95 was in place.

  7. The Dude Abides

    As a caveat, I suggest Bradley Cooper as the staring role with Jennifer Aniston as his love interest. This time around, I will be glad to give Jennifer the golf lesson.

  8. re. man in the gray flannel suit, fast forward to 1:18,

  9. “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” was just on cable again last night. The most amazing thing about it, from a 2011 perspective, is how small the salaries are that they’re talking about. The most Peck is ever offered is $9,000 a year.

  10. Jake, I was in early elementary school in Westport when the movie came out. Having grown up in that era I can attest that $9G was good money back then. My dad was an up and coming VP at Bankers Trust Company in NY in the 1950s. When he retired in 1980 he was an SVP running the bank’s correspondent banking division. His top salary: $42G, and he thought he was well paid. The trade many guys made back then was to exchange higher salaries for job security, a very good trade for men who had lived through the Depression. You’re right, though, Peck’s character’s $9G is a jolt in this far more opulent era.

  11. The Dude Abides

    Interesting sidenote to Tommy’s testimonial is that taxes were 70%+ under Eisenhower. Of course, there were many more shelters back then but still, 39% doesn’t sound too bad on far greater incomes today.

    • During Ike’s two terms, the highest marginal tax rate on income was about 92%. JFK proposed lowering it to 70%, and the Republicans objected. Eventually, LBJ got it lowered to 70%. Under Ike the highest rate applied to income over $100,000. So, as someone pointed out, if you were lucky enough to be a well paid actor, you made one movie and then went to the beach for the rest of the year.