A year after it was published in 1955, “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” became a major motion picture.
Gregory Peck starred as Tom Rath. He and his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) live in a rundown house in Westport. They have 3 kids; he commutes to an unfulfilling job in New York. The title quickly became a ’50s metaphor — one that endures today.
Some of the movie was filmed in Westport. The most memorable scenes — still recalled here more than 60 years later — took place on Main Street, and at the train station.
These 2 shots show Peck as a typical commuter. Besides the lack of a platform — and the demise of the New Haven Railroad — what else has changed? Click “Comments” below.
Denise McLaughlin’s husband likes to grab a book from the library rack at the train station.
The other day he picked up The Bannerman Solution, by John R. Maxim.
Published in 1989, the novel’s hero is Paul Bannerman, a covert agent. Suddenly, according to Maxim’s website,
death is running in Westport, Connecticut — one in a nationwide network of secret “halfway towns” where the country’s most dangerous former agents have been “retired.”
At war with powerful elements within his own government — a war not of his making — Bannerman has been lured to this place of yard sales, minivans, commuter trains and murder. The plan is for Bannerman and those he ran to die here, quietly. But Bannerman has other plans.
Denise says much of the action takes place at Mario’s — hey, covert agents like steaks and martinis too. The book also highlights “the town librarian.”
Maxim’s next book — The Bannerman Effect — is also set in Westport.
Hidden behind a Maginot Line of safe houses and front operations in quiet Westport, Connecticut, are Paul Bannerman and his elite group of contract agents. They don’t look any different from their neighbors. They run restaurants, a medical clinic, a travel agency — until something big brings them out of retirement.
Two more novels — Bannerman’s Law and Bannerman’s Promise — don’t mention Westport (at least, Maxim’s website doesn’t). But then — a decade later — came Bannerman’s Ghosts.
Paul Bannerman was back — and back in Westport.
They’re called Bannerman’s People, and they could be the bartender, the gardener, or the librarian–but, in fact, they’re former operatives who’ve “retired,” en masse, to the sleepy, affluent community of Westport, CT. It’s the peaceful life they crave–and they’ll go to any lengths to protect it and one another.
Now a Machiavellian entrepreneur sets his sights on one of their former associates — a “ghost” named Elizabeth Stride, long rumored to be dead — Paul Bannerman and his neighbors must mobilize. Very quickly they discover that their mission is about much more than fealty and friendship, as they find themselves in the midst of a terrorist’s deadly game.
According to his bio, Maxim was an advertising executive who lived in Westport.
John R. Maxim
One night, sitting in the bar car on his commute home, he decided to quit and try writing. (Presumably he stopped at Mario’s too, to fortify his decision.)
His first novel, Platforms, sold within 6 months — without an agent. Bannerman soon followed. (And Maxim moved to Hilton Head.)
Denise McLaughlin — whose husband picked up The Bannerman Solution at the train station (across from Mario’s) — wondered if I knew anything about the series. I don’t. In fact, I’ve never heard of it.
Ask me about The Swimmer. Or Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! Or The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — all stories set in Westport (and all later made into movies).
They were written decades before the Bannerman series. But somehow Maxim’s novels never seeped into the Westport oeuvre, the way those other tales did.
Then again, what happens at Mario’s, stays at Mario’s.
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.
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.
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.)
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