Saturday, September 12, 2009

citizen awesome...

Jane Alexander was the receptionist at my grandparents' retirement home and tonight, the Hallmark Channel premiered a movie about her!
I've actually written about Jane before, under my creative pseudonym, "Jill":
"It takes decades to say goodbye to Grandma but we finally made it into the elevator, and escaped the dreaded Third Floor Health Center.
We walked out to the front door check-in area, manned by a old dame we’ll call Jill. A little background on Jill: Late in life, Jill’s con-man boyfriend swindled her and violently and dramatically murdered her rich elderly aunt, hoping to cash in on Jill’s monetary windfall. Jill was quickly on to him, busted some detective balls and eventually got the asshole arrested. She then wrote a true crime book about it (including the gruesome crime-scene photos), was on Dateline NBC, runs a victims rights organization and works the front desk at my Grandmother’s retirement home. Jill is a fucking tough broad in a floral blouse and silver perm, and needless to say, a character.
“Oh, Jill. Thank God.” My mother announced. “Can you find us one of those lists of TV channels for mother?”
“I got those right here, dear. How’s our girl doing?”
“She’s confused.” Mom sighed. “And she’s pissed about it.”
“Aw Christ, Joanne. We’ve got those gals all over. In the apartments, in the Health Center, and Lord knows, in that Third Floor Nut House. I had one gal, a real cookie. A real great lady. Went on cruises in her heyday. And she’d wander around, thinking she was strolling around the deck of a cruise ship. And I’d walk with her. On and on, she’d go. She’d want to have dinner with the Captain? Fine. We’ll need to clean your good dress, then. The Percer is being rude? I’ll speak to someone about that. You’re mother’s waiting to meet you and we need to hurry? Well, hell, ladies. She’s 91 years old. Old mom’s been dead since 1957 but I don’t need to tell her that. So I says, Oh, your mother, phoned. She’ll be waiting for us. You see, Beth? You got to get in their space, is what you got to do.”
With that, an emergency buzzer blared on Jill’s desk. “Oh, shut up, you.” Jill rolled her eyes and flipped off the sound. She patted her bouffant and continued. “You don’t need to be the one who tells ‘em Sister died in the 70’s. They don’t remember anything but they’ll remember you’re the one who told them that sis was dead when they’re sure as sunshine she wasn’t. They’ll forget it all in 20 minutes anyway.
You get in their space, Joanne. Now, your mother’s not quite that loony yet. But she will be. I’ll go up and see her tomorrow. I’ll check on in on her, don’t you worry.”
Jill had us in hysterics, performing a routine so perfectly dry and deadpan and horribly blunt, I instantly wanted to make a movie about her. Years of trying to get someone executed will do that to you, I guess."

Hallmark beat me to that movie. Tonight I watched Citizen Jane, and let me just say, because Jane has since passed away and isn't here to point out the discrepancies, the folks at Hallmark took some liberties. The whole dicey story of Jane and her shitty boyfriend was portrayed in present day, when in reality, it happened 30 years ago. Seeing Ally Sheedy playing Jane, the receptionist at my grandparents' retirement home is one thing. Seeing Ally Sheedy playing Jane, the receptionist at my grandparents' retirement home in a stretch poplin suit on an iPhone is entirely another.
The whole point of Jane, however, is that she is a badass. The shitty boyfriend stole all of her money and killed her aunt. So Jane gave up her fancy house, took a job as a receptionist at an old folks' home, and went about helping people solve crimes and keep criminals in jail for free and for the rest of her life. When presented with the horrific crime scene photos and dreadful details of the crime, Jane started asking questions. Smart questions. She didn't freak out and have meltdowns and turn to her shitty boyfriend for comfort. 
She got really informed really fast. 
After making sure the shitty boyfriend would rot in jail for the rest of his life, Jane went on to co-found Citizens Against Homicide, assisting families and friends of murdered loved ones through the judicial process. 
I have to admit, I've never been a fan of the name, "Citizens Against Homicide." As opposed to what? Citizens For Homicide? 
You know I am a fan of? Their newsletter, which my parents still receive and save for me. I picked up the latest issue last week and like all the others before it, it's a treasure. CAH has got all kinds of info about how to present your side of the story at parole hearings, which is a big part of "the citizens" work. 
I wish I'd really sat down and asked Jane about all of this. I'm sure she would have had no problem diving right into her work. It kinda makes sense, now that I think about it. The 80-year old retirement-home front-desk lady was tough as nails and blunt because she's spent her morning presenting a case against a killer to a parole board. 
Then she came into work and helped my Grandma work the remote control. 
The most accurate part of tonight's movie is when Ally Sheedy, as Jane takes a job as a receptionist at an old folks home (OMG! Told you!) and as her cranky boss is showing her around, the phone rings. The boss doesn't really know what to do, she's so busy explaining a light switch or similar. 
Jane just sits down, answers the phone and gives the boss a look as if to say, "Lady, I got this."
In our culture, the greatest testament to one's life's work is having a TV movie made about it. I can honestly think of nothing better than having the Hallmark Channel make a movie called "Citizen Beth." I hope Jane feels the same way, because I just spent the last 2 hours screaming, "Oh my God, Jane!" at my television... 


Natalie said...

I would totally watch a show called "Citizen Beth". Over and over again, every week. Without Tivo.

kwk said...

re: "In our culture, the greatest testament to one's life's work is having a TV movie made about it."

Like the TV movie, "Helter Skelter"?

Anonymous said...

I love what you said about Jane. You've painted a brilliant portrait of her. She was a good woman in so many ways and, if I saw what I thought I saw, remarkable in that she crossed the Golden Gate Bridge traveling from San Jose to the City. T.P.

Anonymous said...

Great post :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interest in "Citizen Jane." As the writer of both the book and the television movie on the life of Jane Alexander, let me clarify why the story was contemporary. The actual battle to catch and convict Tom O'Donnell for the murder of Gertrude McCabe spanned 13 years, and began in 1983 with the murder. On the budgets that are available on the smaller networks, like Hallmark, it is impossible to get all the clothes, cars, hair cuts, et al, to make a period piece, and then age the characters year by year as things change. Other than that -- and the car crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, which I asked the editor not to do -- the story is as accurate as any movie I've seen on television. Whenever a discussion came up, everyone said "what really happened" and that is what we went with. On a small budget, and with a short shooting schedule, I feel we accomplished more than we could have hoped for. And yes, "Citizens Against Homicide" is a weak name: Jane herself laughed about it, and only used it because they could not come up with a better one. Thanks for your interest, I hope you enjoyed it. James Dalessandro, author/screenwriter, Citizen Jane

Karyn said...

I saw her on 20/20 or 48 hours or one of those shows... good for her... I didn't realize she died.