Playwright Confesses! Moose Murders, the Broadway Fiasco, Grows New Antlers for Revival

By Robert Simonson
09 Dec 2012

Arthur Bicknell and Eve Arden

The story takes place at the Wild Moose Lodge in the Adirondack Mountains, where the Holloway family, the place's new owners, have just arrived. They are soon trapped there by a storm, along with the former entertainers who work at the lodge, and various other curious guests. The collected lodgers spend their time playing a murder mystery game. Then, during the night, several real murders take place. Perhaps it's best at this point to turn to Rich's first-person account: "I won't soon forget the spectacle of watching the mummified Sidney rise from his wheelchair to kick an intruder, unaccountably dressed in a moose costume, in the groin. This peculiar fracas is topped by the play's final twist, in which Hedda serves her daughter Gay a poison-laced vodka martini. As the young girl collapses to the floor and dies in the midst of another Shirley Temple-esque buck and wing, her mother breaks into laughter and applause."

Of course, all bad productions begin with good intentions. Bicknell said that, at the time, he was fascinated with stage conventions, and was attempting to lampoon them by writing a murder mystery that was also a farce. "It's a very hard thing to do," he said, dryly, "as we discovered."

Did he think he had succeeded in writing a good play? "No," he replied. "I don't think so. But I thought it was a funny play. Everyone I showed it to thought it was a funny play." That included John Roach, the novice producer-director who decided to bring the play to Broadway, and Eve Arden, the former film and television comedienne who signed on to star. "She thought it was very funny, too. She was going to return to Broadway after 40 years."

Bicknell himself, while not famous at the time, was not exactly a nobody. "I was thought of as a promising young playwright in the vein of Albert Innaurato. I had one play that was called My Great Dead Sister: World of Domesticity, which was directed by Norman Rene. That play was a comedy-drama. It got very good reviews from the same people who trashed me in Moose Murders. I was writing serious light comedy." (Beautiful Soup also did a reading of Dead Sister, on Sept. 9.)