One of showrunner and writer Thomas B. Sawyer’s favorite possessions from his years on Murder, She Wrote is a mug. It reads: “Cabot Cove Coroner: If you lived here, you’d be dead by now…. We used to joke about it being the murder capital of America,” he tells Closer exclusively.

For 12 seasons beginning in 1984, Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher, a small-town retired English teacher and bestselling writer who solved murder mysteries on the side. “Angela was such a sweet, lovely person,” says Tom, author of the memoir The Adventures of the REAL Tom Sawyer. “She was a class act and made very few demands. There was very little tension.”

There was, however, enough to keep things interesting! In the seventh season, with the show attracting some 25 million viewers a week and Angela’s contract up for renewal, she asked to be made co-executive producer. That didn’t sit well with the show ’s creator and producer Peter Fischer. “She didn’t really like Peter’s sort of controlling nature,” confides Tom. “CBS said, ‘Well, Peter, at this point, we need her more than we need you!’” It was a huge, well-deserved victory for the star.

For Michael Horton, who recurred as Jessica’s nephew Grady, and Debbie Zip, his real-life wife who played his spouse Donna, Murder, She Wrote was a family affair. “My favorite memory is being pregnant on the show,” says Debbie. Their son Trevor made his TV debut in utero! “It’s really pretty special,” says Michael. “We got married on the show and had a baby on the show.”

Between scenes, the couple liked to pass the time with William Windom, best known to Murder fans as Cabot Cove’s Dr. Seth Hazlitt. “He was always playing chess and hoping that someone would come over and play with him,” says Michael.

Murder, She Wrote Stars Share Secrets From the Set
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Starry Days

Murder, She Wrote’s roster of special guests reads like a who’s who of showbiz veterans and rising stars of the 1980s. “My fondest memory was when Milton Berle did a small role,” says Michael. “He had all his lines on cue cards, but he didn’t say any of them! He made it up as he went along. He was vaudeville all the way, and it was a delight to watch.”

Tom, meanwhile, remembers bringing comedian Buddy Hackett to the set. The former Borscht Belt funnyman had a reputation for his off-color jokes and was warned in advance to behave around Angela. “Angela had just won the Golden Globe award, and Buddy was very civilized,” recalls Tom of their first meeting. “As she was walking out, he says, ‘Those really are a pair of golden globes!’” Angela, who overheard the remark, cracked up laughing.

That every woman appeal that Angela brought to Jessica captured millions of hearts. “She was incredibly smart but also quite motherly,” says Debbie. “People just responded to that.