You Must Remember This is a storytelling podcast exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. It’s the brainchild and passion project of Karina Longworth (founder of Cinematical.com, former film critic for LA Weekly), who writes, narrates, records and edits each episode. It is a heavily-researched work of creative nonfiction: navigating through conflicting reports, mythology, and institutionalized spin, Karina tries to sort out what really happened behind the films, stars and scandals of the 20th century.
We’ll begin with a look at how Polly Platt’s legacy was appraised when she died in 2011. Then we’ll go back in time to tell Polly’s story from the start, beginning with her Revolutionary Road-esque childhood in Europe and America as the neglected daughter of two alcoholics; to her years studying scenic design in environments in which women weren’t welcome; the secret pregnancy that halted her formal education, and the early marriage that took her West and cemented her desire to tell stories through design. Throughout, we’ll talk about how Platt’s experiences, as the product of an American military family of the 1950s—and the daughter of a mother who had been forced to abandon a career for motherhood––shaped her view of gender roles and relations, and her idea of what it meant to be the wife of a important man.
Excited for the new season? We can hardly wait to share the untold story of Polly Platt, the secret weapon behind some of the most highly acclaimed films of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. This audio journey will feature interviews and intimate details about her trailblazing legacy and heartbreaking private life, including excerpts from her own unpublished memoirs dealing with her creative collaborations and relationship with her second husband, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. The new season premieres May 26. For now, please enjoy a taste of what's to come in this extended preview of episode 1. Actress Maggie Siff is featured as the voice of Polly Platt.
Polly Platt -- producer, writer and Oscar-nominated production designer -- lived an epic Hollywood life. And yet, if you know Platt’s name today, it’s probably because in 1970 her husband and creative collaborator Peter Bogdanovich had an affair with Cybill Shepherd while shooting the film that launched their careers, The Last Picture Show. But Platt was much more than a jilted wife: she was the secret, often invisible-to-the-public weapon behind some of the best films of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Drawing on Platt’s unpublished memoir, as well as ample interviews and archival research, The Invisible Woman will tell Polly Platt’s incredible story from her perspective, for the first time. New episodes will begin releasing May 26.
In 1983, Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to win Miss America. In 1984, a few weeks from the end of her reign, she was forced to step down when she found out Penthouse was going to publish unauthorized nude images of her in their magazine. Williams went on to have a successful singing career and star in movies, but her career trajectory tells more than the story of a black beauty icon who overcame obstacles to make it in Hollywood. It's a story that echoes the legacies of racism, colorism, tokenism and misogynoir (the misogyny experienced specifically by black women) in 20th century Hollywood and how, as a result, black women — from Williams to Whitney Houston — have had to display exceptional talent to make the case that their images are worth circulating and celebrating as beautiful.
This episode was written and performed by Cassie da Costa, an entertainment writer for The Daily Beast. She lives in Ojai, California.
A close look at the parallel lives of Margaux and Mariel Hemingway, sisters born with a world-famous last name that stood for both genius and self-destruction. Both rose to fame in the 1970s, Margaux as a supermodel and Mariel as an actress, and then both struggled with various demons. But while Margaux followed her grandfather's fate, Mariel confronted the family's dark legacy and reinvented herself as a mental health and wellness advocate.
This episode was written and performed by Michael Schulman, a writer at The New Yorker and the author of "Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep," a New York Times bestseller. His work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times and other publications.
Cass Elliot didn’t die eating a ham sandwich. But the lasting power of that urban legend speaks to a far darker story. Elliot possessed one of the most influential voices of the 1960s. However, while her big break with The Mamas and The Papas and meteoric career changed the LA music scene forever, it also entrapped Elliot in a cycle of fat-shaming, sending her spiraling into catastrophic weight-loss regimens. In this episode, we’ll talk about the music industry’s complicated relationship with weight, how crash dieting likely led to the untimely death of this music legend, and the true legacy of Elliot in pop culture.
This episode was written and performed by Lexi Pandell, a writer from Oakland, California. Her work has been published by The Atlantic, the New York Times, WIRED, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler, GQ, Playboy and many others.
Esther Williams single-handedly helped popularize the pastime of swimming — first as the star swimmer of the San Francisco production of Billy Rose's Aquacade, and then as the star of Hollywood films like Bathing Beauties and Million Dollar Mermaid. Williams’s stardom — and the necessity to maintain her image as a grinning glamour girl, even while submerged underwater — led to the creation of several waterproof products and swimwear innovations, from waterproof foundation and eyeliner to bathing cap couture. Despite two decades of sustained celebrity and brand power, Williams eventually struggled to maintain the pristine bathing beauty facade. She lost her MGM contract in the 1960s and had to pay millions to the studio in damages. On her way down, she slapped her name on swimming pools and exercise videos, stumbled through four unhappy marriages and started to experiment with LSD for her depression. Drawing on previously untapped resources, Rachel Syme will tell the story of Williams' rise and fall, and the innovations in aqua-beauty she inspired, while also analyzing why we want to be waterproof, why we want to be so invulnerable to the elements and why putting swimming on-screen led to pressures for women to look put-together, even when sopping wet.
This episode was written and performed by Rachel Syme, a writer, reporter and cultural critic living in New York City. She writes a regular column for The New Yorker on fashion and beauty. She is also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair and Esquire. She often writes about the complex intersection between fame, glamour, beauty and feminism.
In 1935, Merle Oberon became the first biracial actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, an incredible achievement in then-segregated Hollywood -- except that nobody in Hollywood knew Oberon was biracial. Born in Bombay into abject poverty in 1911, Oberon's fate seemed sealed in her racist colonial society. But a series of events, lies, men and an obsession with controlling her own image -- even if it meant bleaching her own skin -- changed Oberon's path forever.
This episode was written and performed by Halley Bondy, a writer and journalist whose work has appeared on NBC, The Outline, Eater NY, Paste Magazine, Scary Mommy, Bustle, Vice and more. She's an author of five young adult books plus a handful of plays and is a writer / producer for the podcast "Masters of Scale." She lives in Brooklyn with husband / cheerleader Tim and her amazing toddler Robin.
In 1933, the biggest female star in American movies wasn’t a sex symbol like Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow or Marlene Dietrich. It was Marie Dressler — homely, overweight and over 60 years old. The public loved nothing better than to see their Marie play a drunk or a dowager and steal every scene from the glamour girls less than half her age. Dressler had been down and out for most of the 1920s. That she became a star at age 60 was an achievement that told Depression-battered audiences it was never too late. Today we take a look at the life of Marie Dressler; from Broadway, to the picket lines, to the breadline and to the Oscar podium, she proved that in some cases, Hollywood stardom can be more than skin-deep.
This episode was written and performed by Farran Smith Nehme, who has written about film and film history for the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, the New York Times, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, Criterion and at her blog, Self-Styled Siren. Her novel, Missing Reels, was published in 2014.
Glamorous and shrewd, Sylvia of Hollywood became the movie industry’s first weight-loss guru during the end of the silent era. An immigrant of mysterious origin, she would cannily market herself to clients like Gloria Swanson, who she promised to ‘slenderize, refine, reduce and squeeze’ into shape. But her taste for gossip and publicity would become her downfall in the 1930s when she published a catty tell-all memoir about her star clients.
This episode was written and performed by Christina Newland, an award-winning journalist on film, pop culture and boxing at Sight & Sound Magazine, Little White Lies, VICE, Hazlitt, The Ringer and others. She loves 70s Americana, boxing flicks, fashion and old Hollywood lore. She was born in New York and lives in Nottingham, England.
At the age of 18, actress Molly O’Day’s career showed great promise — the only thing holding her back was a bit of pubescent pudge. When diets failed, she became the guinea pig of Hollywood's first highly-publicized weight loss surgery. This was in 1929, and the procedure was, as one fan magazine described it "dangerous... and all in vain." What lead Molly to such desperation? And what happened after the surgery to make her former lover, actor George Raft, declare it “ruined her health, her career and damn near killed her?"
In this companion series to You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth will introduce eight stories about Hollywood’s intersection with the beauty industry. Told by writers and reporters known for their work at The New Yorker, the New York Times and other publications, Make Me Over will explore a range of topics, including Hollywood’s first weight loss surgery, the story of the star whose unique skills led to the development of waterproof mascara, black beauty in the 1990s and much more.
After two more successful theatrical releases, in 1980 and 1986, Disney decided to put Song of the South in the “Disney Vault” and never released it on home video or theatrically in the US ever again. And yet, at the same time, the company was developing a theme park ride around Song of the South’s characters and its most memorable song -- but without Uncle Remus, or any signifiers of the complicated racial and historical dynamics the film, however clumsily portrayed.
Song of the South’s most successful re-release came in 1972 at a time when Hollywood was dealing with race by making two very different kinds of movies: Blaxploitation films, which gave black audiences a chance to see black characters triumph against white authority figures; and movies like Dirty Harry, which were emblematic of a concurrent cultural and political shift away from the Civil Rights Movement and toward Reagan-style Republicanism.
Concerned that his movie about a former slave devoting his life to a white child’s emotional needs might be perceived as racist, Walt Disney hired known Communist Maurice Rapf to rewrite Song of the South. Rapf, the son of an MGM exec, was radicalized as a college student, and shortly after Song of the South was released, he was blacklisted. Today we’ll discuss Rapf’s life and career, and talk about how white leftists in Hollywood tried to subvert the industry’s racial status quo -- and how their mission to “make movies less bad” led to their own persecution.
This episode is sponsored by Parcast - Mythology (www.parcast.com/MYTHOLOGY).
Song of the South’s most famous element is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” a song written for the movie but reminiscent of a racist standard popularized in blackface minstrel shows of the 1830s. Today we’ll explore this song and the other ways in which minstrel imagery and tropes made their way into Song of the South and other animated and live action films of the first half of the 20th century. And, we'll talk about how all of this is related to Walt Disney's push to net Song of the South Oscars.
Song of the South co-stars Hattie McDaniel, the first black performer to win an Oscar (for her supporting role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind). By the time Song of the South was released, McDaniel was the subject of much criticism in the black community for propagating outdated stereotypes in her roles. But McDaniel actually began her career subverting those same stereotypes, first in black minstrel shows and then in Hollywood movies.
Disney Plus is launching with the stated intention of streaming the entire Disney library... except for "Song of the South," a 1946 animation/live-action hybrid film set on a post-Civil War plantation. It was theatrically re-released as recently as 1986, and served as the basis for the ride Splash Mountain, but has never been available in the US on home video. What is "Song of the South?" Why did Disney make it and why have they held the actual film from release, while finding other ways to profit off of it?
This season, we explore the most controversial film in the history of Disney Animation.
With the launch of Disney Plus, the company's entire library could be made available for streaming. The one film promised to remain locked away is "Song of the South," the 1946 animation/live-action hybrid set on a post-Civil War plantation.
What is "Song of the South?" Why did Disney make it even amidst protests? And why have they held the actual film from release for the past thirty-plus years, while finding other ways to profit off of it?
Join us, won’t you? As we uncover this hidden film in the Disney vault. New episodes of “You Must Remember This” will be released every Tuesday.
Ramon Novarro was a Mexican actor and singer whose stardom at MGM in the 1920s and 30s was not impeded by his offscreen life as a gay man. In Hollywood Babylon, Anger focuses only on Novarro’s grisly murder in 1968 -- which outed Novarro to a public that had largely forgotten him--and needlessly embellishes a crime scene that was already pretty horrible. Today, in our final episode of Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon, we will explore the life which Anger left out of Hollywood Babylon, and correct that book’s version of Novarro’s death.
In part two of our two-parter on the demise of the biggest and most pernicious tabloid of the 1950s, we’ll explore what happened after the magazine’s claim that redheaded star Maureen O’Hara was caught having sex at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. O’Hara positioned herself the “Joan of Arc” of Hollywood, single-handedly defending a cowardly industry against the existential threat posed by Confidential. As we’ll see, this is one story where the Kenneth Anger version is more credible than the version related by one of the subjects.
Over two episodes, we will explore Hollywood Babylon’s coverage of Confidential Magazine and the two celebrities who testified against the scandal rag in the 1957 trial that helped end what Anger rightfully refers to as its “reign of terror.” We’ll begin with Dorothy Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Dandridge’s testimony against Confidential reveals the publication’s racist agenda, as well as the double standards that governed her real private and public lives.
Jewish gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is frequently credited with corrupting Hollywood’s unions and “inventing” Las Vegas. Siegel did have movie star friends, but the true story of his involvement with the Flamingo casino is also the story of a much bigger movieland player: Hollywood Reporter founder/publisher/columnist Billy Wilkerson.
The bisexuality of Marlene Dietrich was not exactly a secret in 1930s Hollywood -- in fact, her ambiguous sexuality was part of her on-screen brand. But there is some debate as to who Dietrich counted among her lovers, and which of her fellow stars participated in what has been called the “sewing circle” of female intimacy. Anger alleges that Dietrich had a “passionate affair” with Claudette Colbert, an Oscar-winning actress with an extremely heteronormative persona. We’ll explore what was going on in Dietrich’s life and career around the time when this affair could have taken place, and then delve into Colbert’s image as a very different kind of on-screen sex symbol, and her complicated off-screen personal life.
Mexican actress Lupe Velez was the victim of one of Anger’s cruelest invented stories. His fabrication of her manner of death lays bare a vicious racism in addition to Hollywood Babylon’s usual sexism. Today we will sort out the fact of Velez’s life from Anger’s fiction and consider the star of the Mexican Spitfire series as a comedienne ahead of her time.
In 1936, actress Mary Astor (who had not yet made her most famous film, The Maltese Falcon) and her husband went to court to fight for custody of their four year-old daughter. The trail made international news thanks to both sides’ use of Astor’s diary, in which she had recorded details of her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman. How much did Astor truly reveal in her diary, and what role did the scandal play in her life and career?
Mae West was the biggest new star in Hollywood in 1933, thanks to two hit films she co-wrote and starred in as a sexually implicit, wisecracking broad who romanced a young Cary Grant. In Hollywood Babylon, Anger credits West’s abrupt decline in movies to a coordinated conspiracy organized by William Randolph Hearst and carried out by the Hays Office. Today we’ll explore West’s background, her history of pushing the censors past the limits of legality, and the truth of her lightning-fast rise in Hollywood and somewhat slower descent back to earth.
This Italian pin-up, along with Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, was emblematic of a brand of post-war European sexuality that America happily imported. But the Hollywood career of “La Lollo” was delayed, thanks to Howard Hughes, whose obsession with Lollobrigida led him to keep her virtually imprisoned in a Los Angeles hotel and sign her to a contract that essentially made it impossible for her to work for any other U.S. producer.
Seduction begins at an MGM sponsored orgy at the Ambassador Hotel, as told through the eyes of one of the attendees, a young female screenwriter named Frederica Sagor. Sagor would go on to pen one of the frankest memoirs of 1920s Hollywood, revealing the systematic sexual exploitation of women in the film industry by men like Marshall Neilan--one of Howard Hughes’ early mentors. Frederica’s story also details how tough it was for a woman to hold on to power behind the scenes in the film industry as Hollywood evolved.
We’ll begin the season by talking about the complicated, intermingled romantic and professional relationships of Howard’s uncle, Rupert Hughes, who paved the way for his nephew as a Hollywood figure known for his colorful history with women.
We’ll close this half of our Hollywood Babylon season with one of that book’s most famously distorted stories: the tale of “It” Girl Clara Bow’s supposed nymphomania and alleged “tackling” of the entire USC football team.
Rudolph Valentino was Hollywood’s first “latin lover.” His shocking death at the age of 31 was attributed to side effects from an appendectomy, but Hollywood Babylon forwards theories that Valentino may have actually been poisoned
Thomas Ince was one of early Hollywood’s most pioneering producers—in fact, some credit him for popularizing “producer” as a job title and for codifying what it meant to do the job, as well as helping to develop the Western as a genre.
The killing of director William Desmond Taylor was the third in a trifecta of scandals which, over the course of about a year and a half, painted such a sordid a picture of the movie colony as a hotbed of sin
This season will interrogate Kenneth Anger’s controversial and influential gossip collection, Hollywood Babylon. Is this cult classic a needed subversive attack on Hollywood’s false idols, or a dangerous work of “fake news”?
Forgotten by Hollywood, struggling with morphine addiction and a dependency on alcohol, at the end of his life Bela Lugosi was welcomed into a rag tag bunch of micro-budget movie-making freaks led by Edward D. Wood Jr.
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were two middle-aged, foreign, struggling actors who became huge stars thanks to Dracula and Frankenstein, the first two of a trend of monster movie hits released by Universal Studios during the 1930s.
Jean buries her child in Iowa, and then returns to Paris in a fragile mental state. Back in the States, Jane subsumes her passion for activism into her new marriage to Tom Hayden, and works to get her movie career back on track.
On the heels of making her biggest Hollywood movies in years, Jean Seberg becomes involved with two black radicals, one a cousin of Malcolm X who spouted violent, anti-white rhetoric, the other a leader of the Black Panthers.
Today, we revisit Barbara Payton’s story: her rise to quasi-fame, and the slippery slope that reduced her from “most likely to succeed” to informal prostitution, to formal prostitution, and finally to a way-too-early grave.
More famous today for her gruesome car crash death than for any of the movies she made while alive, Jayne Mansfield was in some sense the most successful busty blonde hired by a studio as a Marilyn Monroe copy-cat.
Thelma Todd was a sparkling comedienne who began in the silent era and flourished in the talkies, holding her own opposite the Marx Brothers & playing straight woman in one of cinema’s first all-girl comedy teams.
With America increasingly paranoid that it and the Soviet Union were destined to demolish one another through nuclear war, anyone who had connections to Communism was seen by some as a potential threat to national security.
In the 1940s, Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in America, one of the first celebrity CEOs and the figurehead of what for most Americans was the most glamorous industry on Earth. In 1951, Mayer was fired from the studio that bore his name. What...