Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You Must Remember This

By Scott Adlerberg

I don't know what's taken me so long, but only in the last few months have I gotten into listening to podcasts.  Actually, so far, I've been listening to just one series in particular - Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This.  When the weekend comes around and it's time to do the mundane stuff around the house - fixing things, straightening up, the usual - her series has become my company.  I put on the headphones and listen; it's not an exaggeration to say I've almost come to look forward to the weekend housework because it means I'll be listening to the show.

As the series' website describes it, "You Must Remember This is a storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood's first century."  Started in April 2014, the podcast has had 74 episodes so far, each of them a "heavily-researched work of creative nonfiction."  Based in Los Angeles, Longworth began as a film journalist and since has gone on to write a few film biographies. She also happens to be a brilliant film critic and historian, and on this podcast, which she writes and narrates - with actors sometimes supplying voices  - she puts all her skills to work to weave absorbing, often bitingly funny narratives.  The overall approach is best summed up by what she says: "Every reasonable attempt is made at accuracy, but quite often when it comes to the kinds of stories we explore here, between conflicting reports, conscious and unconscious mythologizing and institutionalized spin, the truth is murky at best.  That's kind of what the podcast is, ultimately, about."

I've listened to about 25 episodes so far and every single one has been excellent. Some I knew I'd be interested in - "Happy 100th Birthday Val Lewton", "Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles" - and other topic titles I didn't know what to expect but wound up fascinated by - "Isabella Rossellini in the 1990's", "Madonna from Sean Penn to Warren".  
As I say, every episode has been good, and I particularly enjoy the ones where Longworth tells a tale involving movie world crime. This weekend I listened to the episode called Eddie Mannix.  This will be a familiar name to anyone who's seen the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar!.  Josh Brolin plays Mannix, the man who fixes and cleans up the problems and scandals of the actors and filmmakers at the fictional Capital Pictures. He's portrayed as a hardworking guy who's rarely at home but who is devoted to his family.  Not so, the real Mannix, who was among the most powerful men at MGM for a long time through the studio's heyday.  The real Mannix was, you might say, something of a thug, not to mention a complete womanizer, and in the podcast Longworth details two stories in particular connected to him.  

One, in 1937, involved the rape of a woman named Patricia Douglas at a Hollywood ranch stag party. She was among 120 young dancers who answered a movie casting call that turned out to be a call for them to be party favors for 300 salesmen invited by MGM to this ranch.  The story gets complicated and pretty horrific from here, but in the end, after many attempts by Douglas to get the case to court, the matter was quashed, and years later, when nearing death, Mannix allegedly said of Douglas, "We had her killed." Not quite, in reality, because she lived well past his death and told her story about the rape and its aftermath to Vanity Fair

They published the piece in 2003.  There is also a documentary about the entire story, made in 2007, called Girl 27.

The other infamous Mannix story, which you'll know if you've seen the movie Hollywoodland, revolves around his connection to the death of "Superman", George Reeves.  In 1959, when Reeves died from a gunshot wound to the head one night in his house, he had recently left Toni Mannix, the long time wife of Eddie, for another woman. Did Toni do it? Did Eddie have it done? Or maybe Reeves, not the happiest of people, committed suicide.  Anyway, Bob Hoskins plays Mannix in the movie, which gives you an idea of the sense of menace the filmmakers were going for in their portrayal.

The Eddie Mannix episode of You Must Remember This is a story filled with Hollywood darkness, but to this point, the podcast's masterpiece has got to be the twelve part epic Longworth tells in Charles Manson's Hollywood.  This is a remarkable bit of storytelling that charts the various threads and desires and pathologies in the country as a whole and Los Angeles in particular during an era that ended with the Manson family killings in August of 1969.  Every player touched by the saga is considered in detail, with episodes focusing on Terry Melcher, Dennis Wilson, Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, Bobby Beausoleil, and Kenneth Anger, not to mention Manson and his various followers. Longworth delves into the counterculture of the time, the music business, and the movie industry, and she shows the connections and interplay among all of them.  Especially incisive is how she dissects the pattern of abuse and sexism so prevalent in each; it's no stretch to say that family leader Manson was in some ways merely a darker version of many of the successful men operating in the entertainment world at the time.  Fame, drugs, sex, violence, success, failure, madness - this story has everything, and believe me, even if you think you know the era well and the Manson killings story well, you will learn something listening to all twelve episodes.  As for Longworth's narration, it's compelling and most entertaining.  As always, she's funny in a sly, cutting sort of way, but she's somber when the telling calls for it.  I didn't binge listen to Charles Manson's Hollywood but it's the kind of series you could listen to that way, once you get hooked on it.

So twenty five episodes down of the seventy four made so far for You Must Remember This, and new episodes are being done right now.  Hopefully there's a lot more to come.  Next up for me might be another one where I know homicide will play a major part; I gotta listen to the recent Lana Turner episode and hear Karina talk about the stabbing of Turner's boyfriend Johnny Stompanato by her 14 year old daughter, Cheryl.  Can't wait.  


Dana King said...

Sounds like this Mannix was the Ray Donovan of his time.

scott adlerberg said...

In part. Mannix was actually an executive at MGM who worked his way up to general manager and vice president at the studio, but in his unofficial duties, which took up a lot of his time, he was the studio's fixer.

John McFetridge said...

The Manson episodes are fantastic. The background stuff that included things like Manson reading, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," was really insightful. I didn't think there was much more to say about Manson, but these episodes are well worth the time.

Steve Weddle said...

just subscribed

scott adlerberg said...

You're in for some great listening.