The allure of classic cinema isn’t so just the story that’s on the screen, but the personalities enacting it and/ or the backstory behind it. More recently, Hollywood history has inspired new tell-alls on Judy Garland and Mary Astor, Ryan Murphy’s new Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis miniseries, Feud, and the addictive podcast You Must Remember This, which tells golden-age backstories with scholarly research and polished production values.
Most “seasons” of You Must Remember This have had a narrative through-line—one was devoted to the rise and fall of MGM studios, spawning episodes such as “Elizabeth Taylor, The MGM Years” and “William Haines and Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Marriage.” The six-installment biography of Joan Crawford covers its subject from her start as a thirsty Texas chorus girl to an account of the shooting of Mommie Dearest that’s a Russian matryoshka doll of diva ego, as Faye Dunaway “becomes” Joan. The most compelling of these interconnected stories came last year, in “Charles Manson’s Hollywood,” a gothic novel gone psycho that connects Doris Day, Kenneth Anger and Frank Sinatra to Sadie, Squeaky and their sinister leader.
The show is created and hosted by Karina Longworth, an author and former film editor and critic for the LA Weekly. Every episode is carefully researched and scripted and, however scandalous her subject, she treats them with sympathy. If Longworth’s attempts to approximate the voice of, say, Katharine Hepburn, are occasionally awkward, it’s more than made up for by sparing listeners the self-conscious chit-chat and off-topic asides that make some podcasts fast-forward fodder.
The current theme is “Dead Blondes”—highlights thus far include Peg Entwistle, who is better known for jumping to her death off of the Hollywood sign than she is for her one film credit, and Veronica Lake, who lent her bombshell figure and sardonic attitude to noir classics like The Blue Dahlia and This Gun for Hire before succumbing to alcoholism and schizophrenia. Marilyn Monroe will be featured on a future episode, as will Barbara Payton, whose trajectory from leading lady alongside Cagney and Cooper to $50-a-trick hooker makes Lindsay Lohan look like a career-minded, teetotaling hermit. You Must Remember This tells stories many of us don’t know or have forgotten, but they’re well worth hearing.