Sometimes I do things besides read books. Try This is my chance to share my new discoveries outside of the literary world. Today, I bring you a podcast to remember.
There are certain tales of classic Hollywood lore that most of us are familiar with – Judy Garland’s struggles with drugs, the downfall of Fatty Arbuckle, Lauren, Katharine, Lana too – yet how many of you knew that Frank Sinatra released an entire album dedicated to outer space? Or the torrid behind the scenes drama that surrounded the infamous 70s remake of A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand and produced by her then boyfriend and hairdresser? Never fear, because Karina Longworth is here to tell you all about it.
You Must Remember This is a longform podcast narrated by Longworth (with occasional guest voices) that seeks to explore, analyse and contextualise the ‘secret and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century’. At a time where podcasts are in their golden age of legitimacy, thanks to journalistic storytelling like Serial and the glut of wildly popular comedy networks such as Earwolf, Longworth’s effort stands out in a saturated field. This is primarily thanks to impeccable research and the right tonal blend of serious storytelling and gleeful gossip. She’s delighted to share these stories with you, but respectfully so, especially as the subject matter gets darker.
Not only does Longworth delve into history itself, she provides ample context and empathy for her subjects. These dazzling celebrities may leave us starstruck but Longworth is keen to remind us all that they’re still human, with all the fragility that brings. A double episode dedicated to Madonna and her relationships with Sean Penn and Warren Beatty acts as a perfect example of this.
Familiar tales are given fresher spins, such as the recounting of Judy Garland’s well-trodden tale with emphasis given to her life’s connections to the burgeoning gay rights movement in America. The stories of Hollywood, both on and off the screen, cast a dark shadow that continues to act as a powerful cultural influence.
The second season of the podcast has stepped away from one-off stories and focused on an epic multi-part examination of the twisted relationship between Hollywood and Charles Manson. While the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders are covered (often in upsetting but necessary detail, as with the most recent episode – and thank you to Longworth for providing a trigger warning), Longworth’s ultimate aim is to paint the wider picture of the time, place and culture that created the myth of Manson.
The Hollywood of the 1960s was a town of major change, with the new breed of film-makers such as Dennis Hopper and his countercultural hit Easy Rider taking over the old guard, while the Vietnam war loomed over the heads of the hippies asking the world to give peace a chance. It’s a world where Manson hoped to make it as big as the Beatles, and his journey from angry loner to cult leader and the devil himself became entwined with various figures of the era, from Doris Day to Kenneth Anger, the Beach Boys, Dennis Hopper, and of course, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. As argued by Longworth, it was this world that allowed Manson to craft his own splintered Hollywood tale.
You Must Remember This is a phenomenally ambitious undertaking, one that Longworth achieves with aplomb. A delight for film buffs and novices alike, the podcast offers a unique balance of criticism, history and gossip, with the utterly gripping Manson and Hollywood series having the potential to be the Nixonland of Hollywood. The podcast is available from Longworth’s website, the Infinite Guest network and iTunes.