If you’re a film scholar, movie buff, or Hollywood enthusiast, you’ve probably already heard of Karina Longworth and her podcast You Must Remember This. Since the podcast launched in 2014, Karina has been fervently informing the public about Hollywood’s untold and forgotten histories. Her subjects range from well-known stars like Joan Crawford, Warren Beatty, and Jean Harlow to lesser-known players like Kay Francis, Dorothy Parker, and the first girl to kick off the newest season — titled “Dead Blondes” — Peg Entwistle. The amount of research, detail, and overall enthusiasm that Karina puts into each episode turns what might be considered a niche topic into something that anyone can enjoy. BUST recently had the opportunity to chat with Karina about YMRT and some of her own history.
What can listeners expect from the “Dead Blondes” series?
I think there’s this fascination in the culture with the “perfect victim,” you know, the beautiful blonde woman who’s taken too soon. And sometimes, wrapped up with that is the idea that she caused her own death by being too beautiful, or too exceptional. So I chose a number of actresses whose deaths have become as much a part of their story as their careers and their actual work, if not more so. I’m trying to focus on their lives and their work, while also talking about their deaths and trying to figure out what “blondeness” has to do with their legacies.
How do you approach a well-known person or topic that people are already familiar with?
There are different challenges based on different topics. If I’m talking about someone like Peg Entwistle, who was the first episode in this new season, almost nobody knows anything about her. So then my job is to find out as much as I can about her and just tell that. But with somebody like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, people think that they have this idea of who they are, they have this image in their head, but in reality, most people don’t know most of their biographical details. These people worked so much! Making four or five movies a year for twenty or thirty years. Nobody today, very few people, only old people really, have seen most of their movies. That’s a different challenge because you’re working against this image that people have, and then you have to provide more detail and just a more complete idea of what this person was all about.
Do you enjoy voicing some of the actors you highlight?
I don’t enjoy any aspect of the audio, speaking, part of it at all. It’s a total nightmare for me and I hate doing it (laughs), but the show is what it is because it’s my voice. But I don’t like performing at all.
Did you anticipate the amount of momentum YMRT has gained over the years?
I had no idea. It’s certainly become more popular, and has become a much bigger part of my life, than I could have imagined. I was just kind of frustrated with other options that were available to me work-wise, and I decided to just take a chance and try to make something that seemed like exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t know that I would ever make even more than one or two episodes. I think I was initially hoping that I would do this thing that showed a thing that I could do, and then I could use it as a sort of portfolio piece to get some kind of research work or something like that. But people just liked it right away, and I started press right away. After the first few episodes — I was doing a teaching job, and it was ending for the summer, so I decided to take that summer, take a couple months to just work on the podcast full-time. By the end of that time, I was invited to join a podcast network and basically, the trial period that I’d given myself to work proved to me that I should keep going rather than abandon it and try to do something else.
What do you enjoy most about the research process?
I guess it’s coming across a piece of information that I didn’t know about the subject and wouldn’t have been able to guess. In general, it’s often really exciting for me to watch a movie that I’ve never heard of before and find out that it’s either super great or just really interesting in some way. That’s what I would say is my favorite part, discovering movies that I wouldn’t have watched otherwise and then figuring out a way to make the case for why other people should watch them.
What inspired you to study, write, and teach film rather than make films?
Well, I went to art school thinking that I would study film, but I was pretty naïve and I didn’t really know the difference between the kind of film that you study in art school and the kind of film that I would study, like, at UCLA. But because I came from a fine-arts background and was interested in all kinds of fine art, that turned out to be the right place for me to go. I kind of quickly realized that I didn’t want to work on Hollywood movies or anything like that, but I did acquire the skill of video editing in college. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I applied to grad school. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. The options were, like, go and become an academic and do cinema studies or media studies at one of these schools that I’ve applied to, or move back to LA and get work as a video editor. While I was waiting to see if I got into graduate school, I moved back in with my dad in Studio City and tried to get internships and entry-level jobs in video editing. If I had been hired by E! network to work on E! True Hollywood Stories, I would have taken that job in a heartbeat. That’s really what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t get a job. So when I got into NYU and they gave me a scholarship, my dad was like, “You have to go, you’re not doing anything here.” That kind of decided it for me.
Do you have a single, significant movie experience that may or may not have laid the foundation for what would become your career?
I don’t know that I really have a single one. Actually, I can’t imagine anybody would have a single experience that would make them just choose something to do for their whole lives (laughs)! For me, it was just like...I grew up in Los Angeles, my family was not part of the entertainment industry, but growing up here in the eighties and nineties, it just felt like everybody was sort of part of it in this weird way because whatever Elizabeth Taylor was doing would be on the nightly news, the local news. Part of just being around was seeing locations that were on the TV shows you’d watch, just as part of your regular life, so I was always kind of interested in it in this way where it just felt like part of my life. I didn’t realize that that was strange, or unusual, until I went to college in Chicago. And then, the further away that I went geographically from Los Angeles, the more I seemed to want to explore the history of the town that I grew up in, specifically this movie history.
Do you ever wish that you’d pursued a video-editing position somewhere?
I wouldn’t go back. I don’t know, it’s hard...it would be such different paths. If I’d found a job in 2003 in Los Angeles, I never would have moved to New York, I never would have spent my twenties in New York, and that was a huge learning experience for me. Being in New York maybe more so than actually going to graduate school, because I was going to repertory screenings all the time, I had a group of friends that was as excited about movies as I was, for really the first time in my life. So yeah, it’s hard to say, but I’m never going to become a film editor (laughs). I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing and get a job in that. But, it’s like a Sliding Doors kind of thing. I don’t know what would have happened.
What do you hope listeners will take from YMRT?
I think the whole purpose is to get people to watch movies. I hope that if you listen to an episode, it’ll make you want to watch one of the movies I talked about, or go watch every Joan Crawford movie.
All photos via youmustrememberthispodcast.com
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Samantha Ladwig is a writer, book reviewer, and the owner of Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, Washington. Her work has been published by New York Magazine, Bustle, Real Simple, Vice, Bust Magazine, and others. Find her at www.samanthaladwig.com.