How Karina Longworth Introduced Intercourse and Sleaze Again to Hollywood Historical past

01900007 – Credit score: Ye Rin Mok for Rolling Stone

Karina Longworth’s home is, fairly probably, haunted. This isn’t essentially one thing she has skilled herself, she tells me of her pale-pink 1926 Mediterranean, the place Longworth could possibly be discovered one July morning on the frond-shadowed patio. However it’s one thing she has on authority from a pal who drunkenly stumbled in from the pool one evening and heard, within the empty residence, a cocktail party occurring within the eating room upstairs. Since then, the hauntedness or unhauntedness of Longworth’s abode has turn into a matter of some debate. “My pal thinks my home is haunted,” she says wryly. “I believe he drinks an excessive amount of.”

Both manner, there may be actually nobody higher at reviving Hollywood’s ghosts than Longworth. A movie critic and historian, she is greatest identified for the podcast You Should Keep in mind This, which she researches, writes, and information in a tiny foam-lined closet off the downstairs workplace of her husband, director Rian Johnson. Within the eight years since she launched the podcast with an episode on Kim Novak and a promise to show “the key and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century,” Longworth has confirmed herself to be a definitive supply on Hollywood lore, from the abuses of MGM’s studio system to the politics of the Rat Pack. The season on Charles Manson has been cited as among the best cultural examinations of his Household on the market, despite the fact that “I didn’t come to it from the attitude of true crime,” she says. “I got here to it by Doris Day.”

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The ability with which Longworth can join these dots has garnered her a whole bunch of 1000’s of listeners and a cult following that features Tavi Gevinson, Chloë Sevigny, and Natasha Lyonne, who heard in regards to the podcast from producer Eli Roth after which reached out to Longworth within the hopes of creating a present primarily based on a Hollywood-blacklist episode. “I bear in mind cold-calling her, and I used to be type of shaking, you recognize, simply completely star-struck,” says Lyonne, who has since voiced each Clara Bow and Mae West for the podcast, and who cooked up the upcoming Peacock collection Poker Face with Johnson whereas they have been ready for Longworth to complete signing books after a studying. “Karina sees the underbelly of all our techniques, what we’re able to within the attain for energy and relevance,” says Lyonne. “It’s darkish. It’s inherently eerie materials.”

From the start, Longworth has leaned into that eeriness. (“I really feel like I don’t even have to speak about David Lynch as a result of he’s clearly the patron saint of the podcast,” she says.) The present nearly has the texture of a séance — a comparability Longworth herself has made — from the opening, through which the distorted voice of Dooley Wilson singing “As Time Goes By” is drowned out by ghostly murmurs, to the breathy manner that she invitations the listener to “Be part of us, gained’t you?” However the ghosts she conjures, fleshes out, and humanizes aren’t simply the well-known ones. They’re additionally those who’ve lengthy been forgotten, buried within the archives of the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, misplaced to the fleeting fancies of public opinion, starring in movies that may by no means be seen once more as a result of not a single copy remains to be in existence. Her signature transfer is to make use of a topic individuals assume they learn about to inform a extra profound story — particularly if it includes a girl whose legacy has been plastered over by that of a person.

Longworth is 42 and has the heart-shaped face of a silent-film star. On the morning we meet, she is sporting houndstooth pants and loafers, and is sitting at a wicker patio desk strewn with Nineteen Nineties editions of Movieline (“How Luke Perry Spent His Spring Trip”), Premiere (“Richard Woos One other Fairly Lady”), and Ms. (“Shere Hite Is Again”). She is within the technique of researching her 211th episode, which she thinks might be about Julia Roberts in Fairly Lady, and which can kick off a season known as “Erotic 90s,” slated to be launched this fall. It’s a follow-up to “Erotic 80s,” Longworth’s most up-to-date season, begun after the pandemic shut down the libraries and archives the place she normally turns for analysis. She had been accumulating leisure magazines from her youth, so she delved in. “Should you learn each single assessment of a movie that you could find, you do see narratives,” she says. “You do see waves. You see lots of people coming to the identical conclusion on the identical time.”

She picks up a Movieline, on the quilt of which Drew Barrymore wears pink satin gloves and a sultry expression. “I vaguely bear in mind this,” she says. “I positively bear in mind the narrative that they’re telling, which is: ‘She went to rehab, however she’s nonetheless a foul woman. She’s so horny. Who cares that she’s solely 17?’ ”

In an episode of YMRT, that narrative can be teased out, dissected, animating the previous by undercutting any assumptions that it was much less contradictory or bewildering than the current. The by line of Longworth’s work is her ability for not solely untangling fable from actuality (no, Jean Harlow was not killed by her hair dye), but in addition interrogating the cultural situations that led to the creation of the parable — and utilizing the contours of fable to take action. “I like an increase and fall,” she says. “I like a three-act narrative.”

Abruptly, there’s a noise from the home. Longworth goes inside to test it out, but it surely seems to not be a ghostly visitation. It’s simply her salad being delivered from Sweetgreen.

If Longworth’s life have been a film, it will be laborious to inform what style it will be. A sardonic, self-aware tragedy? A coming-of-age darkish comedy? Listed here are the details: She grew up in Studio Metropolis, California, at a time when, she says, “each Starbucks was full of half-employed screenwriters who’d speak about what it was once prefer to work at Mary Tyler Moore’s studios. At 13 years previous, you might simply get a mocha and sit and pay attention.”

Longworth was inclined to. She grew up with an accountant dad, a mother who was “type of an artist, however principally a housewife,” and the so-close-so-far feeling endemic to the Valley. When she was a child, her mother took her to all of the rereleases of the Disney movies, however didn’t faux that life was a fairy story. “I positively noticed my mom chafing towards expectations and being very depressed and desirous to do one thing exterior the house, however probably not realizing what it was,” says Longworth. When she was 11 and her little sister was 4, their mom killed herself. Their father — British and stiff-upper-lipped — was “overwhelmed” as a single mother or father. Of this era, Longworth says, “I actually had a tough time making buddies and simply being an individual on this planet.” She spent lengthy afternoons alone in her room studying in regards to the rather more glamorous however typically equally tragic lives of the celebrities.

Junior excessive was a turning level. Kurt Cobain was singing about Frances Farmer. David Lynch was channeling Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini. By the point Longworth began highschool, she had fallen in with a bunch of buddies for whom “it was necessary to go see films from the Sixties and Seventies. You have been speculated to have seen issues like Simple Rider or 2001. I felt prefer it was additionally necessary for me to hire Citizen Kane. I ought to see Kurosawa films. I ought to see Godard and Truffaut.” She took to studying the old-movie listings at the back of TV Information: “I knew that Myrna Loy was a factor earlier than I had ever seen a Myrna Loy film.”

Longworth left residence as quickly as she might, first for the Faculty of the Artwork Institute of Chicago, after which the San Francisco Artwork Institute, the place she studied experimental movie and commenced making movies that mashed up autobiography with movie evaluation. Her thesis was about “this in all probability apocryphal story that Judy Garland had an affair with Frank Sinatra, that I used to be additionally loosely connecting to my very own [breakup].”

When nobody knew what to make of this, she decamped to NYU for a grasp’s in cinema research, taking courses and dealing full time at a specialty grocery retailer to cowl hire. Whereas nonetheless a scholar, she helped set the tone of the early blogosphere, writing snarky, humorous, insightful opinions (at $7 a pop) for websites like Cinematical, which ultimately helped her land the job of movie critic at LA Weekly in 2010. She had thought it will be a dream job; as a substitute, she discovered it stifling to must have an immediate “take” on every thing.

Longworth pivoted to instructing at Chapman College in Orange County, however “it was very tough to talk with all these individuals me.” She wrote a couple of books. Then, in 2014, she thought that making a podcast might perhaps open doorways, even assist her get a job at Turner Basic Films. Over spring break, she taught herself GarageBand and recorded her first episode. She was stunned when, solely three or 4 episodes in, Leisure Weekly talked about YMRT. As soon as the semester ended, she started doing the podcast full time. “She has an unimaginable skill to see the large image and in addition know precisely what element captures it, brings it to life, and makes you perceive precisely what occurred,” says her pal Amy Nicholson, who took over as movie critic at LA Weekly. “You simply really feel like if she’s fascinated by one thing, there’s a cause it’s fascinating.”

As soon as Longworth decides on a topic, she turns to Google, studying every thing she will after which utilizing it to direct her to books, biographies, and contemporaneous sources: magazines, studio correspondence, telegrams, blind objects. With the assistance of her analysis and manufacturing assistant, she organizes info right into a timeline (“I can solely assume chronologically”), typically shade coding what she thinks she’ll use. A single episode can take her months to analysis and put together.

“She is probably the most disciplined author I’ve ever met,” says Johnson, who met Longworth in 2009 when she moderated a Q&A for his movie The Brothers Bloom. “And with any of the subjects that she explores, she at all times finds a private, emotional manner into it.” For Longworth, that manner in is the purpose: “If I can humanize anyone who makes films to the extent that it makes individuals need to watch the flicks, after which the flicks assist them perceive themselves higher, that’s the final word purpose.”

Selecting the place to dine with Longworth is a Hollywood historical past lesson in and of itself. There’s Musso and Frank, the steakhouse the place Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford began United Artists. There’s the Chateau Marmont, the place John Belushi fatally overdosed. There’s Expensive John’s, the place Sinatra and his crew frolicked, and the Smokehouse, plopped throughout the road from Warner Bros. Longworth had even advisable my resort, the Hollywood Roosevelt, the place Marilyn Monroe (Room 1200) and Montgomery Clift (Room 928) had been posthumously sighted; based on her, it’s famously haunted.

Ultimately, although, she admitted that going to Previous Hollywood institutions can really feel to her like “cosplay.” As she put it, “Folks typically have this concept that I’m sporting a classic costume on a regular basis. I’m not Dita Von Teese.” Ultimately, we selected Silver Lake’s Cafe Stella, about which she texted there would “in all probability be somebody that’s well-known from a streaming present.” There wasn’t, however our sidewalk desk did have a distant view of the Hollywood signal, the “H” of which actress Peg Entwistle had thrown herself off in 1932 when her half in a movie was reduce from 16 minutes to 4, as I’d discovered whereas listening to episode 93 in my haunted resort.

In highschool, Longworth took to studying the old-movie listings at the back of TV Information. “I knew that Myrna Loy was a factor earlier than I had ever seen a Myrna Loy film,” she says. 

Longworth just isn’t Dita Von Teese, however there’s something about her that appears anachronistic, even when she not wears cat-eye glasses and sharp bobs. She’s bought a reasonably bookish high quality in particular person, however after a glass or two of Bordeaux, the strains between the precise Longworth and her dishy podcast persona blur: The YMRT model doesn’t look like a personality she’s enjoying a lot as a barely heightened model of who she is, if with extra exact and clipped diction. “I’ve extra of a Valley Lady voice after I’m not talking in entrance of a microphone,” she says.

She can be extra of a realist than her subject material may counsel. If a lot of Previous Hollywood exists on this “hazy area of smoke and want success,” as an episode on Garland attests, Longworth resists falling prey to nostalgia by baldly commenting on its attraction. She incessantly pits accounts towards one another, examines her personal misconceptions, teases out which sources are prone to be extra credible, after which highlights when the solutions fail to disclose themselves. “More often than not it’s like on the lookout for a needle in a haystack — and understanding what that needle seems to be like,” she says of her analysis. “You’re making decisions. What if in a second I used to be drained and didn’t see an important factor?”

And it’s doable that an important factor simply doesn’t exist anymore. “Los Angeles is superb at erasing its personal historical past,” she says as evening falls. “It’s the identical impulse that brought about the movie business to set films on hearth, to soften them down, to save lots of the silver nitrate, which is why most silent movies are misplaced.” YMRT acknowledges that this sense of loss is as a lot part of the panorama as something. “There’s a loneliness to Los Angeles. There’s loads of isolation right here,” Longworth says.

Simply as the very best films reveal one thing of the human situation, Longworth’s work helps her discover one thing of her personal self. Her most poignant season could also be 2017’s “Lifeless Blondes,” which explores the lives of stars from Marilyn Monroe to Veronica Lake — and our fascination with their tragic ends. It’s the season she wrote after her father’s demise from most cancers. She was with him the entire time.

“It was actually, actually laborious for me,” Longworth had advised me earlier. “I didn’t join it on the time, however as quickly because the season was over, it was so apparent to me that it was my grief season.” She will see why the previous beckons to her, why she’s made a profession “occupied with the ways in which the individuals left behind take care of the legacy.”

However the previous doesn’t make that simple. The previous buries itself. Even revived, the ghosts maintain on to their secrets and techniques. Longworth doesn’t begrudge them. “I want I believed extra that the road between life and demise was porous,” she says, not unhappily. “However I don’t.”

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