‘You Must Remember This’: Hollywood’s Dark, Scandalous (and Funny) History Unearthed in Podcast

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Think you know Hollywood? Think again.

If you’re looking to fill the “Serial”-shaped hole in your heart (until it returns in the fall, anyway), the solution might just be “You Must Remember This,” a podcast “dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”  Though not a serialized true crime investigation , “Remember This”‘s subjects — which range from Madonna’s tumultuous relationships with Sean Penn and Warren Beatty to a bizarre, under-appreciated Frank Sinatra album — are every bit as real and complicated as the Adnan Syed saga.

Each episode is written, edited, and narrated by Karina Longworth, prominent film critic (and girlfriend of future Star Wars: Episode VIII director, Rian Johnson). Clearly, Longworth deeply cares about her subjects, and it shows in her exhaustive research and attention to detail. But none of “Remember This” comes across like a high school history lesson: Longworth transforms these murky, storied histories into entertaining, accessible tales that are often laugh-out-loud funny, despite their frequently dark subject matter.

In an an early episode, Longworth tackles the legend of Frances Farmer, an actress whose descent into “madness” inspired a Nirvana song. As the legend goes, Farmer was unfairly institutionalized and lobotomized after a string of run-ins with the law. Many aspects of the legend, including the lobotomy, are not actually true; the fun is in following Longworth trace the lies and exaggerations back to their points of origin.

Other episodes spotlight Norma Jeane Mortenson’s surprising transformation into Marilyn Monroe, arguably the century’s most famous sex symbol; the role Judy Garland’s death may or may not have played in the Stonewall Riots; Isabella Rossellini’s secret feminist plot; and Marlon Brando’s fascinating career comeback (and implosion) in the early ’70s.

The current season of “Remember This,” which launched just last week, will focus on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” and how the culture both affected and was affected by the Manson Family’s gruesome and grizzly acts in the late 1960s. Perhaps due to a combination of the subject matter and the serialization — this series will span 11 episodes — “Remember This” is experiencing a surge in popularity and is now quickly climbing iTunes’ Top Podcasts charts. (This is our way of saying: get in on this before all of your friends beat you to it.)

Every episode I have had the pleasure of listening to has been, in its own way, entirely satisfying. Sure, it’s always entertaining to hear about the drunken and drug-fueled escapades of the immaculate-looking stars of an era gone by, but the real worth is in feeling you are being let in on an important secret.  As Longworth often points out in the podcast, Hollywood, especially in its earlier years, had a talent for obscuring truth and creating spin so strong and permeating that it could eclipse reality and last, in some cases, forever. That Longworth is able to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of lies (without, I might add, ever coming across as judgmental) is the true reward for listeners.

So come for the sex, drugs, conspiracy theories, failures, adultery, Scientologists, and general debauchery, but stay for the rare insights into an industry that still, to this day, knows a thing or two about performing a magic trick.

[Download “You Must Remember This” on iTunes]