Over the course of 168 episodes of her popular podcast “You Must Remember This,” Karina Longworth has made more than good on her promise to explore the “secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” Since the podcast’s inception in 2014, Longworth has turned her love of cinema (and passion for serious research) into a must-listen slice of Hollywood history that has covered everything from Disney’s controversial film “Song of the South” to the star-studded early years of MGM, the tragic lives of various “Dead Blondes,” the loves of Howard Hughes, plus an entire run of episodes “fact-checking” Kenneth Anger’s wild gossipy exposé “Hollywood Babylon.”
One thing Longworth has mostly resisted doing — beyond her 2016 series focused on Joan Crawford — is build an entire season around one indelible Hollywood name. (And, no, she doesn’t consider her insightful “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” series to be about the convicted murderer so much as the big names that surrounded him) For her latest season, Longworth has opted to dedicate 10 full-length episodes to the life and legacy of producer, writer, and Oscar-nominated production designer Polly Platt.
Appropriately titled “Polly Platt, The Invisible Woman,” the new season started its run earlier this week and, from the start, Longworth’s aim to build it around Platt as a person and a professional of her own making is clear. It’s also heartbreaking, insightful, and more than a little anger-inducing. And while this season — which Longworth told IndieWire was her most labor-intensive yet — required plenty from its creator, it was also helped along by an essential document from Platt herself: her unfinished memoir, which forms the spine of the season.
Platt, who worked in Hollywood for decades and has an eye-popping resume to match (from writing “Pretty Baby” to producing “Broadcast News” to crafting the production design on “What’s Up, Doc?” and all sorts of projects in-between), is too often remembered as the woman filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich jilted to couple up with his “The Last Picture Show” star Cybill Shepherd. Over the course of ten episodes, Longworth won’t attempt to dismantle those gossipy associations, but to provide — through Platt’s own words, as voiced by actress Maggie Siff — a much deeper look at Platt’s incredible contributions to modern cinema.
Longworth, who had long known about the memoir through mutual friend (and super-producer) Stacey Sher, first got her hands on it last spring, when Platt’s daughter Sashy Bogdanovich decided it was time to share her mother’s story with the world. Platt passed away in 2011, and while her death inspired a number of stellar tributes, her story had not yet been told in her own words.
“It is unfinished, so it doesn’t tell the full story, but the stuff that she was able to lay out is really, really illuminating,” Longworth told IndieWire. “It does a really good job of making you realize this is a woman’s whole life and the stuff you know about her relationship to Peter, and to the movies they made together, were such a small part of it. There’s just so much more to talk about.”
The first episode of the season follows Platt’s early years, including an unhappy childhood, a fraught young adulthood (much of which informed her abiding love for “The Last Picture Show,” itself an artifact about youthful desires), and her decision to dedicate her life to the arts. It’s material deep enough for its own season, let alone a single episode, that’s how rich Platt’s own life was.
“Even in her unpublished, unfinished memoir, I had to cut out at least 50 percent of the stuff she wrote about growing up,” Longworth says. “This is a movie podcast, so I had to pick the stuff that seemed relevant to her later life and career. Polly did lead a really grand life that encompassed a lot, but there are so many people who can say almost the same thing.”
That Platt’s life is emblematic of so many other “invisible” creators (yes, many of them women) in Hollywood is another theme that runs through the season. So in the sense that, while times have begun to change, stories like Platt’s are still quite fresh, just like many of her best-loved productions.
“If anybody has an idea that this podcast is about stuff that’s in the distant past, I hope the season breaks that notion,” Longworth says. “A lot of the movies Polly was involved with remain very relevant and watchable. That’s the thing about her filmography, it’s not dusty, classic relics; it’s ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ and ‘Bad News Bears’ and ‘Broadcast News’ and ‘Bottle Rocket’ and ‘Say Anything.’ It’s movies you’ve definitely seen on cable while flipping the channels and you just probably didn’t know the extent to which this woman was involved with them.”
Kerry Hayes/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock
The version of Platt’s memoir that Longworth worked with — a PDF version was at the ready when she spoke to IndieWire — clocked in at 337 pages and, as she says, basically “cuts off in the middle of a thought about ‘Bottle Rocket.'” Because Platt’s manuscript ends around 1995, the final episode in the series takes a wide-ranging look at the last 15 years of her life and career, as researched by Longworth.
It seems like that kind of freedom applied to the entire production. When asked if Sashy and her sister Antonia Bogdanovich placed any limits on what Longworth’s podcast could cover, Longworth says no.
“They didn’t put any limits, but from getting to know them, I made some choices about what was important and what wasn’t important,” she says. “Their dad is still alive and they still have a relationship with him, and I don’t want to do anything to needlessly antagonize Peter Bogdanovich. I’m trying to tell Polly’s story as truthfully and as extensively as possible. The point of it is not to say like ‘Polly good, Peter bad,’ the point of it is to tell a woman’s story that hasn’t been told.“
And no, she didn’t speak to Bogdanovich, another choice she thought was appropriate for the story she hopes “The Invisible Woman” will tell its listeners. “That was the choice I made at the beginning of the process,” Longworth says. “Peter has been able to tell his side of the story in various platforms, his side of the story had been out there, and the point of this was to tell Polly’s side of the story.”
While listeners will indeed be treated to stories about Platt’s personal life, the podcast also provides a wide-ranging exploration of her multi-faceted career. It’s one that began with a love for theatrical set design, took her to Hollywood to help make some of the great hits of the ’70s, and eventually found her pushing James L. Brooks to look at the cartoons of a rising star named Matt Groening (yes, you can thank Platt for inspiring the creation of “The Simpsons,” she was a busy lady).
By the second episode, Longworth says, the podcast turns some of its attention to the way Hollywood’s beloved auteur theory has perhaps kept talents like Platt from being fully appreciated in their time. “How many people really do know the names of anybody who works in a movie that isn’t a director?,” Longworth says. “Because directors are celebrities it obscures all of the other labor and creative input made by other people. That way of thinking about the way movies are made put so much emphasis on directors that it’s like if you don’t become a director, your story doesn’t count.”
Not that Platt didn’t have her own aspirations to direct, another topic Longworth says will be covered in upcoming episodes. “To some extent, her story is a story of failure because she didn’t become a director, but to another extent, why do we put so much importance on directing?,” she says.
It’s that inability to classify Platt as a traditional success story — and a brilliant, formidable creative in her own right — that’s also made her tough to put in the usual boxes. By sharing stories of her contributions to many films, like her choice to put Shepherd in hair curlers and cold cream in “The Last Picture Show” (all the better to refute tired ideas of how women really look) to the way her own personality informed the creations of characters in “Broadcast News” and “Terms of Endearment,” Longworth hopes to change the way people think about Platt.
“I think also the fact that not only was she not a director, but she wasn’t any one specific thing makes it difficult for people to know how to celebrate her life,” Longworth says. “You can call her a great production designer, but she was also a producer, she was also a writer. She also made contributions that weren’t necessarily defined, … she was providing both creative and emotional support, and that allowed people to kind of be their best selves.”
Longworth adds, “She had real creative contributions to so many movies, which won Oscars, which were box office hits, which are considered to be classics. That should be celebrated, but in the sort of system of celebration in Hollywood there hasn’t been room for that kind of story.”
As Longworth works to complete the season, she hints that a few more interviews might still come through, as she was hammering those out before the global pandemic began to shut things down. (Her archival research, she says, was thankfully completed just days before most states went into lockdown.) As for listeners eager to get their hands on Platt’s unfinished memoir, Longworth cautions the manuscript she used for this season isn’t currently in publishable shape. She hopes that might one day change, or that the material could inspire a documentary or another kind of book.
“In terms of Hollywood history, we have thus far given doorstop biographies to mostly men in power, mostly moguls,” Longworth says, pointing to a handful of exceptions, like Victoria Wilson’s two-part book about Barbara Stanwyck. “But for the most part, people like Polly don’t get their stories told in the scope and depth that they deserve.” For now, it seems, that’s finally changed.
New episodes of the “You Must Remember This” podcast are released each Tuesday.