My Favorite Episode: You Must Remember This
Host Karina Longworth on why her latest season hits close to home.
When Karina Longworth started You Must Remember This in 2014, she set out to make a podcast about the “secret and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” What started as a passion project morphed into one of the most influential podcasts on the history of cinema, with seasons focusing on Joan Crawford, the Cold War blacklist, and the Manson family, among others. The podcast is such a hit that it’s inspired fans to start film and book clubs, and led to Longworth publishing her own book in 2018, Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood. For her favorite episode of the show, she chose the first entry in its latest season, which looks at the life and career of Polly Platt, an Oscar-winning production designer and the ex-wife of acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich. Here, Longworth explains why this story particularly resonates with her and how she chose to bring it to life.
Spotify for Podcasters: Can you tell us a bit about the latest season of your show?
Karina Longworth: You Must Remember This is stories about 20th-century Hollywood that have either been misunderstood or never been told properly. Our current season is about Polly Platt, who was a production designer. She was nominated for an Oscar for her design on the film Terms of Endearment. She was also a screenwriter and producer, but she's best known for having been married to the director, Peter Bogdanovich, and for having been on the losing end of a love triangle involving him and Cybill Shepherd on the set of the classic film The Last Picture Show.
I got to know Polly’s daughters, Sasha and Antonia Bogdanovich, and they shared with me their mom’s unpublished, unfinished memoir. It was so clear that it was an incredible document and I really wanted to get it out in the world. It's not in a state where it could be published, so, after considering doing it as a book where I would flesh it out, it found its more idealized form, at least for now, in the podcast.
You Must Remember This has covered many different eras of Hollywood. What about this time period was compelling to you?
In 2012, I wrote a book proposal about women like Polly Platt, Maria Lucas, and Eleanor Coppola, who were all wives of these filmmakers that we’ve put on a pedestal as being the bad boys of ‘70s Hollywood. I couldn’t sell that book, so I just didn’t do anything [on it] for years and years and years.
This season, in addition to being one woman’s incredible, grand story of success and failure in Hollywood and life, is a way of looking at Hollywood in the 1970s—which we usually see through the eyes of men—through the eyes of a woman who was not only there but who graduated out of that storied world to become a producer and creative person in Hollywood in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The episode you’ve chosen is the first of the season, which sets up the scope of Polly’s story and dives deep into her early years. What makes it your favorite?
Well, because the research process for making this show is so intense, I have to kind of put everything I've done in the past out of my brain and out of my heart in order to focus on the current project. So, whatever the newest episode is becomes my favorite episode.
Is this your favorite season, then?
I tend to feel like whatever I'm working on at that moment is the thing I'm most passionate about, but I do think the Polly Platt season is special because, first of all, this is a story I've dreamed of telling for a decade.
I feel very personally attached to Polly’s story. Getting to know her through her writing and through all the people I talk to, I began to identify with her much more than I ever thought I would. And in putting her story out there, I feel like [I’m] emotionally exposed in a way that I haven't been in the past with the podcast. Even though whenever I'm making podcast episodes, I do feel like I'm giving everything I have to give, this one is that times ten.
You have a voice actor reading passages from her memoir. Why was it so important to include that in the project?
Polly's writing is really, really singular. I guess I could have kind of rewritten her words, but I didn't want to because it's too good—her voice just kind of leaps off the page when you read it. From the very first time I read her manuscript, I knew, as unfinished as it was, that I needed to have an actress bring it to life. I talked to a few different people and was so fortunate to end up working with Maggie Siff, who people might know from Mad Men or Billions. Not only is she a great actress, but she really connected with the material, channeled what Polly was like, and found this voice within her writing. I'm really, really excited about that aspect of it.
Do you have any advice for creators to get more eyes — or ears — on work that they’re particularly enthusiastic about?
I think the success that I've had has been due to the fact that I'm very passionate about my work. It's very authentic and I think people respond to that. Also, I'm able to share it in a way that doesn't seem craven. So, I can't really recommend any strategies other than being authentic.
— Katie Ferguson
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity