Hopefully, I'm not breaking the news of this remarkable podcast series to anyone, as it's one of the best, most rigorously researched and passionate series out there. This, then, is an appreciation of the latest episode of the latest season of host Karina Longworth's investigation into old Hollywood legends and lore. For this season, Longworth has focused on "Dead Blondes," a knowingly glib title for a series of shows about blonde women who either got chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine, or figured out a way out.
The latest episode is about the relatively obscure Barbara Loden, who in fact may be most famous these days for figuring so strongly in Elia Kazan's autobiography, "A Life." In fact, Loden left behind very little personal info in the form of journal writings or interviews after her death, so Longworth is forced to lean hard on the Kazan book. Kazan's autobiography is highly-regarded, but as with any autobiography, the history on display is subjective. When you add into the mix that fact that Kazan is such a divisive figure (directing some of the finest, most progressively naturalistic movies of the 1950s but also playing ball with Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunt to save his career), we are reminded that so much of the 20th century was filtered through the perception (and corrupted POV) of paternalism, even the work of a major auteur like Kazan.
Loden's childhood was no dream, and she found her modeling career dissatisfying and limiting. Her big acting break came with regular "sidekick" appearances on early TV genius Ernie Kovacs' popular show. Kazan and Loden were both married when they started their affair, and the elder director was 23 years older than the young actress. Kazan brought Loden onto the set of his Montgomery Clift masterpiece "Wild River" (a failure at the time) and then gave her the plum supporting role of Warren Beatty's sister in the more successful "Splendor in the Grass."
The pair split up, then came back together and got married. When Kazan was directing Arthur Miller's "After the Fall" for the New York stage, he knew that Miller had based the lead character on his own wife, Marilyn Monroe. He cast Loden in the part. But Loden's career dried up under Kazan's admitted overprotection, and it was only when she struck out on her own to make a movie that she found her greatest glory. (Kazan based much of his oft-derided but very compelling late 60s freak-out "The Arrangement" on their marriage.)
"Wanda" was written, produced, and directed by Loden, and she cast herself in the lead for the small movie set in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. The movie won a major prize at the 31st Venice International Film Festival, and Longworth cannily notes that the film's naturalism predates the startling 70s work of John Cassavetes. In her way, then, Barbara Loden bridges the two major advancements in mid-century movie naturalism, from Kazan to Cassavetes.
It wouldn't be an entry into the "Dead Blondes" season if the story didn't have a sad ending, but we'll leave it to Longworth and her unparalleled knowledge of movie history and behind-the-scenes drama to take you there. It's a highly compelling listen.
Title: "You Must Remember This"
Episodes Available: 104
Episode Length: 45-60 mins
Where to Download: youmustrememberthispodcast.com
Host: Karina Longworth