I hope that UnEarthed will be a new series of articles reporting on my adventures as a “vintage media archaeologist”. Watching an episode of a classic television series or an old B movie or listening to an old record I stumbled on at a thrift store will often send me on a journey scouring the internet for information. Often a supporting player in a classic film or the bass player on an obscure album will interest me and I go for a “Wiki Walk”; what I call it when my usual first stop – Wikipedia – will send me on an odyssey through many other articles and places on the web as I research everything about – and everything peripheral to – the certain something that has caught my eye or ear. Sometimes it’s the things peripheral to what I’ve looked up that are most fascinating.
There are only so many Cary Grants in the world, only a few Marilyn Monroes. What exists in hordes, though, are the many minor players that have contributed to the entertainment industry over the years. Their stories are perhaps even more fascinating than those of the major stars. Clark Gable’s story has been told countless times and there are few things we do not know about him. That he was a big star until the day he died of a heart attack is a story not so different from that of many other stars. But what can emerge as even more intriguing are the stories of those who you chuckled at when they appeared in the cast of an American International exploitation picture or who guest starred on The Untouchables.
What is most arresting is trying to imagine these Hollywood hopefuls and “almost-stars” returning to normal life after their fifteen minutes is up. What do they get up to? How do they support themselves? Maybe you find yourself staring too long at your real estate agent until it hits you – you saw her on Mannix years ago. You’ve been playing with a guy in your church band for six months and one day someone tells you he used to be in the Searchers. You visit your grandmother at her seniors condominium complex. You wheel her down to the common room where the girls play canasta. She proudly introduces you around. You stop cold as she presents you to one classy looking old girl. You take this lady’s hand and you whisper to her in awe “I own both your albums”. You’re flipping through the paper with your morning java and read on the back pages that someone you used to love on Lancer has just been arrested. Or you’re imagining what it must’ve been like for that former starlet who was also once Miss March to marry an oil millionaire and move to the Middle East. Maybe you find out that girl in Tickle Me ended up a princess. Of a country you’ve never heard of.
There really are eight million or so stories in the naked city and most of them are hidden. They need to be excavated, dug up and shared. That’s what I hope to do with this series so come along for the ride; hopefully, there won’t be snakes.