Movieland Mystery Photo

  June 11, 2011, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

You may recognize this photo because I ran it a few years ago. But it’s one of my favorites. This fellow was branded with a very certain stereotype that he played in countless films, so I like to see him out of character.

As some of you know, the Daily Mirror is being killed by The Times in a pruning of blogs with low traffic. I’ll post a longer farewell next week, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for participating in the mystery photos. They were my most popular feature.

Through the mystery photos, I got to know “the brain trust,” a corps of readers with a humbling knowledge of film. My first criteria in selecting mystery guests was that I didn’t know who they were, so in almost every case (aside from my two-week binge on Lucille Ball and a few other exceptions) I couldn’t identify any of them. And they proved to be a wonderful history lesson for me: Trixie Friganza … Jack Mulhall … Julian Eltinge … Pier Angeli. 

I had an agenda with these pictures, though I don’t think anyone ever realized what I was up to. Most people saw the pictures as a daily movie quiz that was (at least ideally) fairly challenging. And that was fine.

But the mystery pictures were actually a years-long photo essay on fame and forgetfulness. Nearly every image I posted was of someone who was once a prominent performer – and yet look at  how dimly most of them are remembered. 

In some ways,  the indignant responses were the most perversely rewarding:  “Am I supposed to know who that is?” No, you’re not. That’s the point: The stars of today are the obscure nobodies of tomorrow. Alas, that’s a lesson that some of Hollywood’s current problem children haven’t learned.

Thanks for reading…. Keep checking next week for a final farewell post that ties up all the loose ends from the last four years.


  March 19, 1941, Comic  

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in art and artists, Comics, Film, Hollywood, Mystery Photo, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Movieland Mystery Photo

  1. Mary mallory says:

    Joseph Schildkraut? This was before I started reading. In fact, it was Claire who got me involved when she forwarded me the photo of the Mary Astor divorce trial, and I immediately recognized what it was from. That got me hooked, and I then got the Hawkman hooked when I told him about the Jack Mulhall postings. You taught us an awful lot about how fame and fortune often change, as well as how history repeats itself. If only society would look back at the past so as not to repeat mistakes, but also to follow what was successful. I’m going to miss this so much. Please tell me the Times is going to maintain this blog on the web and not remove it, there’s so much great information here.


  2. Coto says:

    Leaving? Say it ain’t so, Joe. This column is a morning ‘must’. The history, the memories, stuff you can’t find elsewhere. The old Jim Murray columns, WWII, the past corruption in L.A., …….all I can think of is “Don’t leave, come back Shane”.


  3. fibber mcgee says:

    Larry, Larry, Larry, Molly was just kiddig when she asked you to stop running those mystery photos. Be careful of what you ask for, etc. Words cannot express how unhappy we are that your blog is ending it’s glorious run. But we understand. We doubt you will have your “life” back for long, you’ll find another torch to carry, another parade to march in…it’s in your blood. Take care.


  4. Arye Michael Bender says:

    Day after day, The Daily Mirror gave us a glimpse of the glamour that still is the brick and mortar of that place called ‘Hollywood’ and the layered lesson inherent in fleeting fame. We got to see both the image and the reality set in an ephemeral location that grew into the new Second City.
    The Column had a soul of its own. And it was one unique to the time and place of Los Angeles and the mighty newspapers that once ruled. Sorry to see the LA Times lose a vital part of itself by cutting ‘The Daily Mirror’. The cut may seem small but it greatly diminishes the paper’s value.
    Larry, Thanks for delighting and informing us in such engaging style.


  5. Steven BIbb says:

    It’s Franklin Pangborn…..I think I got it the first time too.
    Fame is fleeting, that is true, and not every one was a major “star,” but in the world of blogs that melded my love of film, history and the newspaper industry, your blog was truly a star above all else. Each morning was started by reading your blog, trying to guess the mystery photo (one of the best uses of archival newspaper photos in existence, and being able to view the mastery of the re-toucher and airbrusher!), and learning about slices of vintage LA that made me long to have been alive during those times.
    I am truly and deeply sad that your blog is ending…I wish there was some way to spare it, some petition to sign, some last minute reprieve. But rest assured that you have made many people very happy over these years, and that you, Larry Harnisch, and your other bloggers have made a loyal fan of your work, of which I will continue to follow in whatever steps you next take.


  6. margie says:

    I am saddened that this activity has to end. I couldn’t participate very often, and when I did, I rarely recognized anyone. But I delighted in the attempt. I searched the movie books that I have accumulated over the years, I surfed the net, and racked my old brain. I enjoyed the challenge. It was sometimes hard to wait until 6pm to see what Fibber Mcgee, Waldo Leidecker and others had to say.
    I shall miss these evenings. I have had such fun, and learned so much. Thank you!
    Margie McDuff, The Netherlands


  7. Don says:

    I’ll miss it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of Los Angeles history.


  8. Rick Scott says:

    First the guess…El Brendel. Now the regrets…that I only happened upon this feature a little over a year ago, now it’s the first thing I go to. The website won’t be the same, and will take less time to view. While I thought I knew a lot about “Old Hollywood,” I learned a great deal (even guessed a few). Really enjoyed the other articles you posted (great to discover The Times stooped to sensationalistic journalism-think Thelma Todd-that would make The National Inquirer proud.


  9. Cold in PHX says:

    This has been, by far, one of my favorite blogs. It’s a shame that the LA Times is dropping it. Mystery Photo has been a favorite feature as well, though I usually came up early, though I did nudge up a truffle every now and then (Chic and Ole). I hope that it will continue in some form or another, independent of the site.


  10. Arye Michael Bender says:

    On Mr. Pangborn: Sagging jowls would prove to be the elixer for a long character career. Though Richard Nixon couldn’t pull off the same trick.


  11. herb nichols says:

    i just want to echo the sentiment of all the others. you will be truly missed. i only hope the times staff read these comments and maybe change their minds. your blog in my opinion brought back many happy memories of the past when l.a. was l.a. i look at some of the other news articles and blogs and think of what a waste of a tree. thanks for all the wonderful nostalgia.


  12. barbara says:

    Franklin Pangborn.
    I, too, will miss the Movieland Mystery Photo, and am sad to see it go. 😦


  13. MIKE HAWKS says:

    Franklin Pangborn returns.


  14. Rogét-L.A. says:

    The Movieland Mystery Photo blog catered to my love of trivia as well as my love of simplicity. No flashy graphics or gimmicks, just a simple challenge… actually, more often than not, not so simple.
    Your “social experiment” was as much a statement on our fascination with the meaningless minutiae spouted by the sensationalistic media of the day as it was about the fleetingness of fame. And yet, what a thrill when, with a murky nugget of memory and a little online research, you’ve solved the mystery and achieved as empty a glory as any other.
    It is the only blog I read on a regular basis and, aside from a personal friend’s, the only blog I ever read. Period. I will miss it.
    Fare thee well.


  15. Dewey Webb says:

    This is just too sad! Hope whoever is in charge of whatever remains of once-great LA Times realizes they are penny wise, pound foolish and are eradicating one of few things that made site distinctive. A million places to find opinions of late-breaking news, NONE like this. Truly a loss! –30–


  16. Julie Merholz says:

    Golly, you really have to look hard to find Franklin Pangborn in that photo.
    We will certainly miss this blog and thank you for all the fun and frustration you have given us.


  17. normadesmond says:

    dammit. i loved coming here, even if i rarely knew anyone.
    thanks for all you effort.


  18. Pamela Porter says:

    I got hooked on movies when I got my first library card from the Regency Square branch of the Jacksonville (Florida) Public Library. I liked the “big books” – they made me feel important (what was I…7…8?). Some of the “big books” were pictorial histories of films, and I fell into that world with wonder and it started a love that’s never waned.
    I’ve always felt a little dopey about knowing a lot of what to others must be silly and arcane and mundane – I think dedicated fellow trivialists of all stripes can understand this feeling. Your site gave me a chance to actually *use* those many years of film books and decades of movie viewings to test my mettle against people with the same “affliction”, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t measure up a good portion of the time!
    Your point lesson is a good one, but I have to take exception. As an old broad who’s turning 50 on Tuesday, I have to say that the current crop of “celebrities” is so unlike the people you p0sted that it’s not even funny. Paris Hilton may be famous for being famous, but you know what? ZsaZsa Gabor did the same thing – but with so much more elan and elegance and wit and style. She’ll be remembered long after Paris is gone. We’ll remember the DelRubio triplets a lot longer than the unholy triumvirate that is Kim, Khloe and Kourtney.
    I hope the Times reconsiders; your blog has brought together a most unique group of intelligent, witty and eclectic readers and I’m all the better for having made their – and your – acquaintance.
    Fondly –
    Pamela Porter


  19. Eve says:

    Whoa, nelly! My boy Franklyn Pangborn.
    I too will miss The Daily Mirror terribly. I have already let those in charge at the L.A. Times know what I think of their lack of concern about L.A. history. Larry, I do hope you will start your own site/blog/message board, that your loyal followers may trail after you there!


  20. fibber mcgee says:

    Somebody should tell Pamela Porter she is not, in her words an “old broad,” but a Spring Chicken, a young whippersnapper. Remember, the French think a woman only really starts to get interesting at 40. And, let’s see, Zsa Zsa is Paris Hilton’s former step grandmother if I remember it right. Birds of a feather. Gee willikers, this blog is fun.


  21. Lee Rivas says:

    Although I didn’t participate in your mystery photos as much as I wanted (simply because I didn’t have the answers), I did learn a lot from your old Los Angeles, old Hollywood, old history blogs and I looked forward to your blog each and every morning.
    I understand the demographics involved in the Times’ making a decision, “but that don’t make it right.” I guess the Times is reaching out to a younger readership than what we represent.
    Oh well, amigo, you’ll be sorely missed by this born and raised Angeleno. I give you permission to keep to take and keep my email address for any future related endeavors.


  22. dorfgog says:

    It really, REALLY sucks that your blog is being discontinued. It has always been informative and entertaining, the one thing I really looked forward to reading everyday. It will be greatly missed.


  23. Mike Botula says:

    Larry, there are so few good conduits into Los Angeles History. You have provided some fabulous insights. And you are totally right about “the Fame Thing.” Daily Mirror has always been one of my “first reads” in the morning. You will be missed, believe me. Mike Botula.


  24. Stacia says:

    Larry, you already know how I feel, but to make it public: I am absolutely heartbroken. I can’t remember how I stumbled across this blog in the first place, and I was never any good at the mystery guests — in fact, I was so bad that I got the distinct impression some people were insulted if I guessed right before they did. Fair enough. But it was fun, I learned a lot more about film than I would have otherwise, and I really enjoyed all the other articles. The Nuestro Pueblo feature is so terrific, too. I loved going to Google Maps and seeing if the buildings were still there — sometimes they were!
    I hope that, at the least, this allows you to free up some time for projects you’ve had to put on hold, and I hope so much that they keep this site up as an archive. Thank you for everything, Larry, and take care.


  25. Vincent says:

    I hope that, at the least, this allows you to free up some time for projects you’ve had to put on hold, and I hope so much that they keep this site up as an archive. Thank you for everything, Larry, and take care.
    Posted by: Stacia | June 12, 2011 at 03:28 AM
    I concur on both counts. Sorry to hear the news.


  26. Ed says:

    Every morning I look forward to reading your blog. As a native Angelino whose family has been here since 1878, I enjoy reading of LA’s past. I especially like reading Jimmy Fiddlers stories of old Hollywood
    I would hope that you could continue with your blog in some other convenient and accessible location.
    Good luck


  27. gary martin says:

    Franklyn Pangborn!! I would have said Wilfred Hyde White…and I would have been wrong again!! I will miss this feature of the Times. It had the amusing charm of the cast list of a John Ford movie; a virtual who’s who of former really famous people, including, always, brother Francis.It was in fact, one of the better features of the Times which seems barren of LA cultural relevance. Best regards…


  28. Bob Levinson says:

    Upsetting news.
    Lousy way to start a Sunday.


  29. Anne Papineau says:

    Remember exactly when I discovered your efforts: a tiny “mug shot” of Betty Bronson on the LA Times home page with a kind of “guess who this is” note. Why did they stop promoting the blog in this way? Frightfully sad to hear of its end — it’s been a much-appreciated part of my life. Fun, humbling and educational. I hope to follow any continued similar efforts — please.


  30. Robert Dudnick says:

    Terrible news, Larry. I especially liked seeing the front pages of the Mirror and Times (where I once worked). How about posting the last Los Angeles Mirror front page (1962) on your last day? Maybe you could also find the last Examiner (where I started).
    Tnx for all of it.


  31. BarryOB says:

    I can’t believe this blog is about to end. Certainly the cost can’t be an issue–you’re mining the resources of one of the largest newspaper archives in existence. Maybe the bean counters could cut back on coffee service? You will be missed!


  32. Rinky Dink says:

    My heart is broken. I’ll miss your blog…it has given me many hours of enjoyment despite seldom knowing who the show biz people are even AFTER they’re identified. Can you save our log-in email addresses to let us know if you start up elsewhere? This really, truly is such sad news…


  33. Jenny M says:

    It’s a sad day, learning that the Movieland Mystery Photo will disappear.
    Every week I looked forward to new challenges to solve. As a fan of the classic movies from the 30’s, 40’s and 50″s, I enjoyed going into my memory bank to find the faces of the famous and not so famous.
    I hope that there will soon be a way for the return of your blog. Thanks for all of the entertainment you have provided for the movie lovers of the world.


  34. Barbara says:

    I find it so absurd that the Times has decided this blog has to go. As with all Hollywood related things, your explanation of the Mystery Photos coincides with the Times archaic view of this blog.
    Instead of making sure the masses are covered, they should be appealing to the smaller groups that enjoy quality, imagination and wit. Everything is becoming so homogenized that pretty soon everything will just be a regurgitation of simpleminded bites; the Reader’s Digest condensed version of history.
    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; history matters to almost no one these days, except for we disappointed readers of this blog.
    If there is anything we can do Larry, to appeal to the Times Gods of Wisdom, please let us know. I can write a heck of a nasty letter, and I can be pretty persuasive when necessary. Maybe we can do a phone protest or something.
    In the end, I hope you form your own blog with any spare time you have. I am having such a hard time imagining my mornings without this gem.
    With profound sadness,
    Barbara Bassett


  35. gary martin says:

    I will miss my daily diversion. Nice job.


  36. Karen says:

    Larry — I will miss your column. It was the first thing I turned to when clicking on the LA Times. And thank you, too, to the “Brain Trust” for making this a memorable stop. I’m a native Californian but Texan by choice for the last 40 years. Sign me out as Karen from Austin. Hook ’em!


  37. juile says:

    Sorry to hear the Mystery Movie Picture will be going. With only a scant knowledge, but great interest, in the early days of film, I have known one or two faces, and maybe a few more names when revealed – most have been names and faces that were met with an ‘ah’ or an ‘oh’, and which will be lost to my aging brain again! But it’s been fun and I shall miss it.


  38. hockeykevin says:

    Closing down due to lack of traffic? Based on the comments here, there appears to have been quite a bit of traffic. What kind of numbers constitute low traffic?
    Sorry to see you go. It was fun trying to figure out who these stars of yesteryear were. Some I knew, most I didn’t. But I still hazard guesses most of the time and resisted the urge to shout “Sebastian Cabot” each and every time.
    Best to you always Larry in all that you do. Keep up the great work.


  39. Carmen says:

    Franklin Pangborn


  40. Sarah says:

    Larry — I have looked forward to reading your blog every morning. Since we are of the same generation, it was fun looking into the past. Thank you for providing such enjoyment for all of your readers. I will miss you and your blog. Best of luck, and I hope something like this comes back eventually.


  41. Vincent says:

    Too bad the bean counters at the Times are more interested in “what’s hot” than “what’s good.” For those of us who love Los Angeles history, this is a major loss.


  42. Carmen says:

    I don’t believe it!
    I just learned this AM. It became a daily item on Monday. What do I do now?
    It was a must on my list on Monday: Come into the office, set-up, get coffee, check you column as early as possible. Once I made my guess, loved to read the responses and see future photos or your by-lines”
    Mary, Mike, Dewey, Fibber, Arye and everyone, your expertise and love of silents, early television and this blog will be remembered by me for a long time.
    Why do I fee like Emily from “Our Town”?
    I am definitely letting LA times know how I feel about this loss. LA Times is LA and LA is Hollywood and Hollywood is movies-“The stuff that dreams are made of”


  43. Patricia van Hartesveldt says:

    So sorry to hear the news! I’ve already written my letters of protest to execs at the Times–maybe they’ll reconsider when they see how devoted your readers are.
    The few times I was able to guess the mystery person were such great little triumphs for me–put a happy face on my day. Pier Angeli!
    Hope you’ll be able to continue this charming and enlightening feature, if not here, then someplace else. Meanwhile, thanks for the memory.


  44. Arthur Marx says:

    Site of interest to fans of Larry Harnisch’s “Daily Mirror” blog:



  45. Tiffney says:

    Your blog was my favorite place to escape to during the lunch hour, most days found me returning after work to continue reading. Very said to hear it will soon be ending. Hopefully there will be a reprieve.


  46. joe says:

    I have reading the Times regularly since the early 60’s (i.e. since I could read).
    The death of this wonderful and historically significant feature is the last straw. The Times no longer deserves to survive.


  47. SandyH1 says:

    This news has officially ruined my day. I was a kid in L.A. in the 50s and 60s and have really enjoyed reviewing news, names and faces from my half-century ago youth. It was also fun unravelling the mystery guests, even though I never got any right. Thanks for all the good times. You’ll be missed.


  48. Lee Ann, Thom and Megan says:

    Well, bollocks! Bloody bollocks! Hate to see you go!


  49. Gregory Moore says:

    Aww, this is terrible news….this was one of my favorite spots to visit every day. And life without the “Movieland Mystery Photo” is going to be just that much dimmer. Would pleading missives to the Editor do any good, or is it a fait accompli? In any case, thank you for all your work. It’s been a pleasure being a part of your little band of “movie wonks”. I’ll miss you all…..


  50. Randy Skretvedt says:

    All is not lost…as Arthur Marx noted, have a look at this:


  51. Coto says:

    I am amazed at a couple of things. 1) the amount of research that is put into your column/blog. Very thorough but time consuming, and 2) the complete lack of promoting of it by the Times.
    Over the years, being a native Angeleno, only 3 other regular columns come to mind as “must-reads” that I looked forward to daily. Ernie Pyle, John Hall, and Bud Furillo. Yours quickly became the 4th.


  52. Rance Ryan says:

    Ben Blue


  53. Claire Lockhart says:

    There just aren’t words to describe my sadness. So I’m cancelling my ex-boyfriend’s subscription to the Times.


  54. rick says:

    terrible news – I’ll really miss the Mystery Photo. It was fun learning about these largely forgotten stars of the past


  55. Cindy Walters says:

    The BEST thing about the Times and they kill it ! ? ! ? I’m very sorry to see “The Daily Mirror” go but is it going to continue on another site ? PLEASE say it will !
    Best Wishes and Thank You for many hours of fine information.


  56. Arthur Marx says:

    I realize that this is a hurry-up world, but I am still amazed by how often people indulge the knee-jerk impulse to start typing their comments without first seeing what has already been posted.
    If anyone who commented since Monday afternoon had read all the way through the previously-posted comments, you would have seen:
    (a) that the Daily Mirror blog is alive and well, and
    (b) a link to its new location.


  57. JOHN C. MARSHALL says:

    On the wrong side of 80 I know a thing or two regaring being dumped so, as a deeply devoted fan of the whole idea, I’d like to say ‘Thanks a few million, Larry’ – and I’ll be keeping a weather eye open for any chance of a return.


  58. William Desmond Taylor says:

    Agree with many of the commentators! We are losing a great resource and friend! ANd practically the only reason to read this paper. The LA Times really has lost the soul of Southern California with the loss of the Daily Mirror.
    Excuse me LA Times Editors and Publishers: but you have now alienated the people who actually care enough about LA want to read about it and who struggled to find this gem of a column you buried -and never supported in any way. We may now conclude that the LA Times really doesn’t want us readers, or at least not those who still know how to read.


  59. Native Angeleno says:

    Me too Lar. Thanx ~~ Crai9 Hill


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