Mystery Photo Contest: The Lady in the Hat Revealed!

Cary O’Dell at the Library’s National Recording Registry runs our Mystery Photo Contest. In this guest blog, he’s back with the story of  a mystery solved. If you’d like to take a crack at some of these, see the links below. 

The Lady in the Hat is a a mystery no longer.

Well, it took four years…but we solved another Mystery Photo Contest entry!

This one has been known as The Lady in the Hat, for obvious reasons (that feather!). But she’s a mystery no longer, and her real name is….well, hang on.

Careful readers will recall that several years ago the Library’s Moving Images section received a huge collection of film, TV and music industry photographs. Publicity stills, most of them, head shots and glamour poses. Nearly all of them were properly identified and we dutifully filed them away. But there were others. The unlabeled, the unidentified, the completely unknown…mystery photos! Not only were these faces of yesteryear not familiar, the pictures had no dates, locations or titles.

To identify them, we tried reverse-image searches on the internet. Consulted databases. Passed the pictures around the office. Nothing.

So we turned to you, gentle readers!

We’ve posted pictures on several blogs over the years, asking you to help. We’ve received hundreds of guesses, tracked down the best hunches and have been able to name a few. Just last year, cult film fan Joe Bob Briggs and his fans identified Esther Anderson, a Jamaican model, actress and filmmaker, who once starred in “A Warm December” with Sidney Poitier. (See both of the previous links to try your hand at more mystery solving.)

Esther Anderson, the Jamaican actress and filmmaker, in a photo included in the Mystery Photo Contest.

The Lady in the Hat proved a bigger mystery, though.

We had some very good guesses (Louise Fletcher, Susan Oliver, Lola Albright, Shirley Bonne, Marina Vlady), but none were correct.

Until now, that is. She was hiding in plain sight, a recurring but infrequent guest star in a television series that everybody of a certain ages remembers.

Here’s how it happened: Like many film and TV fans, I belong to Facebook groups devoted to old movies and vintage television shows.  There, a few weeks ago, someone posted a photo of the British actress Janette Scott.  She’d been in more than 30 movies in the 1950s and 1960s, things like “No Highway in the Sky,” starring James Stewart, and “As Long as They’re Happy,” in which she starred opposite James Buchanan. Looking at her picture, I noticed a resemblance to the lady with the funky hat. And the more I searched for Janette’s images, the more I became convinced that this mystery had been solved.

Never shy, I tracked down her address (she’s back home in England) and mailed her a copy of the photo with a short cover letter. Impatient, I also called her son, the singer James Torme (his dad was Scott’s ex-husband, the late Mel Torme). When I got him on the line, I emailed him The Lady in the Hat photograph.  I was very excited. “IS THIS YOUR MOM?!” I all but shouted.

He opened the attachment, took one look and said — lickety-split and without hesitation – “No.”

AARRGGHH.

The full contact sheet that came to the Library with no identifying material.

But then, a week or two later, someone posted a picture from “Hogan’s Heroes,” the goofy CBS sitcom that ran from 1965 to 1971. Remember? The world’s most incompetently run Nazi prisoner of war camp? Col. Klink? Sgt. Schultz? “I know nnootttthhiiinnggg!

Well. Every few episodes in the first season, Col. Klink’s secretary would show up, the lovely Helga. She was even a clandestine love interest for the show’s hero, played by actor Bob Crane.  (In real life, they had a relationship, which was included in Paul Schrader’s 2002 film, “Auto Focus.”)

I thought, “You know…”

The actress was Latvia native Zinta Valda Zimilis. She and her family fled Soviet occupation during World War II, made it through Nazi Germany and eventually to the United States. Once in Los Angeles, she went by the stage name of Cynthia Lynn. She had a 14-year film career of mostly television guest spots in the likes of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Mission: Impossible” in addition to “Heroes.” Her last role, according to the Internet Movie Database, was a tiny one in “Harry O” in 1975.  Her character was just called “Chick.”

She then apparently left the business at age 39. She wrote memoir of her youth in Europe when “Auto Focus” came out and died on March 10, 2014, in Los Angeles. But it turns out her daughter, Lisa Brando, is very much alive. (Lisa also had a famous dad — Marlon Brando. This was getting weird.)  I tracked down her email address and sent her The Lady in the Hat photo with the standard query.

She soon emailed me back. I opened it, fingers crossed. This is what she wrote: “WOW!!!  YES!…That’s my mother!  I have never seen these before.  THANK YOU so much!”

 

Ladies and gentlemen…Cynthia Lynn.

Actually, I think I was a little more excited than Lisa. The Lady in the Hat, revealed at last! Plus, it felt even better to send her a picture of her mom she hadn’t known of before.

Four years and a mystery put to rest. At the Library of Congress? All in day’s work.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — and the largest library in world history will send cool stories straight to your inbox.

11 Comments

  1. lentigogirl
    March 23, 2020 at 11:22 am

    What a great story – hats off to you for your persistence!

  2. Eleanor Heginbotham
    March 23, 2020 at 11:29 am

    Brava Neely! We all need distractions — especially when they involve solutions to problems. Now, what can you do about the virus?

    • Neely Tucker
      March 23, 2020 at 12:15 pm

      LOL, thanks Eleanor! All the problem-solving on this is Cary O’Dell’s; I’ll ask him to get on this virus thing right away. 🙂

  3. SharonM.
    March 23, 2020 at 11:43 am

    A day’s work…or 4 years! Ha!

    Congrats on your stick-to-it-ive-ness!

  4. Telf AG
    March 23, 2020 at 11:59 am

    It was interesting to read)

  5. miki pfeffer
    March 23, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    I love this story! Keep up the good work!

  6. Robert Adams
    March 23, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    So is the original page updated regularly, or is there an up-to-date page I can send to some folks? This way their not looking for people already identified.

    • Neely Tucker
      March 23, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Robert,

      Only two or three have been identified, I believe, including Esther Anderson, as mentioned. I’ll ask Cary to fill in any other names when he has a chance, as he knows the details. But, mostly, it’s wide open.

      Best,
      Neely

  7. Jude
    March 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Have you considered a side career as a genealogy researcher?

  8. Margaret Little
    March 24, 2020 at 6:04 am

    “Librarians are pathologically unable to leave a question unanswered” was advice given to incoming frosh in their Eng Comp class. The speaker was a former teacher of mine, urging her students to make friends with college library staff right away. Yay, us! Kudos to this shining example.

  9. Annie Dao
    March 31, 2020 at 11:48 am

    this story is amazing

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.