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Mystery Photo Contest: You Solved Four of Them!

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Cary O’Dell at the Library’s National Recording Registry runs our Mystery Photo Contest. He most recently wrote about twelve of our most difficult to identify entries. Readers solved four of them.

Well, we never said that it would be easy. We recently posted a dozen of Library’s last unidentified photos from a huge show biz cache we received a couple of years ago and once again asked readers to take a crack at identifying them. We had started with more than 800, whittled it down to 38, and this array from that group might have been enough to make even the most hardcore TCM fan turn off the TV and call it a day.

But you guys rose to the challenge, identifying four of the twelve, a stunning thirty-three percent success rate. In baseball, that’s a Hall of Fame performance. Nearly miraculous, too, considering how tough these last ones are.

Let’s see our success stories!

Over the years, the most common guesses for this lady were Phylicia Rashad and her equally famous sister, Debbie Allen. Readers also thought she looked like actress Anna Maria Horsford, British athlete Denise Lewis or supermodel Beverly Johnson.

Instead, alert reader Collin Larsen took a look and had no doubt, posting: “Number 5 is April Washington Chandler.”  I went to Google. It turns out Chandler is a media personality and head of HBK Multimedia, a Maryland-based entertainment and lifestyle marketing agency, specializing in producing live concerts and special events. She sure did look like the lady in the picture.  I reached out to her via her company, sending our photo. She replied, “Yep, that’s me.” Bingo! Thank you, Collin!

That’s not our only thanks to Collin, though.

I had long thought that this casually-dressed gent was a film producer, director or screenwriter and this headshot had been misplaced from a larger press kit.  Who was he? Well, let’s cut back to Collin. His second comment on the blog asked, “Is #4 Larry Brezner?”

Brezner produced films such as “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Throw Mama from the Train” and, shortly before his death at age 73 in 2015, “Ride Along” with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. He produced 31 films or television shows or specials during a 35-year career, according to his credits on the Internet Movie Database. I was able to track down one of his daughters, Lauren Azbill. She was thrilled and touched to see this photo of her late dad, a picture she had never seen before. That my email arrived a few days before the anniversary of his passing, she said, made this out-of-the-blue missive from the Library all the more meaningful. Thanks again, Collin!

After we published our recent Mystery Photo array, it got reposted to various threads on Reddit. Someone saw it there and wrote, “This is SO BIZARRE!  That is some of my extended family!  That’s Jean and James Cantrell and some of their 12 children.  They were from Pleasant Hill, Oregon, most of the family still lives around there.”

At first, I thought this was a hoax. The writer was really detailed, I thought. Maybe a little too detailed. This sort of attempted trickery has happened before. Still, I figured, if this family really did have 12 kids, I should be able to track down at least one of them.

And I did. I reached Shawn (Cantrell) Williams after first phoning the realty company she co-owns with some of her sisters.  I asked for two of them before she said, “Can I help you?  I’m related to them.”  Indeed, she could! I introduced myself and what I had, photo-wise.

To my great surprise, she seemed to know exactly the picture I was describing even before I emailed it to her.

This shot was taken when Shawn, the youngest of the family, became and latest and last to graduate from the local high school. The local newspaper did a story on the family. Woman’s World magazine picked up the tale and this photo for their June 1986 issue.

Shawn is the sassy-looking one in front. “The photographer told me to make a funny photo, so I tried,” she says. Shawn’s dad is up in the upper right corner.  Her mom is next to him and her brother James, Jr. is on the end. The other brother, Joe, is not pictured; the family were farmers and Joe was in the field when the camera guy came by. The girls (left to right):  Shelley, Connie, Chris, Kerry, Willie, Molly, Gail, Holly, and Kathy.

I told Shawn that we had had quite a time trying to “solve” this photo.  I said, “We thought you were an ‘80s comedy.” She replied, “Oh, it was!”

For curious reader Mike Nozzi, this photo stirred up a memory of a production that he saw of “Knickerbocker Holiday,” in New York in 1975 at the Hotel Dixie. Talk about a memory! Armed with that info, I reached out to the Kurt Weill Foundation For Music, which documents all productions of all of Weill’s works, and confirmed that this was so.  At far left, that’s actor Tom Sminkey (leaning over); at far right, with the thick mustache, is Otto Walberg. We’re hoping to identify the other actors.

Meanwhile, stay tuned! We’re down to 34 unidentified photos, and we’ll post another round next month.

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Comments (7)

  1. Thanks! What a great treat to let your subscribers help in the hunt for details of the mystery photographs. Your at-home exercise helps enliven our current state of Quarantine-fatigue! All best and a tip of the old Blue and Red hat to our beloved Library of Congress.

  2. Bravo, and thank you! This kind of engaging us all in a mystery, as small or as large as it may be, is wonderful. Also, it is enjoyable by all of us with a sense of curiosity, whether we have an idea about identity or no clue at all. Please keep it up- it also helps morale….

  3. Always a delight to read up on the Mystery Photo Contest finds! Congratulations on such good work. With so few photos left to identify, I do hope someone discovers another shoebox full of more unknowns lying somewhere in the Library basement. 🙂 Well done and thank you for these articles, they really are good news items.


  5. Did you solve any more of them? Would be nice to have an update.

    • Update coming tomorrow!

  6. For “Knickerbocker Holiday” at Hotel Dixie, Jan 1975, I find this cast list in the New York Times:

    Alexander Orfaly as Stuyvesant. Christine Andreas and John Almberg as the young sweethearts.
    Richard Niles, Douglas Fisher and several others.

    Directed by Dallas Alinder. Music direction by Uel Wade.

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