Mystery Photos…Solved!

Cary O’Dell at the Library’s National Recording Registry runs our Mystery Photo Contest. His most recent post, a Thanksgiving Edition, included 14 of his last 30 mystery pictures. Here’s his update.

Greetings all!

Thanks to your hard work over the past month, we solved five of 14 Mystery Photos posted just before Thanksgiving. That’s remarkable, particularly considering that readers already have figured out more than 95 percent of the original cache of 800 unidentified show business stills that we’ve been working to identify.

We’re now down to 25 pictures and we’ll post a selection from those in January. If you’d like to review the set of pictures we posted on Thanksgiving, click the link above. Meanwhile, enjoy these stories of five solved mysteries.

Marta Brennan

While it is wonderful to solve any of our mysteries, this one was especially pleasing. The identify of this All-American looking young lady had bedeviled us for the longest. We worked our way through a litany of guesses over the past few years, including Karen Valentine, Judy Strangis, Jody Fair, Dolly Read and even Joyce McKinney.  To many people—including me—this lady “looked” British.  Hence, I looked up many names from the British Isles, including Barbara Flynn, Janet Munro, Lalla Ward, Maureen O’Brien, Helen Worth, Suzy Mandel, and Janice Nicholls.

Finally, the magic eye of blog reader Collin Larsen identified her as Marta Brenna, an American actress.  Brennan’s sole TV credit was a small part in the 1978 star-studded mini-series “Centennial.” She also worked and toured in various stage productions. Today, she’s the editor of a film industry newsletter.  I reached out to her there and she confirmed that this is indeed her. Great job, Collin!

Brennan said she though this picture was taken around the time she was touring with Ray Walston in  “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water is Running,”  a set of four one-act plays by Robert Anderson about sex and relationships. (Walston himself was a character actor who appeared in dozens of hit film and television series, perhaps most famously as  Uncle Martin in “My Favorite Martian” in the 1960s and, of course, as Mr. Hand, the buzz-killing teacher in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”)

Tony (Anthony) Costa

Collin Larsen did it again when he plucked the name of musician Tony (Anthony) Costa out of the ether for this long-unknown pic. Costa’s son, Chad, also a musician, confirmed that that was his dad and we dutifully crossed it off the list.

Costa grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and was known as a promising musician when he was a teen, appearing on local radio stations. A pianist, guitarist, vocalist and arranger, Costa formed the Town Pipers, a popular group in the 1950s. They performed in Las Vegas and Hollywood, appearing on “Tonight with Steve Allen,” the precursor of the Tonight Show. He eventually returned to Scranton and performed for years at nightclubs and recorded an album. Upon his death in 2014, the Scranton Times-Tribune dubbed him a local “musical icon” in his obituary.

“Fence Fixin’ ” — Oil painting by Luther F. Kepler, Jr.

Luther J. Kepler, Jr.

We had something of a leg-up with the photo of this painting, as we could make out the signature of the artist in the lower right-hand corner. “Kepler.”  But Kepler who?

An early internet search sent us to painter Fred Kepler but he said it was not his. Then we  thought this might have been a significant prop in some long-forgotten film or TV episode. Not that we could find.

But then sharp-eyed blog-reader Brenda Zook saw our Thanksgiving post! She did some adept detective work, identifying this as an early 1960s oil painting called “Fence Fixin’ ” by Pennsylvania artist Luther F. Kepler, Jr.

A native of central Pennsylvania’s Big Valley area, Zook said that she recognized the landscape and the Amish subjects. She was also familiar with the work of local artist Anne Fisher, which this painting greatly resembled.

Some online searching revealed that Fisher’s maiden name was Kepler. Aha! More online “doodling,” as Zook described it, turned up the records of a 2012 book auction at the Old Country News Library in Gordonsville, Pennsylvania, that included, among hundreds of other items, a July 1961 edition of “Mennonite Life” magazine.  The auction description of the item said it included a short essay and several reproductions of paintings by Luther and Anne Kepler, but that was it. The auction listing included no images. Zook, though, was not about to quit now. She searched until she found the entire magazine online in the archives of the Mennonite Church at Bethel College. And there, lo and behold, was “Fence Fixin’.”

Great work, Brenda!

Kanza Omar

Ah, the lady in repose.  This was another one I was about to give up on.

But then Collin Larsen (yes, him again), threw out a name: Kanza Omar.

Intrigued, I looked it up.  Kanza Mary Omar was born in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1912, moved to the U.S. when she was 11 and became a dancer and actress. She worked steadily enough but never quite hit the big time. Her list of IMDd credits totals only seven films and though some of them are very well known (“To Have and Have Not”), she went uncredited in all of them.  Mainly, she toured the U.S. alone or with her dance company, introducing audiences to the “exotic” dances of other lands.

She was mentioned in newspapers a few times — when she became a U.S. citizen in 1943, and again in 1949, when she divorced her husband. One of their problems, she was quoted as saying, is that he had “no appreciation for her art.”

She passed away in 1958, at just 46, of a brain tumor. She left no heirs.

Collin wasn’t fully sure of this one. But two other intrepid researchers — devoted blog reader Andy Leahy and the Library’s own Laurel Howard — picked up the trail and went picture hunting on the web. One of the first things that popped up was a 1951 photo of “Princess Kanza Omar” in which she’s wearing the identical outfit/costume she is in the mystery photo. That’s one of our identifying criteria, so, ta-da! Another one of the list. Great job, all!

From left to right: Michele Metrinko, an unidentified gentleman, and Marsha Metrinko. Time, place and photographer unknown.

Michele and Marsha Metrinko

I had very little hope for solving this one, as I wasn’t at all sure it was related to show biz at all.

Certainly these two young women look pretty enough to be in a pageant. And, in fact, they were!  Early on in our online guessing game, it was suggested that the lady on the left was 1963 Miss USA, Marite Ozers.

I reached out to Ozers, who looked at the photo and said it wasn’t her. Rats.

But wait! Ozers wrote in the blog’s comments that the woman on the left was actually her Miss USA runner-up Michele Metrinko. I took up the search from there.

Michele Metrinko has had an amazing career. She became a government lawyer, business executive, philanthropist and a high-profile political activist on the Republican side of the aisle in Delaware. She married John Rollins Sr., the founder of Orkin Pest Control. Her real estate holdings in Jamaica include the famous Rose Hall resort in Montego Bay.

Meanwhile, heroic reader Andy Leahy saw Ozer’s comment and used Google images to look up Metrinko. There, he quickly noticed pictures of Michele’s sister, Marsha, who looked like the woman on the other side of that Hawaiian feast. And what you know, Marsha Metrinko confirmed that was the two of them! Alas, neither of them remember the man in the middle, or when and where this photo was taken. Still, we’re counting this mystery as solved. That’s so much, Andy, Collin and former Miss USA, Marite Ozers!

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Mystery Photos Solved, Bonus Edition!

Cary O’Dell at the Library’s National Recording Registry runs our ever-popular Mystery Photo Contest. He most recently wrote about Florence McFadden. He’s back with a batch of solved mysteries. Readers! We have a bonanza of solved Mystery Photo Contest entries! You’ll remember that, with reader help, we recently identified actresses Wendy Phillips and Florence McFadden from our […]