Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Kim Cattrall

I'm going to start off by saying that I knew almost nothing about Kim Cattrall before I watched her episode of Who Do You Think You Are?  I knew her name because Sex and the City is so well known, but I have never watched that program.  So I really had no preconceptions of what she might be like.  Now that I have seen the show, I think she must be a very strong person to have decided to pursue the story she did.  (Last season's comparable episode was that of Susan Sarandon, who pursued the story of her grandmother who disappeared.  I remember when I saw that episode I was not surprised Sarandon would take on that kind of a challenge.)

I think what stood out in this episode was that Cattrall really appeared to be doing most of the research because the bulk of the show was personal interviews with people, starting with her visit to her mother and two aunts.  The three sisters didn't have much information, though, so the search would have gone nowhere without the work of the professional researchers.  It was gratifying to hear the total lack of pretense on the part of Cattrall when she said she had asked a researcher to see what could be found. And without the pivotal marriage certificate found by that researcher (which generated a quite honest, and surprisingly unbleeped, response from Cattrall), there still would have been a brick wall.

After learning that her grandfather had married a second time in Durham County, Cattrall went there for further research.  The archivist showed her the voter registration lists and the birth registers, but neither was bookmarked, and Cattrall turned the pages herself.  Now, why she scanned the pages in the birth register instead of looking in an index for Baugh births, I don't know.  She went from there to the most recent known address to look for more information about her grandfather.  I would have tried to pursue city directories or phone books to try to track the family a few more years forward; maybe that was done behind the scenes?

I don't know if the show's researchers found Maisie's address or if she really was discovered by looking in the phone book, but finding her was a logical step.  It was amusing to see when Cattrall arrived and Maisie's daughter opened the door, the daughter was obviously unsurprised to see the visitor but trying to act surprised.  But during the conversation in the flat, even though you know it had to been somewhat rehearsed and the cameras were there, I saw a lot of honest facial expressions.  It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of two very different perspectives on George Baugh. did not appear in the program until about 47 minutes past the hour -- a refreshing surprise.  The use of it at that point in the research even made sense, because most people would not be able to just pick up and go to Australia to continue the research.  The fact that Cattrall did not want to meet the Australian relatives was probably the real reason the show did not continue its habit of wide-ranging travel.

When Cattrall returned to Vancouver to tell her mother and aunts what she had learned, it was plainly a painful and emotional revelation.  One hopes that on some level they are still happy they went through the process and found the answer, because now they no longer have to wonder.

When Cattrall said she did not want to meet the relatives in Australia, I was thinking things could get very awkward now that the episode was airing.  It is emphasized when doing genealogical research to respect the privacy of living individuals; I didn't really think the show would air without prior notification to people mentioned in it.  It was good to see the epilog that said her mother and aunts had made contact with their half-siblings.

In other news about Who Do You Think You Are?, NBC announced that it had already renewed the program for a third season.


  1. I was really impressed that the star did so many of her own personal interviews - it shows how important it is to talk to the people who are still alive and get their stories down. Granted, this episode was about finding those folks in the first place. I also found it interesting how different people have such different views of the same person - a good reminder when doing personal interviews that everyone has his or her own "take" on things.

    When the marriage certificate was delivered, I fell back into the "ok, this is what a celebrity gets that most people won't be able to find" thought pattern. She had no idea her grandfather was a bigamist. I doubt that I would have thought to check the marriage indices as a next step after running into the brick wall. My guess is that the producers had already found out about that marriage before filming even began, because that "silver platter" moment felt contrived. Then again, many of the "handing you the info on a silver platter" moments on WDYTYA? feel contrived to me. It makes for good TV, but sets up totally unrealistic expectations for the general public.

  2. Of course they already knew about the second marriage before filming began. All of these stories are researched well beforehand to ensure that a story is there to build a show around. That's something you need to keep in mind as you watch. And it definitely was another "silver platter" moment, but on the other hand, I didn't feel as cheated in this instance, because Cattrall had said she was having a researcher look for records.

    One thing that did strike me was that finding that marriage certificate was easier in the UK than it would be in the U.S. The UK has civil registration at a national level, and the researcher was probably able to find George Baugh in the national index. In the U.S. everything is at the state level; if someone here did what George did, you would have to look for him in every state separately. (When they showed the teaser of Cattrall looking at a paper and swearing before they cut to the commercials, I had a feeling it was going to be a second marriage.)

  3. Banai Lynn Feldstein, the Ginger Jewish Genealogist blog (, told me on Facebook that the reason appears to late is that the episode is a re-edit of an original British one. I appreciate the explanation, because I have not seen any of the British episodes, and the last time I looked they were not available online.

  4. As someone who has been watching the British (and more recently Australian) versions of WDYTYA for a number of years now, I can tell you that the DIY-style of uncovering the evidence by the celebrity is commonplace in these series. The shows are well made, and I would highly recommend watching them (some UK episodes are on Youtube, including the original Kim Catrall episode).

    I have seen all episodes to date of the US series, and I find it difficult to watch. The end-of-episode montage in the first season made me vomit a little in my mouth. The producers have managed to turn a well respected documentary franchise into a hyped reality drama. This is where all your gripes about the series on this blog stem from. It's an endictment on American telelvision more than anything.

    In saying that, the Susan Sarandon and Lisa Kudrow episodes were worth watching.

  5. Thank you for the information about the British series. Obviously I should make time in my schedule to watch those. I agree with you about the Sarandon episode, but I found the Kudrow episode overly dramatic in some ways, particularly when I discovered that the Russian record book that she looked at in Belarus is scanned and available free online.

  6. I really enjoy your site, and I have to say I find it very odd, that the US series essentially bought the UK version of this episode and re-edited it in the American version. You can find more episodes on Youtube from the UK version. I like your reviews of the episodes from an experts point of view.

  7. Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. As for them using one of the British episodes, it was probably much less expensive to buy the rights to do that rather than film a brand-new episode, so it was a cost-effective way to add an extra episode to the second season.

  8. This episode was my favorite this season. Not nearly as much flogging of the brand. Much more like a story unfolding rather than people pretending surprise or jumping to conclusions. The British version of this episode has more information, photos, and scenes that were deleted before it aired in America. Cattrall came across as strong, fiercely loyal, and responsible - something that shows through in her portrayal of Samantha from time to time and makes that character redeemable.

  9. Thanks for your comments. If the Cattrall episode is representative of the British series, the approach does appear to be different. And yes, the British version runs longer and has more information, because there are no commercials.


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