The rockers are driving Cary O’Dell crazy. The sunglass-sporting duo pout in an undated, unlabeled photograph that the Library of Congress acquired seven years ago, part of a collection of 300,000 images donated by a New Jersey antiques dealer who’d spent years amassing various pop-culture photos—some of them frustratingly unidentified. O’Dell, an archivist and author who normally works on the library’s National Film and National Recording registries, has chased more than 50 leads while trying to nail down this one photo, all to no avail. “I will track them down,” he says.
O’Dell’s quest began after he happened to notice a mislabeled photo of Bobby Darin and alerted the person who was working on the collection. Actually, his colleague said, there was a box of 800 mystery images. Would he like to take a crack at them? So O’Dell launched a sort of informal in-house detective agency. Some of the photos were “very easy for film geeks like myself and my colleagues to identify,” he says. Others were solved after O’Dell posted them online and asked for help. Reverse Google Images searches and facial-recognition software helped. But a lot of it just came down to legwork.
To keep track, O’Dell gave some of them nicknames, such as the Most Mysterious Woman in the World (who turned out to be Wendy Phillips from Falcon Crest, as she herself confirmed) and the Lady in the Hat (later ID’d as Cynthia Lynn, who had a short-lived role on Hogan’s Heroes). Film critic Joe Bob Briggs and his fans identified Jamaican actress and photographer Esther Anderson.
O’Dell’s sleuthing has been fruitful: The mysteries now number just 17. Besides the musical duo, there’s an image from what looks like a children’s film and another apparent rock group featuring four tatted-up men and a woman. Still, it’s those two big-haired people who haunt him the most. “Whoever solves that one,” O’Dell says, “gets a free can of hairspray.”
This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Washingtonian.