(reprinted from Thornhill Month, February 1999)
By SEAN B. PASTERNAK
Marshall Jay Kaplan has always gone by the philosophy that you `don't turn a negative into a negative, but rather into a positive'. When The Toronto Star stopped carrying it's popular `Where are they now?' entertainment column - which Kaplan provided illustrations for - several years back, he never focused on the negative aspects that particular loss may have caused."I thought `I have the contacts, I can write and draw the column," Kaplan recalls. "I could do this myself."
Since then, there has been no looking back for the Thornhill native. Three years after its debut, Kaplan's own `Where are they now?' column is carried by some 60 newspapers in the United States and Canada and read by almost 5 million North Americans. While the closest to home he is published is Windsor, Ontario, his column can be found in publications as far away as in Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Montana. Even radio stations have begun to take an interest in Kaplan's informative and entertaining look at celebrities from days past.
By his own account, Kaplan has tracked down some 250 to 300 celebrities over the years, with each report accented by his own caricature of the star. Some of those he has managed to interview include Barbara Billingsley (`Leave it to Beaver'), Dawn Wells (`Gilligan's Island), Adam West (`Batman'), Bobby Sherman, as well as performers from The Little Rascals, All In The Family, The Wizard of Oz and The Brady Bunch.
Out of everyone he has ever interviewed, Kaplan admits Joey Bishop was easily his favourite. "He called me at my house and we spoke for about two hours," he says of the former talk show host. "There's a real history to him" Other favourites for him include John Astin (Gomez from `The Addams Family') and The Lollipop Kid (from `The Wizard of Oz'). "It's amazing, because I watched these people growing up, and now I'm speaking with them," he says.
How does Kaplan track down all of these people, many of them years removed from the public eye? The Internet is one source he uses frequently to track down celebrity whereabouts. By sending e-mails to both official and fan-generated web pages, Kaplan is usually pointed in the right direction. "It's a great networking tool," he says of the Internet. In addition, interviewing some celebrities will provide leads on how to reach others. "It's really a lot of networking," he says. "When you've interviewed one member of, say, The Brady Bunch, usually they know how to reach the other members."
As well, Kaplan receives a "ton" of mail each month, forwarded to him from the various newspapers he appears in. "It's funny because I spend more time reading fan letters than I do writing the columns," he says. "People will write asking whatever happened to this celebrity or that celebrity." Many times, these letters will actually update Kaplan on the whereabouts of someone.
Amazingly, Kaplan has been able to syndicate his column without the assistance of an agent or newspaper syndicate, which is the way he prefers it. "No one's going to do as good a job as I am with the column," he says. "All ego aside, it's just that I have my own best interests at heart."
In addition to `Where are they now?', Kaplan has kept busy with other projects related to his work. A product line commemorates the many celebrities he has sketched over the years, including greeting cards, clothing and even a board game. His home office is covered in celebrity caricatures; all of them - ranging in subject from Mother Teresa to the cast of Star Wars and from O.J. Simpson to Boris Yeltsin - are personally autographed.
As for future endeavours, Kaplan hopes to get between 10 and 15 radio stations reading his column on the air this year. In addition, he is currently working on a film.
The former Thornlea Secondary School student, now married with three children and still residing in Thornhill, is extremely satisfied with the turns his career has taken. "Everything you do is a steppingstone to something else," he philosophizes. "For me, I'm doing exactly what I want."