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Sunday, April 19, 2015

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Nice Jewish boy takes on Hollywood stars

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TORONTO — Cartoonist and TV producer Marshall Jay Kaplan’s fascination with celebrities is taking him to Hollywood to track down stars.

Marshall Jay Kaplan, right, with Larry David

His adventures will be shown on a new show he’s producing and hosting, Totally Tracked Down, which airs on TVtropolis in September.

Kaplan tries to find out what various celebrities are really like through their connections, including people they know, places and things. Each connection introduces him to someone else, and the chain continues until he reaches the celebrity.

“It’s the six degrees of separation and that tells sort of a story about the person,” he said.

For example, he wanted to track down Joan Van Ark, known for playing Valene Ewing on Dallas, as well as on its spinoff series, Knots Landing.

To get to her, Kaplan started with the creator of Knots Landing, who directed him to her co-star, Michele Lee. Lee led him to Van Ark’s personal assistant, who then referred him to Van Ark’s hairdresser.

Her hairdresser suggested he speak with Van Ark’s husband, John Marshall, a former TV journalist who flies planes out of an airport in southern California. Kaplan visited the airport, and finally, Marshall introduced him to Van Ark.

“It’s usually the family member that has the final gate,” Kaplan said.

He knows he could probably contact the celebrity’s agent directly and request an interview that way, but that’s just not as fun, he said.

“The chase is fun,” he said. “I can get a lot more of the story getting through to the people who mean things to their life than going directly to the person and getting the typical interview that we’ve all seen on television.”

By meeting these people, when he finally reaches the end of the trail, he is equipped with a ton of personal information.

Kaplan found himself in many strange situations to get to the stars, situations that provided lots of laughs for the show, he said.

He spoke with Cloris Leachman, who mentored his target, Mindy Cohn, known for her role as Natalie Green on the TV show The Facts of Life. “She [Leachman] was willing to meet with me, but only if I made her margaritas and met with her under the covers,” he said.

On another occasion, he stood outside Larry David’s office for an hour waiting for somebody to show up so he could find out why he had cast Estelle Harris in Seinfeld.

“That’s all real. I really basically stopped him,” Kaplan said. “He granted [the interview] but let’s just say it was quite intense. He was not gracious about it. With Larry David, exactly what you see on television [the show Curb Your Enthusiasm] is what he is.”

He said some of the stars got very emotional knowing the work he put into finding them, and some of them granted him the interview simply because they got wind of the fact that he has been searching for them.

Totally Tracked Down came about when Kaplan was pitching another television show to Canwest. Canwest wasn’t interested, but the company representatives he spoke to did need a new program for TVtropolis.

Kaplan had worked in advertising until he was 40, and used his advertising background to quickly come up with an idea for a show and a title.

“It was right off the cuff,” he said, adding that he tried to find something that began with a “T” – to fit with Tvtropolis – and used the word “totally,” as a reference to the ’90s expression.

Kaplan has a ton of experience finding celebrity stories. His column “Where Are They Now?” is published in some 40 monthly newspapers.”

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Often, readers submit letters asking him about celebrities, so he would answer their questions. However, many times something triggers his interest and sends him on a journey to find the answer. In Totally Tracked Down,  moments like these are recreated.

In one scene, he is at a synagogue and sees several women wearing big, flowered hats. It reminded him of Mayim Bialik’s character from the TV show Blossom, who also wore flowered hats, and so he got the idea to track her down.

While publishing his column, Kaplan entered the world of television, becoming producer of the globally syndicated show Style by Jury. He produced a total of 70 episodes.

He is also known for drawing caricatures of celebrities and names Julia Roberts, Quentin Tarantino, Mike Myers, and Woody Allen as people who have hung his caricatures in their homes or offices.

At the heart of Totally Tracked Down is Kaplan’s passion for television and movies, which he said has always been a part of him, and it comes through on the show.

“I don’t think that’s something that can be trained,” he said. “All my friends and family say, ‘This is so Marshall.’”

Totally Tracked Down premières on Sept. 2 on TVtropolis. There will be two back-to-back episodes starting at 7 p.m., and it will run one episode weekly at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Visit Kaplan’s Facebook page at http://bit.ly/bIns2q to see highlights from the show and to follow his adventures.

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