I'm pretty sure most children of the 1980s will be familiar with the name Carmen Sandiego! An elusive but beautiful thief who travelled the world, Carmen Sandiego had a habit of stealing precious items or treasured monuments. In a series of tremendously fun computer games, your mission was to solve riddles, learn about the world as you went, and ultimately track down the villain!
I can't help but think fondly of Carmen Sandiego. For me, she's indelibly associated with my family's first computer (I reckon your average calculator has more computational power than that PC, but it did still just about qualify). My parents decided that they wanted to tap into the educational power of this new-fangled technology, and somewhere they stumbled across one of the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? games.
I was hooked.
Looking back, decades later, I can't help but wonder what impact that game actually had on me. It encouraged a love of research and of learning, and promoted a desire to explore and understand the history and cultures of the world. I ultimately studied Geography at University, and I suspect the seeds of that geographical interest were sown by my pursuit of Carmen Sandiego.
There's More to Carmen Sandiego Than I Knew
What I didn't know back then, was that Carmen Sandiego was a lot more than just a computer character. Over in the United States, the character was portrayed in various children's television game shows. Here's the interesting thing, though: although a beautiful brunette played the part, her identity was kept a closely-guarded-secret. Until now.
The show purposefully kept the actress's name a secret. The prevailing theory was that children would get confused, even more so because most children's networks have a habit of reusing actors for different roles (more on that later). The Internet generally believed that the actress who played the part was Janine LaManna. She gets fifth billing in the cast list, but that had never been officially confirmed. Over on The Huffington Post, Todd Van Luling decided the time was right to catch Carmen Sandiego once and for all.
You can read Todd's full pursuit over on The Huffington Post, but it's an impressive piece of modern-day detective work. Of course, in the present day it's a lot easier to scour the globe for a specific person; Todd writes of exhaustive attempts to find an email address, of emailing every email address that seemed a likely match for Janine LaManna, and of chasing down Hollywood contacts. For quite a while, Todd drew a blank.
Then, out of the blue, Todd got an email.
So Who in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Janine Lamanna moved from Hollywood to Broadway, but has pretty much disappeared from the public view in recent years. She's now partnered with an army officer, and they have two children. Ironically enough, the couple seem to always be on the move; she told Todd:
“I can’t really say that I’m in one place or the other, because it could change in a week.”
The good news for Todd? It seems that the online rumors were right. Janine Lamanna had indeed played the part of Carmen Sandiego - and had a blast doing it! Her working relationship with Kevin Shinick - who played the agent pursuing her - was characterized by humor and laughter, and there's a clear sense of fondness between the two. Shinick told Todd:
“It’s so funny because she’s the villain and Chief and I were the heroes ... she was supposed to be this mysterious evil woman, but she’s got such a great sense of humor and such a great personality that we just had a blast every time we were on the set together.”
It's pretty clear that Janine took the role seriously. She realized she was playing a part children knew and loved, and she worked hard to nail Carmen Sandiego's look. Amusingly enough, though, Janine played a lot of other roles in the series too - she also played a number of the "good" people who helped hunt for Carmen! This was possible because the Carmen character deliberately obscured her face.
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With Janine's children growing up, it's possible she'll soon be returning to acting.
A 20-Year Quest Complete!
For Todd Van Luling, this marks the completion of a 20-year quest. He's finally caught (and interviewed) Carmen Sandiego! For me, though, it's a fascinating reminder that my childhood is still with me; a reminder of how a fictional character may well have influenced my life.
It just goes to show; the mysteries of the past are never beyond solving! Given enough time and perseverance, even Carmen Sandiego can be caught! And who knows - perhaps one day we'll see Carmen Sandiego return...
Do you remember Carmen Sandiego? Let me know in the comments!