The photo scrapbook of an ex-HFPA member has become something of an internet sensation and global meme. When Maria Snoeys-Lagler’s photo album was found in a Belgian thrift store, the impressive collection of posed pictures it contained, with dozens of Hollywood stars caught people’s eye. Soon the pictures – and Maria’s story- became a viral sensation. Current HFPA member and Belgian journalist Kristien Gijbels explains.
Former HFPA member Maria Snoeys-Lagler became quite famous overnight when one of her photo albums was found in a local thrift store in Belgium. As an employee of Opnieuw & Co in Mortsel was going through a box of old clothing and small trinkets, he noticed that it contained a photo album of a “mystery woman” posing with at least 200 celebrities at HFPA press conferences throughout the years.
Not knowing whom the precious item belonged to, the thrift store used social media to track down the owner. They shared snapshots of Maria with Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith and Johnny Depp on their Facebook page, hoping someone would be able to recognize the woman. They figured out Maria’s name through a Hollywood Foreign Press badge in a picture with Jane Seymour.
Maria’s daughter, Rita Radowicz, told the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that she has no idea how the photo album ended up at the thrift store: “Those pictures had a lot of sentimental value to my mother. How on earth did those pictures end up there?”
As for now, no one seems to know how the album ended up at the local shop in Mortsel. Elisabeth Vermeulen, who is the spokesperson of Opnieuw & Co, says that they think a family member must have dropped it off by accident: “The theory is that the album belonged to one of her cousins who died recently. That seems to be the most plausible explanation at this moment.”
Ever since the album went ‘viral’, the thrift store has received numerous phone calls from family members who would like to have the album. But Vermeulen says she thinks it’s up to Maria’s daughter to decide who the photos should go to: “We have e-mailed her and asked her whether she wants us to mail the album to her, or give it to her cousins in Belgium. We haven’t heard back from her yet, but we did hear from one of Maria’s cousins who told us she would love to get back in touch with her family. It’s great that this little album was able to bring these family members back together after all these years.”
Snoeys-Lagler, née van Staeyen, was born in 1923 in Antwerp and was married to John Snoeys, a reporter. The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1953, where both of them became members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association shortly after. Maria was treasurer for most of the eighties and received a lifetime membership in 2004. When John died in 1975, Maria took over his job and became a columnist for the Belgian magazine Humo. For nearly three decades, she wrote about all things entertainment and explained what life was like as a Hollywood reporter. Guy Mortier, her former boss at Humo, describes Maria as “a fierce and friendly lady with the most infectious laugh”. Radowicz says that her mother ended her career in 2010 at the age of 87: “She wanted to keep going, but her magazines thought it would be better for her to quit. She loved her job and was proud of the work she did.”
Maria died in 2016 at age 93 in Switzerland. “Mom would be ecstatic if she knew she’d be a hot topic in Belgium right now. She loved her job and was so proud of the work that she did”, Radowicz concludes.