Remembering Ann & Arne

April 6th, 2017

Last month I participated in a women in comics panel at  local library, and was introduced to the parents of a fellow panelist. The dad mentioned he was a neuroscientist, and I immediately responded with my only frame of reference; Ann Dvorak’s 1934 ranch house was later purchased by a UCLA professor of neurology who allowed my husband and me to have our wedding there. When I followed up that the owner of the house was Arnold Scheibel, the man got wide-eyed and said, “Wow. He’s a big deal in the field.”

Knowing next to nothing about neuroscience, I’ll have to take his word for it, but I can certainly speak for myself in affirming that Arne was indeed a big deal. He was someone who opened up his home to me on multiple occasions, and later extended the invitation for all my friends and family.  He preserved part of Ann’s legacy by making sure her home stayed intact for the 50 years he inhabited it, and also contributed to her story by corresponding with Ann directly in the 1960s and then handing those letters over to me for the Ann Dvorak biography.

Dr. Arnold Scheibel passed away this week at the age of 94.

During my quest to document Ann Dvorak’s life, I came across many people who I otherwise would have never encountered. Arne was certainly one of them, and I will forever be grateful that Ann brought such an intelligent, kind, and gracious man into my life. I will treasure the time we spent chatting while sitting in front of the picture window looking out over the grounds Ann built, or discussing her the many walks we took around the property. He didn’t need to let a completely stranger into his life, but he did so without hesitation.

Arne was truly a great man and had a hell of life. Thank you Ann Dvorak for making it possible for me to call this man my friend.

“Finding Ann Dvorak” Talk & Book Signing This Week

March 26th, 2017

Greetings to all you Dvorak devotees! Yes, it’s been Ann-light in these parts lately, but she’s never too far from mind. So, when I was invited to the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library to do a talk for Women’s History Month, I immediately thought of our girl.

I will be at the branch this coming Thursday (3/30) at 6:30pm discussing how I first encountered Ann Dvorak and why the heck it took so long to finish the biography.

Encino-Tarzana Branch Library
18231 W Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91356

Additional details can be found on the Los Angeles Public Library website.

Hope to see you there!

Our Movie Gods are Only Human After All

January 6th, 2017

 

Ford & Fisher take a break from filming the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. (AP/George Brich)

The duel deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds last week were such a blow that I popped a blood vessel in my eye from crying so much. For some, it might be hard to understand how the deaths of people we didn’t know personally can affect us on such a personal level, but sometimes they just do.

Carrie, in the form of Princess Leia, was my first hero (you can read my tribute to her over at my author website). When I later realized that Leia was in fact a character portrayed by a real person, my first cinefile passion project was launched as I tried to see every film she had made. I even watched Shampoo in its entirety, even though I was nine didn’t know what the hell was going on. Carrie went on to have many struggles and so publicly shared her personal insecurities, but she was still this heroic mythical being to me.

When her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist came out in November, I was aware that it would include mention of the 3-month affair Fisher had with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars. I wasn’t surprised by this revelation. Even as a kid I could read her face as she gazed at him during public appearances. What I wasn’t expecting was that the diary entries reproduced in the book are almost exclusively centered on the relationship, which sounds like it was purely physical for Ford while very emotional for Fisher. Here she was, only 19-years-old and in her first starring film role, finally establishing herself independent of her famous mother, yet she was completely consumed with was having fallen for this emotionally (and legally, he was married) unavailable man.

I found the book very hard to read because the raw emotions presented were all too familiar. I was 19-20 when I first fell hard for a guy, and Fisher’s book brought all of those long suppressed memories. Sure, I had had crushes along the way, but this was the real deal. Unfortunately, (or in retrospect, fortunately) the feelings were not reciprocated, though he did keep me around long enough to boost his ego and have me write a few of his college assignments for him. Yes, I once read an entire book on Bolivia in the name of love (or something). There would be other loves and additional heartbreak, but nothing that matched that period when I was wallowing in the all consuming depths of first rejection while listening to The White Album, which for some reason reflected my mood. What I took away from The Princess Diarist was; our movie gods are all too human, and 19-20 is a terrible age to fall in love.

Which brings us to Ann Dvorak.

Ann was 20 when she fell in love for the first time, and to say it was all-consuming might be an understatement. Leslie Fenton became her sun, moon, stars, and earth and arguably is the reason her career stalled and then slowly fizzled for two decades. I think she experienced the most extreme emotional highs of her life during her marriage to Fenton. However, long after the dissolution of the relationship and in looking back on her life, she did express regret at sacrificing her career for love when she was so young and Hollywood was promising so much.

I have sometimes thought about what I would have done had I been in Ann’s shoes in 1932 when Leslie Fenton convinced her to breach her Warner Bros. contract and traipse around Europe. Had I been 25 or 30 (or older), hell no. I would have had my eye on the career prize. But at 20? I would have been on that boat so quick Jack Warner’s head would have flown off from spinning so fast.

All in all, I made out ok with my first encounter with uncontrollable love, lust, or whatever it was. Other than wounded pride and bitter cynicism about romantic relationships that lasted a few years I was able to move on, marry an amazing man,  and haven’t seen that other guy in 20 years. Fisher on the other hand, spent the last 40 years being tied to Ford through Star Wars, and Ann, well – we know how Ann and Leslie Fenton’s story ultimately played out.

This week, I raise a glass to Ms. Fisher and Ms. Dvorak. My two movie heroes who turned out to be human after all.

Remembering Ann Dvorak

December 10th, 2016

On this day in 1979, Ann Dvorak passed away in Honolulu from stomach cancer at the age of 68. The last few years of her life had not been particularly easy, largely due to her finances being drained by her abusive third husband. She maintained a small group of friends and had a orange tabby to keep her company, and while expressing some regrets about how the promise of her long abandoned carrier had been squandered, seemed to have found some measure of peace at the end.

I was recently contacted by a fellow Dvorak devotee who asked if I had any additional images of Ann in her later years besides what I included in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I do have one more photo, which I am posting here. This was taken in July 1979, and it’s hard to recognize the Ann we’re familiar with in this image, but those Dvorak eyes are still there.

As much as Ann didn’t like to look back, and I am not sure she would have liked me prying into her life like I did, I do think she would have enjoyed the increased appreciation her work has experienced the last decade or so.  In honor of our fabulous gal, be sure to slow down and watch some Dvorak flicks during this hectic time.

“Three on a Match” at the Billy Wilder Theater On 11/5

November 4th, 2016

In my time on this planet, I have manage to cram in some experiences; traveled abroad, published a book, gave birth, and completed 3 half marathons, just to name a few. However, there is one thing I have never done – viewed Three on a Match on the big screen. It’s my favorite Ann Dvorak film. In fact, it’s the first Ann-D flick I ever saw. It’s the movie that set me on a wild Dvorak journey  and the reason why I am typing these words right now. And yet, in the 21 or so years since I first viewed Three on a Match in my mother’s living room on a VHS copy that I checked out from the Glendora Public Library, I am not aware of it ever having been screened in Los Angeles. If it did, I regrettably missed out.

This is all going to change tomorrow when I settle in to my seat at the Billy Wilder Theater at 7pm (Saturday, November 5th.) The screening is part of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s tribute to Joan Blondell (how amazing is that?).  To top it all off, it’s a 35mm print! Oh glorious day.

If you’re in Los Angeles and a fan of Ann, pre-Code, Blondell, or a good time in general, head on down to Westwood and be sure to say hi if you do. I’ll be the one bouncing up and down and crying tears of joy.

Tickets for the screening can be purchased here and the full Joan Blondell lineup is here.

Get Your Ann Dvorak Fix on TCM

October 18th, 2016

Now that we’re almost THREE years removed from the release of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel (can you believe it?), the Dvorak news in these parts has been admittedly sparse. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, we are rounding out the month with some major Ann-D action.

Dr. Socrates (Warner Bros, 1935) – Thursday, October 20th at 2:30pm PST 

This is one worth setting the DVR for as it doesn’t get that much play and has never received any sort of home market release. The film is enjoyable enough with Paul Muni as a small town doctor and Ann as a dreamy drifter who inadvertently get caught up in some gangster nonsense. No, you’re not going to find the live wire sparks that the pair shared in Scarface, but they have good chemistry and clearly enjoy working together. Dr. Socrates is a bit higher budget than Ann’s usual Warner fare, and enjoys the Dvorak rarity of a well composed close-up.

‘G’ Men (Warner Bros, 1935) – Tuesday, October 25th, at 3:30pm PST

‘G’ Men has been readily available for years, but since it stars James Cagney, it’s easy to watch over and over again. This time, he’s on the right side of the law but is just as charming as ever.  Ann’s role is a supporting one, but she makes it extremely memorable and is given more to sink her teeth into than Margaret Lindsay, who is the main leading lady. This is the third Ann Dvorak movie I ever saw (following Three on a Match and Scarface) and was the performance that finally made me an official Dvorak devotee.

Three on a Match (Warner Bros/First National, 1932) – Thursday, October 27th at 6:45am PST

I have extolled the virtues of Three on a Match many, many, many times on this site, which you can revisit here if you’d like. I’ll just say that if it weren’t for this pre-Code gem, this website would possibly not exist and neither would the biography.

Bright Lights (Warner Bros/First National, 1935) – Friday, October 28th at 9:15am PST

Bright Lights is another title that has yet to have any sort of home market release. It’s not a deep film, but I personally love it because Ann and co-star Joe E. Brown have great chemistry and are a lot of fun to watch together. If you need something to lighten your mood during the homestretch of this election season, then Bright Lights should do it.

That’s it for now. I’ve actually managed to acquire some nice Ann Dvorak pieces this year, so if I can get my act in gear I’ll share some of them in the near future.

Cheers!

Happy Birthday Ann!

August 2nd, 2016

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Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 105th birthday. She’s been in my life for almost 20 years now and I cannot overstate the impact she has had on me. If you would have told me back then that I would author a full length biography on anyone, I would have rolled my eyes. Me? No way! And yet, I am currently able to work on a second book because Ann was such a motivating factor for the first one. Some of my dearest friends came into my life because of Ann, along with so many interesting people who I would have never encountered had it not been for her. When I was an insecure and painfully shy twenty-something, Ann helped me find my voice because I was so hell bent on making sure the world knew about her.

I pretty much celebrate Ann Dvorak’s life everyday, but on this anniversary of her birth, here’s a special tip of the cap is an amazing lady who means so much to me.

A Second “Three on a Match” Lobby Card to Call my Own

July 5th, 2016

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In March 2002, I placed a winning bid on eBay and snagged a Three on a Match lobby card for $105. That felt like a king’s ransom at the time, but I had no regrets. After all, it was (and is) my favorite Ann Dvorak film and how often would I have the opportunity to add any of these cards to my collection? As it turns out, not very often. Occasionally, they’ll come up on Heritage or Profiles in History, which means a hefty opening bid plus crazy buyer’s premiums which has priced me out before the bidding even begins.

This past March, almost 14 years to the day that I got that first one, I was finally able to add a second Three on a Match card to the collection. And it’s a beaut! This is the one card from the set I desperately wanted  as it focuses on Ann after she has made the ultimate sacrifice to save her nauseatingly precocious  child. At $136, it almost seems like a steal these days, though I do think that’s the most I have ever paid for an Ann-D lobby card.

I put the card away before properly scanning it, so the scan is from the eMovieposter site, which is where I won it from.

Hooray!

“The Bachelor’s Daughters” at the New Beverly Cinema!

July 3rd, 2016

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My apologies to all you Los Angeles-based Dvorak devotees for the short notice, but TONIGHT and TOMORROW (July 4th) the New Beverly Cinema is going to be screening The Bachelor’s Daughters featuring our Divine Miz D! This is part of an Andrew Stone (and Adolphe Menjou) double feature which also includes Hi Diddle Diddle.

The Bachelor’s Daughters is a fun film with a hell of a cast joining Dvorak and Menjou; Billie Burke, Claire Trevor, Jane Wyatt, and Gail Russell. It gets bizarrely heavy handed towards the end, but is still worth watching. Ann plays an aspiring singer, and although she had sung in previous films, she is dubbed in this one. Also of note is the dance number she performs. Look closely at her partner during this one and you’ll see dancer Igor Dega in action, who would become husband #2 the following year.

The New Beverly Cinema has been a Los Angeles revival mainstay since 1978 and is currently owned by Quentin Tarantino who also does a lot of the programming. The theater screens prints exclusively, and tonight’s double feature is in 16mm. If you live in L.A. with kids and have not taken advantage of their weekend Kiddie Matinees, you’re missing out on one of the best deals in town.

My in-laws are visiting this weekend, so I am not sure if I’ll be at Hi Diddle Diddle, but you bet your bottom dollar I will be watching my beloved Ann on the big screen tonight!

Hope you see you there!

6948 Woodman, aka Annland #1 is on the Market

June 9th, 2016

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My buddy Chris Nichols over at Los Angeles Magazine just notified me that the house at 6948 Woodman has been on the market since December. Ann Dvorak and her husband, Leslie Fenton, rented the place in 1933 after returning from their honeymoon abroad. Even though they only resided there a short time, the couple was photographed on the property extensively, so it certainly has a special place in my heart. At one time, the house anchored a large walnut ranch which is long gone. Even though it has undergone many additions over the years and has been a preschool since the mid-1990s, it’s still very much identifiable as the house that I have come to call Annland #1.

Ann wraps Christmas presents at the Woodman house in 1933

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Ann and Leslie horsing around at the Woodman ranch

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Ann poses inside the Woodman house in 1933 with a portrait of herself

Right now, development is in overdrive in Los Angeles. Even in my little North Hollywood neighborhood, 1920s and 30s homes are getting demolished and replaced with larger structures (we’ve been living next door to a construction hell zone for a year), so it’s no surprise that this is being advertised as a development property. That area of Woodman doesn’t have a lot of single family homes, so that this one has remained so long is amazing and it makes me heartsick to think its days are numbered.