Remembering Ann Dvorak on this 35th anniversary of her passing.
Remembering Ann Dvorak on this 35th anniversary of her passing.
Among the flora, on the way to the Aquarium
Despite growing up in sunny Southern California, I’ve never been much of an outdoorsy person. I stopped lounging on the beach sometime during the Reagan Administration and once specified on an online dating profile that men interested in camping need not contact me. Therefore, Hawaii was not a place I ever envisioned visiting and had zero interest in. When I became resolved to write a biography on Ann Dvorak, I was actually disappointed to discover that Ann lived on Oahu from 1959 until her death in 1979. I knew I would need to travel there in order to conduct research and was not happy about it at all.
It’s probably needless to say that I was an utter fool and Hawaii is in fact as much of a paradise as everyone claims, even if you don’t have a hankering to snorkel. I visited twice in 2003 and 2004 on research trips and absolutely fell in love with the place. It’s gorgeous, laid back, and most people you come in contact with are a delight. Even though I do not share Ann’s love of the sun or green thumb, I fully appreciate why she chose to retire there.
Pineapple Express (no, not that kind!)
I have also been able to pass along my love of the Islands to my workaholic husband and we’ve now vacationed there three times in the last five years. When I received my royalty check for Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel last spring, I though it only fitting that instead of paying down the credit cards, I blow the whole thing on a family trip to Hawaii, which we finally took last week. Not only did Ann enable us to enjoy a sorely needed vacation, but we did it at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which I have dreamed of doing since my first visit. Also known as the Pink Palace, the Royal Hawaiian has that old-school glamour and was the long-time home of actress Dorothy Mackaill. The hotel was renovated a few years back, and isn’t as pink as it once was, but we still enjoyed in immensely. Thank you Ann!
All five of my visits have been to Oahu and centered on Waikiki Beach, which is the general area where Ann lived during her 20 years there and precisely where she was living at the time of her death. I guess if I have one gripe about Waikiki is that is has become almost unbearably commercial. When I first visited eleven years ago, it still had a lot of mid-century charm and there were cheap decent places to get meals and mingle with the locals. During my first visit in 2003, Rudi Polt, a resident who was friends with Ann and is quoted in my book, took me to a Waikiki steakhouse where he was able to sweet talk the waitress into giving us the early bird special, even though it was later in the evening. After dinner, we moved into the bar where regulars sang along with the piano player, including a woman called The Star Lady. Now, those types of places are gone. When we took Rudi out to dinner last week, the best suggestion he had for a cheap joint was the Cheesecake Factory! The horror. I was also heartbroken to see that the International Marketplace has been demolished to make way for another shopping mall. Sure, it was run down and kind of tacky but it was also spectacular and had the best rainbow sherbet I have even encountered. Yes, I suppose time marches on, but there is a part of me that is extremely sad to see the last vestiges of Ann Dvorak’s Waikiki disappearing.
Giant mazes are surprisingly fun!
Sad stuff aside, the royalty check trip was wonderful. In our new and unexpected life as exorcisers, my husband and I did a 6 mile jog around Diamond Head, and a 2 mile hike on the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail. For the first time in my life, I sat by a pool and had drinks brought to me which was made even more awesome by having my four-year-old take a nap while laying on me. We drank, we dined, we shopped, and even had a blast at the Dole Pineapple Plantation which I had always presumed was a tourist hell-hole. Turns out, giant mazes are a lot of fun!
The Only Show in Town – the former home of the contents of Ann’s storage unit
I half-heartedly tried to arrange screenings or book signings, which didn’t pan out but that was ok because it was nice to have a 100% vacation. Of course, I am not capable of visiting Hawaii without having Ann Dvorak involved somehow, so I dragged my husband, daughter, and in-laws to the North Shore where a lone antique shop sits. The owner of the shop purchased the contents of Ann’s storage unit in 1980 or 81 and by the time I found him in 2003, most everything had been destroyed in a hurricane a number of years back, (I know, it hurts). What he did have were studio photos that she held onto, and over the last 11 years, I have chipped away. The first two visits, I acquired 3 Hurells (including the one used on the header of this site), shots of Ann on stage in the Respectful Prostitute, and various scene stills. My friend Darin, had also made a few trips and picked things up for me. Last week, I finally walked away with the rest of the stash, which was 136 8×10 portraits. There are only 5 poses, so these would have been photos Ann kept for autograph requests. It’s kind of sad that these requests would have dried up so completely that they were relegated to storage. Finally, they are in my possession and if I can get my act together will make them available for those who would like a personally-owned Ann Dvorak photo.
Now, as I depressingly prepare to return to work tomorrow, it’s still nice to know that after 17 years I can still marvel at the people an experiences Ann Dvorak continues to bring into my life.
There’s an app called Timehop which everyday shows a compiled list of your social media posts on that date in previous years. As you can imagine, my Timehop feed the last couple of months has consisted of daily reminders that it’s been a full year since Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was released. I have to admit that reliving the events of a year ago has been bittersweet. The publication of the Dvorak book and the positive reception it received was one of the highest points of my life (so far). I had worked so hard and had spent so many years with Ann, striving to reach that point where the book would be out in the world. So, when it finally was released and the seemingly Sisyphean task completed, it actually made me feel a certain sadness which has been magnified now that it’s so far behind me. Last week, I expressed this to my husband and his response was, “Well last year you achieved a tremendous professional goal, and this year it’s a personal one.” “What personal goal?” was my instant reaction. “The half marathon!”
Oh yes, the half marathon.
This last New Year’s Day, I was hanging out with a group of parents who I have become friends with through my daughter’s school. One of them is a big Disney fan, spends lots of time with her son at Disneyland and in the summer of 2013, completed one of the Disney half marathons. I was astounded. Completing a half marathon was so beyond the realm of my comprehension that I could scarcely process that someone I knew had done it. Yet, by the end of the day, we had all agreed to sign up for the next available Disney half marathon. Crazy? You bet!
Why would I do something as insane as this? I’m not quite sure, though I guess a lot of it would have to do with becoming a parent and wanting to reverse the damage my body has sustained in the previous 40 years, in order to be around as long as possible for my daughter. That damage in my case includes years of smoking, yo-y0 dieting, and alternating between overeating and starving myself. Oh, and a lifetime of inactivity. I was never athletic, something that was apparent at a young age. So, I spent a lot of time sitting under trees reading, losing sleeping worrying about Presidential Physical Fitness testing, and failing P.E. in high school.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may recall that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after my daughter was born and I had to have my thyroid removed. Ever since then, I have been carting around an extra 50 pounds that have been impossible to lose. Despite the professional achievements of the last few years, and the supreme joy of being a parent that has lit up my life, my personal vanity has been shot to hell by the extra weight. Perhaps I hoped training for a half marathon could help remedy that.
Oh, and my husband is diabetic and has also been desperately trying to make himself healthier the last few years. I figured a half marathon was something we could both work towards together (he posted his story here). So yeah, I guess I had a few valid reasons to sign up for something so seemingly insane.
Initially, this plan did not get off to a great start. The first day I started training in January was freezing. I was able to run for about 20 seconds and my calves tightened to the point I could barely walk. I was pretty discouraged out the gate, but forged ahead. Then the whole group failed to sign up for the September half marathon before it sold out. Cool, I thought, we don’t have to do it! Then, the Avengers Half Marathon in November was announced and we all successfully registered. Game back on (drat!).
For the last 8 months, this half marathon has been looming over me, filling me with a supreme amount of dread. Jen, the gal who talked all of us unto this to begin with, assumed the role of my personal motivational coach as we trained for this. In all honesty, we probably didn’t train as much as we should have, but we still trained! We signed up and completed 5ks (the best being the one at Knotts Berry Farm which included pie at the end), and she constantly assured me that we would be fine and could finish in the allotted time. I forgot to mention that there is a 16 minute mile pace requirement for the Disney half marathons, and those who are unable to maintain are picked up by the “truck of shame” and delivered to the finish line. Oh how I loathed the truck of shame! As an added incentive, Jen and I decided that we would reward ourselves after the race by having our photo taken with Thor and then dining at the Blue Bayou, something I have always wanted to do since I was a kid.
Well, this past weekend was the Avengers Half Marathon. I was filled with doubt for every last minute up to the starting line, but once we got going I was good. Yes, there was a lot of “We can do this!” going on the whole time, but that feeling of extreme and sickening doubt left me as we jogged (ok, mostly walked) through California Adventure and Disneyland, past Snow White & the Seven Dwarves who waived at us from the King Arthur Carousal, out onto the streets of Anaheim where we were cheered on by local high school bands & cheerleading squads, past Avengers cos-players, around the field at Anaheim Stadium (the best part of the whole course), past my Mom and 4-year-old waiting near the finish line, and finally to the very end where my husband who had already finished was waiting. There was no doubt, only the belief that I was going to do something that seemed more impossible than writing a book on Ann Dvorak. Yes, I finished the damn thing. Yes, I starting crying when it was done. Yes, I hurt like hell after, though not nearly as bad as I thought I would. And yes, we took our photo with Thor and dined at a restaurant inside Pirates of the Caribbean.
So, what’s next? I have no idea, but after finishing both a book on Ann Dvorak and a half marathon, I guess anything is possible.
Apparently Sweet Music is in the public domain because it is current up on the Internet Archive for viewing (with a TCM logo appearing periodically). This 1935 Warner Bros. musical, directed by Alfred Green and starring Rudy Valle was a personal favorite of Ann’s and one she lobbied hard to get cast in. Between 1932-1934 Ann had done heavy duty dramas or quickie programmers and was anxious to get back to her musical roots from her days as an MGM chorus girl. Having missed out on films like 42nd Street and Footlight Parade because she was playing hooky in Europe with Leslie Fenton, Ann no doubt felt like she had missed out.
The film is certainly higher budget than most of Ann’s Warner Bros. titles and while it’s not as high calibur as the previously mentioned musicals, it has its moments. Plus, a supporting cast featuring Alice White, Allen Jenkins, and Ned Sparks is always delightful, not to mention appearances by torch singer Helen Morgan and Al Shean, uncle of the Marx Brothers.
If for no other reason, Sweet Music is worth watching to see Ann Dvorak hoofing around in a ridiculous bird-like outfit. If you can’t contain yourself, fast forward to 16:18 for a dose of Dvorak bliss.
During the course of 2013, it felt like November 4th, would never come. Unbelievably, we are now one year removed from the publication of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, so I thought I would recap all that’s been going on since the release last November.
I think it’s safe to say that the book sold moderately well for being a biography of a relatively obscure actress. In fact, later this month we’ll be departing on a family vacation to Hawaii which was paid for in full with the first royalty check I received. Thank you Ann!
Since the book came out, the reaction has been completely positive (whew!). There were some standout highlights; the amazing launch party at Central Library, the selection as Turner Classic Movies Book of the Month, Leonard Maltin’s endorsement, and the incredibly warm reception I received while introducting two screenings in Chicago. The positive reviews have continued to show up, most recently at the Stardust, Great Old Movies, and Out of the Past blogs. Thanks to all who took the time to read and review!
I put together a book comprised of Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton’s honeymoon photos. While sales from that one won’t be paying for a trip to Hawaii, I was happy to be able to share these amazing images with any fellow Dvorak fanatics.
My writing career took a bizarre twist as I started writing issues of the My Little Pony comic book for IDW Publishing. As the mother of a 4-year-old, I had seen every episode of the show before I started writing the comics, so becoming immersed in that world has been a lot of fun. I had two issues come out this year and will have at least five published next year, so hooray! It’s been gratifying to pen something that resonates with my daughter, and to work on a project that is so much more collaborative than the Dvorak biography. To top it off, I am getting paid to write about ponies, so to get a check for writing is a dream come true.
If you had ask me a year ago, “who’s next,” I would have responded that there was no way I would be interested in tackling another film biography. Now that Ann is firmly in my past, I have to admit that I am starting to get the itch. I am currently weighing my options in terms of who would be an interesting subject and if I am really in a position to do this again, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
And while the Ann Dvorak book is in my past, I guess I shouldn’t say that Ann is in my past. I have continued collecting on her and have actually picked up some amazing pieces that I plan on sharing here in the near future. I am also happy to report that since the release of the book, no startling Ann Dvorak revelations have popped up, which is always a fear.
It’s also been almost a year since I stopped blogging about Ann on a daily basis. While I don’t miss doing the daily posts, I have missed the constant interactions with the Dvorak devotees who frequently posted comments during the Year of Ann Dvorak. Do please stop by and say hi every now and then!
I have to admit that now that my life is not completely consumed with Ann Dvorak like it was a year ago, I am a bit mournful. Ann and “the book” had been such a constant, hovering over me for so long that the last few months I guess I have a little bit lost without her. Still, time marches on and I hope another project will prove to be as gratifying as Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.
Scarface is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, September 26 at 5pmPST
Scarface has gotten quite a bit of play on Turner Classic Movies this year and has also been discussed numerous times on this blog over the years. Bottom line: If you have not yet seen it, watch it! Scarface is arguably Ann Dvorak’s most important role and her best film, and you will get no arguments from me on those two points. Throw in flawless directing by Howard Hawks, Paul Muni’s over-the-top but enjoyable performance, George Raft’s iconic coin flipping, Karen Morley’s angry eyebrow plucking, and Boris Karloff being his adorable self and how could you possibly go wrong?
Out of the Shadows panel l to r: Richard Harland Smith, Alan K. Rode, Christina Rice, Tom Zimmerman, and Andrew A. Erish.
Yesterday turned out to be Ann Dvorak-filled one for me! First up was the discussion panel at the Los Angeles Central Library. “Out of the Shadows and Into the Spotlight: Resurrecting Hollywood’s Stories” put me in stellar company with Richard Harland Smith (TCM’s Movie Morlocks), Alan K. Rode (Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy), Tom Zimmerman (forthcoming Maria Montez: Queen of Technicolor), and Andrew A. Erish (Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood). Each of these talented gents could have easily talked about their subjects for the whole program, so to have all of them together in one place was a real treat. Special thanks to Richard for taking the reigns and and moderating! If you weren’t lucky enough to attend the program, it was recorded and should be available on the library’s website within the desk couple of weeks.
After the panel, I rushed home to the Valley in order to make it in time for my spot on Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer Talk Radio Show. This was only the second episode in this new live internet show through LA Talk Radio , hosted by Alicia Mayer, grand niece of Louis B., and Will McKinley. This was the first time I had done a live interview, so I was seriously fretting some technical catastrophe or making a fool of myself, but all went smoothly and I had a great time. I seriously tip my hat to Will and Alicia for keeping everything moving along and within the allotted timeslot. We did a live giveaway for copies of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, as well as the companion volume The Inseparables, which were bizarrely won by two different women named Christy. If you weren’t able to catch it live, the archive is already up on this site. My interview is around the half hour mark, but I encourage you to listen to the entire show, which is a lot of fun. Josh Mankiewicz (grandson of Herman, son of Frank, brother of Ben) is right before me and absolutely fascinating. Thanks to Alicia & Will for being such gracious hosts.
Now that the Ann Dvorak biography has been out for close to a year, it’s been awhile since I had the opportunity to talk about our gal. Having the opportunity to wax ecstatic about her in two different venues on one day was truly magnificent.
I am very excited to share that this evening I will be a guest on the Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer. It’s a new show focusing on classic film which aires live at 6pm on Saturdays through LA Talk Radio. This is only the second episode, so it’s a real honor to be invited on the show. Just in case you were wondering about Alicia’s surname, she is in fact the grand niece of Louis B. Mayer. Tonight’s episode will also feature Josh Mankiewicz, brother of Ben and grandson of Herman, so there is some serious Hollywood pedigree at work here!
Alicia will be joined by co-host Will McKinley, who somehow manages to watch classic films 24/7, so this should be a lot of fun. Just in case you’re not able to tune in at 6pmPST, the show will be archived for later listening. BUT, for those who listen live, we’ll be giving away a free copy of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, as well as the companion volume The Inseparables, so it pays to listen live.
Take a listen, won’t ya?
This Saturday at 2pm at Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles, TCM Movie Morlock Richard Harland Smith will be leading a discussion about the challenges of resurrecting Hollywood’s lesser know stories with biographers Alan K. Rode (Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy), Tom Zimmerman (forthcoming Maria Montez: Queen of Technicolor), Andrew A. Erish (Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood), and…yours truly (Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel).
The program is FREE and reservations are not required. For those of you who are not in the L.A. area, we will be recording the discussion and have it posted to the Los Angeles Public Library’s website in the near future.
Additional information about L.A. in Focus – Out of the Shadows and Into the Spotlight: Resurrecting Hollywood’s Stories can be found on the library’s website.
Hope to see you there!