“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.

TCM Film Fest Light: A 2016 Recap

May 2nd, 2016

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After years of avoiding the annual TCM Film Fest, I took the plunge last year and fear I am forever hooked. It’s a whirlwind weekend of classic films, classic film stars, and classic film fans which is a paradise for someone like me who has been enamored with Golden Age cinema since I was a kid, but didn’t find people to connect with until I was an adult.

This year ended up being relatively light compared to last year’s inaugural visit. The nice thing about living ten minutes away from Hollywood is that I don’t have to travel or spend money on accommodations.  On the flip side, my day-to-day responsibilities are not too far away and being so close to home ends up making me less immersed and connected to the activities than a lot of the other participants. Still, I once again had a fantastic time.

First off, there’s the films. One of my main goals with TCMFF is to see movies I have never seen before and I was 100% successful this year. I only managed to catch six films this year, but I was pleased with my choices which were:

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – This was actually the film I was most looking forward to as I have always wanted to see it and just never got around to it. Even though I was sobbing towards the end, I was still fully enjoying it when…a fire alarm went off during the climax and we had to vacate the theater. My fest partner, Darin, and I waited for a bit and then threw in the towel and went home.  He was getting over a sinus infection and I had worked that day and was tired. So, living close worked against both of us and I have no idea how the film ends.
  • Shanghai Express – This is another one I have always wanted to see and it was well worth the wait. Dietrich and Anna May Wong are amazing together and it should probably be in the Guinness Book of Records for the film with the largest amount of perfectly lit close-ups. Seeing this film almost makes me want to dig out that Dietrich Madame Alexander doll that has been in storage for the past 9 years.
  • Pleasure Cruise – I was among the many, many, many people who did not get into Double Harness on Friday (ya her that TCM? Move the pre-Codes out of the broom closet!), so I was determined to get into this one and got in line early. It’s a fun film and Genevieve Tobin is delightful. It takes a very pre-Code turn towards the end and was worth the wait.
  •  6 Hours to Live – I am very conflicted on this one. I loved the concept and the sci-fi elements, as well as the moral conflict, but sitting through Miriam Jordan’s wooden performance was sheer torture. Every scene she was in felt like an eternity, and during these drawn out moments, I think Darin and I both had our mouths open, drooling with boredom. Still, it’s not something I would have ever sat down and watched at home, so I am glad I did it.
  • Harold and Lillian: A Love Story – The Saturday morning programming was completely sacrificed to watch my daughter play a dolphin in a school performance, so this documentary that aired in the afternoon was my first film of the day. For the sake of full disclosure, the filmmakers are good friends of mine, but that doesn’t change the fact that this engaging film about a Hollywood power couple you’ve probably never heard of is completely worth your time.
  • The Long Goodbye – Watching this one reminded me of two things I tend to forget; I love 1970s dramas and I love Robert Altman. Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Elliot Gould before the screening at the Egyptian Theater, which was delightful. The film itself is a showcase of an early 1970s Los Angeles. At one point, my friend Erik and I audibly gasped when the neon sign for the former Ship’s coffee shop in Westwood made a brief appearance. This was definitely my film highlight of the festival.

Of course, TCMFF is as much about the people as it is the films. The great thing about the folks who attend the festival is that they are the type of film fans who just genuinely love film and want to wax ecstatic about it, rather than snootily demonstrating their vast knowledge to anyone who will listen. Many of the people who attend the festival are part of the robust online community of classic film fans, so it was great to briefly connect or reconnect with Jessica, Angela, Danny, Laura, Kristina, KC, Karen, Emily, Beth Ann, Raquel, Kellee, Jill, and many others.

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We’re at a movie at 9 in the morning!

Probably the biggest highlight of TCMFF is spending a few days being total movie geeks with my dear friend Darin. Once upon a time, we were an inseparable Will & Grace, and while we both relish in the lives we’ve created for ourselves separately, it’s still great to spend a a few days talking about Ann Dvorak and Norma Shearer ad nauseam (well, maybe for those around us. We never get tired of Ann and Norma).

I can’t really think of a good Ann Dvorak connection for this year’s festival so this is a decidedly un-Dvorak post. All I have to say to that is – Hey TCM! Show an Ann Dvorak film next year!

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My daughter started elementary school this year, which has been fine for her, but overwhelming for me with PTA this and that (and I barely do anything with the PTA), along with my stupid, yet enjoyable decision to be a Girl Scout troop co-leader. In other words, it feels like we are constantly on the go and seldom slow down. So, when my daughter sent me the above email after three nights of not being tucked in by mom, I threw in the TCMFF towel and instead stayed home for Cuddlefest all day on Sunday.

It was worth it.

Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles Addendum: Visiting the Page School for Girls with an Alumna

April 1st, 2016
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Jo at the Page School for Girls, circa 1938

When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was first published, I was warned by fellow authors that people would start coming out of the woodwork with great stories and info about Ann. Now that we’re over two years removed from the publication date, I am happy to report this has not happened. Well, it hadn’t happened until recently. Read the rest of this entry »

“Private Affairs of Bel Ami” to be Released (Finally)!

March 3rd, 2016

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A little over two years ago, I posted that independent distributor Olive Films would be releasing The Private Affairs of Bel Ami sometime in 2014. The year came  and went and I had started to give up hope that it would ever come out. Low and behold, yesterday Blu-Ray.com reported that it is on Olive Films May roster! It’s also confirmed on Olive’s website via a crossword puzzle, though I could not find anyplace to pre-order it.

I have expressed my love for this film in past, but am more than happy to wax ecstatic about it once again. Based on a novel by Guy de Maupassant and starring George Sanders at his caddiest, the movie also features Angela Lansbury, Marie Wilson, Frances Dee, Warren William (in his final role), and of course our Divine Miz Dvorak. This is probably my favorite post-War role of Ann’s. Compared to her live-wire pre-Code performances, she is very understated in Bel Ami  and is given the opportunity to demonstrate the range she had as an actress. Plus,this is one of only a handful of period films she appeared in. The late 19th Century Parisian-inspired costumes, matched with the intriguing set-design suit Ann well.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami has been available to stream for awhile, but I am a strong believer in supporting the companies that take the time and effort to released these lesser-known films and will certainly be ordering a copy. Get yours here on May 24th! 

Enjoy!

The Business of Writing a Biography

February 26th, 2016

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Our lovely Ann Dvorak writing away while honeymooning in Europe in 1932

Those of you Dvorak devotees who still check in here have probably noticed that the posts have slowed down to a trickle. It’s not that my love of Ann has waned, far from it, though now that we’re two years removed from the release of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, she’s not quite as much of a focus. Plus, I have taken on weird responsibilities in my life like Girl Scout Troop Co-Leader, so my time is getting spread increasingly thinner.

Also, I have decided to undertake a new biography project. I am not quite ready to announce anything yet, but I am getting into the thick of it enough that it is certainly cutting into my time to post here. Before I drop completely off the face of this website (well, not completely – I’ll be sure to post any major Ann news), I thought I would write a post I have been meaning to do for awhile.

Now that I have gone through the process of writing and publishing a Hollywood biography, I’ll occasionally be contacted by people who are thinking of doing the same and want to know what may be in store for them. Since I work at a research institution and oversee a photo archive, I have gained some additional perspective into the process. I am sure every writer’s experience is unique, so this is just some insight into my personal experience that hopefully can be some useful food for thought for anyone considering undertaking a similar project.

As noble and important as film scholarship is, a major thing to be aware of is that writing a full-length biography is going to cost money. Most likely it will be the author who shoulders this cost, unless you’re one of those lucky souls who can land a publisher who still pays advances (I was not one of those lucky souls). This business of writing a biography is what I wanted to focus on with this post.

Research Costs Money

We are currently living in a golden age for researchers, which becomes bigger and better everyday. Institutions, corporations, government entities, and individuals are digitizing materials at an astounding rate and access to content from around the world is at our fingertips. I started researching Ann Dvorak right on the cusp of the digital revolution, so much of the material I had to access through “traditional” time consuming methods is now available in mere minutes. However, despite the leaps and strides that the online realm makes on a regular basis, not everything is available online, far from it. More than likely, trips to libraries, archives, and government agencies are going to be necessary to create a complete picture of a person’s life.

For Ann Dvorak, my chapters about her time at MGM and Warner Bros. would be anemic had I not spent an extensive amount of time utilizing their primary source archives at USC. It’s been fifteen years since my first visit to USC, and these materials are still not available online. Court documents provided valuable insight into Ann’s legal case against Warner Bros, as well as her very troubled marriage to Nick Wade. Real estate records also revealed a great deal about Ann’s time in Los Angeles and Hawaiian probate records helped flesh out Ann’s final years. The New York Public Library had clippings and photos relating to Ann’s parents that were vital to telling their story. I could go on and on, but you probably get the point.

This vital research costs money in the form of time off of work, photocopying expenses, travel expenses, and probably a few other areas. Sometimes, things that have been digitized still cost money to access. I am fortunate that the library I work at subscribes to some historic newspapers databases, but there are many we don’t have. I have certainly paid money to access digitized materials over the years. For Ann Dvorak, I made multiple trips to Hawaii and New York and one visit to London for my research, so yes, it was an expensive endeavor. For those of you that are not able to travel, libraries maintain lists of researchers for hire. Utilizing their services may be cheaper than traveling somewhere, but be prepared to pay them a fair rate which they certainly deserve.

What you should not expect from librarians is that they do the research for you. Some institutions, like the New York Public Library offer fee-based research services, but generally libraries are understaffed and are not able to undertake massive research projects for out-of-town authors. For the library I work at, we can handle basic reference questions and our job is to be able to help you locate the materials you are looking for. We cannot compile all that research for you which is very, very time consuming. Not that this stops people from begging or yelling at us, but please realize that if you are not prepared to travel in the name of research, then be prepared to hire a researcher.

Photographs Cost Money

If you’re like me, the first thing you do when cracking open a new biography is thumb through and look at the photos. People love photos, and why shouldn’t they? Images truly help tell a full story and every biography should have a great selection of photos. However, photos can end up being a HUGE expense. Not only do institutions and commercial enterprises charge reproduction fees, but they will also charge additional fees based on how the image is being used and this can add up fast.

Fortunately, images of film stars are plentiful and depending on the time period, probably out of copyright (University Press of Kentucky has a great guide to this on page 11). This makes buying original photos on eBay an option that may be cheaper than going through a photo archive. This does not mean the photos won’t end up costing a lot. I only acquired a handful of images of Ann Dvorak from institutions, so most of the photos in the book are from my personal collection. Even so, I probably spent between $2,600 – $3,000 for the images used, not including travel expenses as some of the photos were purchased on trips to New York and Hawaii. That cost was less painful for me, since it was spread out over 15 years, but it’s still a chunk of change.

If you are starting research for a biography, and money is a big issue, I strongly recommend setting aside a few bucks a week into a photo fund. Researching someone’s life doesn’t need to take 15 years, but it should take a least a year or two. Setting aside a bit here and there will result in some sort of photo budget when the time comes. As a photo archivist, I strongly suggest your photo plan NOT be to yell at and browbeat the employee at the photo archive. My assistant and I have been subjected to so much abuse from people not wanting to pay fees, that we’re both hollow and desensitized to any amount of begging or yelling. I can’t speak for other institutions, but the fees we collect directly support our ability to preserve and digitize the photos in the collection, which is something I take seriously. I would not waive these fees for my own my mother (not that she would even ask, because she knows better).

Another option is to seek out other collectors who have photos in their personal collections. Over the years, I have been contacted by biographers writing about Ann’s co-stars and am more than happy to provide publishable scans in exchange for credit in the book.

While the cost of photos is a harsh reality, it’s really necessary. There was a biography that came out on a couple of years back on a Los Angeles figure. The author regarded it as his life’s work, but didn’t want to pay money for images. The book came to be known as “that one without any photos,” and discussions about it never made it past a conversation about the importance of photos.

Pony up, it’s worth it.

Indexes Cost Money

I did a whole post on indexes a while back which you can read here. I am a strong advocate of a strong index and was actually surprised that this was not a service provided by my publisher. Yes, I was lucky that a close friend of mine has a background in cataloging, which made indexing easy for her. Plus, she indexed my book at no charge. Had she not been available, I would have probably paid someone, which can run in the $2,000 rage. I do not recommend using an indexing software which produces a final product that is superficial and unhelpful. If you’re going through the time an expense to research and write a book, you want it so be useful for years to come and a well crafted index is key to that.

While the publisher did not provide me with an index, they did give me a copy editor, layout designer, and graphic designer to work with. The Ann Dvorak book looks fantastic because of them. If you’re going the self-publishing route, you are going to need to pay someone for these services. Even if you think you can do this on your own, if you don’t have a background in one of these areas, forget it. These people are paid professionals for a reason. They trained to do these jobs, and will do them infinitely better than you and I ever could. Here at the library, we frequently have authors wanting to get their self-published books into the collection. While some are certainly worthwhile additions, more often then not these books have huge quality control issues which will eliminate them from consideration. I sometimes get asked if would self-publish and the answer is an emphatic no. The editorial and production services my publisher provided far outweighed any benefits from self-publishing, though again, that’s just my personal experience.

Well that’s all the wisdom I have to offer at this point, which I hope is helpful. If you’re thinking of writing a biography of a film personality, I fully encourage it, but just be aware that there may be a bit more to it that you think.

Happy writing!