“Merrily We Live” On TCM

April 16th, 2014

Merrily We Live is going to air on Turner Classic movies TONIGHT at 10:45PST.

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Geeze, I am really slacking off on my TCM Ann Dvorak schedule-watch and almost missed this one. If you happen to be home tonight and need a quick Dvorak fix (she’s in this one for maybe 10 minutes), set the dial to TCM. If you’re not home, don’t worry, they usually show this at least a couple of times a year.

My previous comments about the film are here. 

Collection Spotlight: Ann Dvorak & Kirk Douglas at the Fox Commissary

April 12th, 2014

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I’ve been collecting Ann Dvorak memorabilia for almost sixteen years, so it’s now rare that I’ll come across something spectacular that I do not already own. Sure, the occasional scene still will pop up that I don’t have, so I’ll grab it if the price is right. However, I seldom have the opportunity to purchase a piece that really blows me away, so I was thrilled to add this photo to the collection this week. The image shows Ann and Kirk Douglas in 1948 having lunch in the 20th Century-Fox Commissary during production of the Walls of Jericho. I love this photo because it’s not taken directly on the set of the film and appears to be a truly unguarded candid moment. They are both in costume for the film, with Ann’s carefully coiffed hair held in place with a net and she looks absolutely beautiful.  I’ve never been in the Fox Commissary, though it seems to look remarkably the same as it did in the 1940s. which makes this photo that much cooler.

If I had owned this image a year ago I would have used it in the book, though I really can’t adequately explain it is so special for me.  I don’t have too may behind-the-scenes photos from Ann’s post-War films, and since Ann’s role in The Walls of Jericho is relatively small I don’t have many photos of this film in general. Also, I just love candids. Maybe I’m just so starved for new items for the collection that even the hint of something different will send my spirits soaring.  Whatever the reason, it’s awesome and I hope some of you will enjoy seeing it.

Inspiring Film Biographies

April 9th, 2014

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Long before I became Ann Dvorak’s biographer, I was a classic film fan who devoured Hollywood bios. As I recall, the first one I ever read was Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers when I was in the 8th grade. I could not even fathom a guess as to how many I have read since then. What I can say is that 20+ years of almost non-stop biography reading was a fantastic way to prep myself for drafting my own manuscript.

There have been good, bad, and mediocre biographies along the way, so when I finally sat down to write about Ann I was essentially trying to write something I would want to read. As I was working on Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, there were a handful of bios that really stayed with me and served as an influence for my own book.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of great film biographies, but just a few that stood out for me as particularly good or had elements I tried to incorporate into my telling of Ann’s story

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Norma Jean: The Life of Marilyn Monroe by Fred Lawrence Guiles

It’s been at least 20 years since I read this early biography of Miss Marilyn, but even as a teenager I remember being impressed by the amount of research Guiles did, including interviewing people from all stages of her life. If memory serves me correctly, this book presents a fairly balanced look at Monroe and does not overemphasize or exaggerate some of the most troubling aspects of her life. A bio like this helped me understand that it is possible to discuss the less than savory traits of a person without exploiting them. My other takeaway was that I shouldn’t beat myself up for not having access to the types of people Guiles did. This book was published in 1969, only seven years after Monroe’s death and the author spent five years working on it. For me to have accomplished something similar with Ann in terms of a timeline, I would have needed to start working on the book when I was seven.

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Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov

The reviews on this one were fairly mixed, but I don’t remember having any issue with it. What proved to be influential about this bio is that Sikov discussed every film Bette Davis ever made. In my experience this tends to not be the case, especially with the contract players who were making upwards of ten films a year. A lot of the books I read growing up were published by mainstream publishers, so the books leaned more towards a personal focus versus film scholarship. This approach would often leave me frustrated when a film I was partial to would be omitted from the narrative. With Ann Dvorak, I was hell bent and determined to discuss every last film, and Sikov’s bio made me realize that it was ok to do it.

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Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick by David Thomson

This tome on Selznick is impressive in its scope and exhaustive in its presentation, but never boring or tedious. What I learned from this book is that it’s acceptable to be very thorough as long as the writing is good and the information relevant. This book is also a lesson in perspective. Selznick was a driving and influential force in the film industry and there really was enough to say about the man to justify almost 800 pages. Perhaps I could have squeezed more pages out of Ann’s story, but I doubt that would have been necessary.

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The Bennetts: An Acting Family by Brian Kellow

This is one of my all time favorite bios and a big reason why I was thrilled to have University Press of Kentucky as my publisher. I like Joan & Constance Bennett just fine, though I am not a huge fan, but Kellow’s book was more of a page turner than any other bio I have read. He bravely tackled the task of writing about multiple people in the family (father Richard, and sister Barbara in addition to Joan and Constance) and handles the transitions seamlessly. He also has a knack for giving greater context to the individual stories without distracting from the narrative of the subjects. The fact that Richard and Constance were such characters made this bio absorbing, but Kellow’s execution was something I definitely tried to emulate.

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Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn & Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark A. Vieira

In my opinion, these two books set the gold standard for film biographies and contain the best aspects of the previously mentioned books –  flawless research, engaging writing,  and a balanced narrative made these two very difficult to put down. Stenn deserves extra points for conducting his research in the days before the internet.

Yes, there are also books that set a strong example of what NOT to do in a film biography but I am too much of a lady (or too chicken) to call them out in a public place. I will say that these other books cause me to steer clear of:

  • Lengthy plot synopsis of films.  These are so boring to read that I could not imagine having to write them! With Ann, I tried to stick with TV Guide descriptions.
  • Excessive reprints of film reviews. After awhile these reviews start to sound the same. I limited my use of reviews considerably unless it reinforced a point I was trying to make – like She’s No Lady being a terrible film.
  • Invented thoughts or dialogue. I don’t think I need to explain why this is bad.
  • Cutting down another, more successful actor to elevate a subject. This drives me crazy. It’s ok to compare a subject to another actor to give context, which is what I did with Ann and Bette Davis who started off in similar situations only to see their careers go in different directions. However, I would never comment that Ann deserved to be a bigger star than Bette because she was prettier, more talented, etc. The fact of the matter is that Davis WAS a bigger star than Dvorak, so to criticize Bette’s success wouldn’t elevate Ann but just look like sour grapes.
  • Letting the research disrupt the narrative. This one can be difficult and I’ll admit to throwing in meaningless facts in a few areas just because I was impressed that I was able to find the information. Overall, I tried to cut those types of things out and hopefully succeeded. I once started a bio and the author was so impressed with the ship lists and census records they had found on Ancestry.com that the first twenty pages were filled with facts unrelated to the subject. I threw the book across the room and never finished it.
  • Injecting myself or my personal journey in the narrative. Yes, I did talk a bit about myself in the prologue, mainly to explain why there are no photos of Ann’s third husband in the book. I am sure my opinions of Ann’s films are also present, but I did try to make myself absent from the book because if someone is reading a book about Ann Dvorak, why the hell would they want to hear about me?

Well, there’s a quick rundown of the dos and don’ts I tried to adhere to while writing Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, and I hope I succeeded. If you have any bios  you’re especially fond of, please feel free to discuss them in the comments.

 

Ann Dvorak Love from The Art of Being a Dame

April 3rd, 2014

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It’s been a couple of months since I’ve received any interview requests, so I was more than happy to plug the book and Ann Dvorak by answering a few questions from Dixie Laite over at The Art of Being a Dame.

Dixie is fabulous in many ways, not least of which is maintaining an amazingly color coordinated apartment in NYC. Once you’ve gotten your Ann Dvorak fill, I recommend spending some time with all the “damey” goodness her site has to offer.

The Ann Dvorak Book Tour is Coming to Chicago!

April 1st, 2014

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At long last, the hotel and plane tickets are booked and everything is in place for a double dose of Ann Dvorak in Chicago this month!

First up will be the screening of a 35mm print of The Strange Love of Molly Louvain at the Patio Theatre on Wednesday, April 23rd at 7:30 pm. This event is co-sponsored by the Northwest Chicago Film Society and Park Ridge Classic Film Series with the book sales generously sponsored by The Book Cellar. I’ll be giving a brief introduction to the film and  will be on hand before and after to chat and sign books. I have never seen Molly Louvain on the big screen, so this would be a special treat even if I weren’t introducting it!

Next is a screening of Scarface in the neighboring suburb of Park Ridge, which is part of the Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Park Ridge Public Library and the Pickwick Theatre. This will be the following night, Thursday, April 24th at 7:30 pm. Once again, I’ll be introducing the film and signing books before and after, courtesy of The Book Cellar. Honestly, I never thought I would find myself in a gorgeous deco theatre introducing Ann in her most famous role, so this should be quite thrilling.

These will be a couple of the few out of town appearances I will be doing this year, so stop on by if you can!

Very special thanks to Matthew C. Hoffman of the Park Ridge Classic Film Series and Kyle Westphal of the Northwest Chicago Film Society for making these two events happen.

See you soon Chicago!

News, Updates, And Such

March 18th, 2014

After blogging about Ann Dvorak every day for an entire year, I guess you could say that I have really embraced the break from it. Since I don’t want to be too neglectful of Ann, along with those of you who have been so faithful and supportive – here’s what’s been going on in the world of Ann Dvorak (and me).

The big Ann Dvorak news is that Our Blushing Brides is now available from the Warner Archive.  This is actually a Joan Crawford film that was made during Ann’s waning days at MGM. Even though the film does have some dance numbers, Ann does not appear as a chorus girl but only as an extra fawning over Robert Montgomery.  I don’t remember what I thought of this film overall, so I can only recommend it for you Dvorak completists. 

On a bright personal note, I received my first royalty statement for Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. The numbers were considerably higher than my publisher or I were expecting, so a big THANK YOU to everyone out there who purchased a copy!

I recently submitted a proposal for what I hope will be my next big project. It’s for the 33 1/3 series which are books focusing on a specific music album. The publisher recently did an open call for submissions, so I threw my hat in the ring with Heart’s Dreamboat Annie. The open call resulted in a whopping 410 submissions, so I am definitely a long-shot! Writing about a band from the 1970s might sound like an extreme departure from a 1930s movie star. However, much like Ann Dvorak, the Wilson sisters challenged the conventions of their sector of the entertainment industry, so I don’t feel that writing about them will be that much different from Ann. And if my proposal isn’t selected? Well, I have a couple of other ideas floating around…

On a totally non-Ann related note, I will be back at the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library on March 25th, lecturing on the changing roles of woman in the post-War San Fernando Valley. The entire presentation will be illustrated with images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Valley Times photo collection, so hopefully there will be some interest.

Finally, I have two screenings/book signings arranged in Chicago in late April and a royalty check to pay for the trip! Keep an eye out here for more details very soon!

Otherwise, I have been slumming it a bit and enjoying free time with my daughter and husband. Hope all is well with all you Dvorak devotees, and check back for more updates.

Ann Dvorak Author Event at the Whittier Public Library

February 20th, 2014

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On March 6th, I’ll be at the Whittier Public Library’s Whittwood Branch to sign copies of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel and give a lecture all about my extended quest to document Ann’s story.

The lecture is free, though reservations are required. Full details can be found on the library’s website along with my own event page.

Hope to see some of you there!

All About Ann Dvorak’s Encino Walnut Ranch This Thursday

February 5th, 2014

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Just a reminder that tomorrow, February 6th, I will be giving a presentation all about Ann Dvorak’s Encino walnut ranch at the Encino-Tarzana branch library at 6pm.

I have waxed ecstatic about this property numerous times in the past, which is where Ann resided during the seemingly happiest and most productive time of her life and career. I am thrilled to ramble on about the place for an hour or so to a, hopefully, captivated audience. I have dug up every historic photo I could find, including images of owners after Ann, so the evening should be a lot of fun. AND, Larry Edmunds Bookshop has graciously agreed to sell copies of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel at the event.

Hope to see some friendly faces there!

Ann Dvorak TV Show Now Available at the Internet Archive

January 29th, 2014

 

Ann Dvorak did some limited television work in the early 1950s, some of which still exists. The Internet Archive recently posted one of these shows on their site which is free to view. “Close-Up” was part of an anthology series called The Silver Theatre though the program was later re-run under various titles. According to the description on the website, it was one of the earlier series to be filmed rather than performed live, a method looked upon as inferior, but that means it’s still around for us to take in.

“Close-Up” is not mind-blowing storytelling by any means, and Ann’s character is very similar to many of the stalwart wives/girlfriends she played at Warner Bros. But still, any Ann is good Ann and she even gets to share a brief reunion with Donald Woods who in 1936 played Perry Mason to her Della Street in Case of the Stuttering Bishop.

I first viewed this program around 9 years ago at the UCLA Film & Television Archive where I had to make an appointment and sit in a glass booth to view it. It’s amazing how many research leaps and strides have been made over the last decade because of online access. Just in case you missed this post from a couple years back, a handful of Ann’s films that have fallen into the public domain are also available through the Internet Archive.

Interview About Ann Dvorak for the Radio Program “Inquiry”

January 25th, 2014

Book Cover

I did this interview yesterday morning with Mark Lynch over at WICN Public Radio for his show “Inquiry,” and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I expect my family and friends to tell me they like Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, but when a complete stranger has a positive response to the book, and Ann, it’s absolutely thrilling.  I love that Mark was really taken with “Historical Digest,” Ann’s abridged 18 volume history of the world that she made an audio book of in the late 1960s. That may be my single favorite tid-bit about her, though not many people have brought it up after reading the book. I was also happy he focused on her years in the UK during the War, which were my two favorite chapters to write.

I think I may get a bit overzealous when talking about Ann, but when an interviewer matches my enthusiasm like Mark Lynch did, I probably sound like a breathless teenager. Still, I hope you’ll give the interview a listen because I think it turned out really well.

The full recording can be accessed here.

Enjoy!