“Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel” Reviewed by Laura Wagner in “Classic Images” (Yes, That Laura Wagner)

September 21st, 2015

Classic Images

First off, sorry for being absent the last month or so and missing out on some Dvorak TCM screenings. With the hubby getting staffed as a writer on a network show and the kidlet starting Kindergarten, there’s been some major upheaval and adjustment in the homestead. Rest assured, the Divine Ms. D is never too far from my thoughts!

Now, onto Ann. Even though the biography came out nearly two years ago, reviews still pop up every now and then. The September issue of  Classic Images  features a thoughtful, and thankfully positive review by resident reviewer Laura Wagner.

Those of you who are regular readers of Classic Images are no doubt familiar with Laura’s reviews and have probably figured out that she is very knowledgeable about Hollywood cinema and has very strong opinions about the books she reviews, be it positive or negative. This has earned her a reputation among both authors and readers who themselves have developed equally strong positive or negative opinions about Laura.

I have known Laura for well over a decade now, and consider myself very lucky to call her a friend. We were introduced back when she was working on her Dvorak chapter for Killer Tomatoes. I was so far away from finishing the biography, that I shared everything I had found up to that point with Laura. We ended up forging a bond over how seemingly impossible a subject Ann Dvorak was to research.

When her book came out in 2004, she included a lovely note about me in the acknowledgments. I was happy to return that courtesy in my book. Because Laura was thanked in the Dvorak biography, I ended up receiving three of four pieces of “hate mail” (not sure what else to call them) that arrived at my place of employment via snail mail. People actually took the time to write nasty notes and mail them to my work because of someone I thanked in my book (people actually read the acknowledgements?)! These notes said horrible things about Laura, and one person proclaimed they were going to recommend my book to their friend who was a writer for a local publication, but decided not to. This was not based on the merit of the text, but rather because I thanked Laura (I ended up being interviewed for that publication anyway). I have to admit, I was taken aback by this strong reaction and really didn’t appreciate receiving these letters, though in the past I have joked with Laura that much like Spiderman, being friends with her might make me a target by her enemies.

Whatever issues people may have with Laura and her reviews, my acknowledgement in the book is based solely on my personal interactions with her over many, many years rather than other people’s perceptions of her. As I slogged through the Dvorak book, she was probably my biggest cheerleader. Any scrap of info on Ann she came across was passed onto me, and any industry person she came in contact with was asked about Ann. She listened to me bitch about my comedic love life and was genuinely happy for me when I finally met my husband. When I found out I was pregnant, Laura was just as excited for me as any member of my family, and she was there for me when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. When I showed a passing interest in Miriam Hopkins and Virginia Field, original film stills started showing up in the mail from Laura’s personal collection. When I was getting ready to publish Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, Laura fact-checked every last mention of everything movie related, along with the spelling of every studio, film title, and actor, all while caring for her ailing mother. Laura received that acknowledgment because she genuinely is my friend and is one of the most caring and generous people I know.

No, this side of Laura doesn’t necessarily come through in her book reviews. What does come through is her passion for film and a personal integrity that has gotten her into hot water at times with people who take exception to her negative reviews. Was I nervous to have her review my book? Hell yes! Being her friend did not guarantee a positive review and if she honestly thought the Ann Dvorak book was less than stellar, she would have said so. You know what? I would have taken it like an adult, moved on, and would still be her friend. For her, it’s business not personal.

Admittedly with Ann the bio, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, but I am not immune to bad reviews. The past year and a half, I have been writing issues of the My Little Pony comic books. There are people out there who are just as passionate about MLP as some of us are about classic films, and while many readers do enjoy my issues, others have absolutely trashed them and gleefully proclaim they hate everything I write. Does it hurt to have something I’ve worked really hard on get torn apart? Absolutely! One bad review will easily negate five good ones in my headspace and it’s really easy to dwell on a negative reaction, get angry, and secretly damn the reviewer to hell (which I’ve done). However, I would never actually write a nasty response to the reviewer or the editor of the publication/website who ran the bad review, let alone harass the reviewer’s friends. If you’re going to put yourself out there as a writer, then negative feedback is part of the equation. Sure, it’s a rotten and unwelcome part of the equation, but it’s there and I personally don’t see how launching into personal battles with people who don’t like my work will amount to much of anything other than stress and grief, and probably more so on my end, then their’s. Plus, that would just detract me from doing what I really want to be doing – writing.

As I have detailed before on this site, Ann Dvorak has brought some wonderful people into my life and Laura Wagner is certainly one of them. Having her write a good review in Classic Images is a nice fringe benefit, but wasn’t necessary and was completely unexpected. For those who have not seen the side I Laura I have, that’s a shame, but there’s nothing anyone can say that will change my opinion of her or negate the friendship I have shared with her for dozen years. In other words, please don’t send me hate mail!

And don’t forget to read Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel 😀

Happy Birthday Ann Dvorak!

August 2nd, 2015


Remembering our favorite gal on what would have been her 104th birthday. Here’s a pic of Ann during her 1932 European honeymoon with Leslie Fenton from her personal scrapbook.

Adventures in Ann Dvorak Collecting: “I Sell Anything” Lobby Card

July 8th, 2015


I have been collecting Ann Dvorak memorabilia for almost (gulp) 18 years, and have indeed amassed a respectable collection. When I first started, I focused primarily on the various sized posters. After awhile, those paper pieces became harder to come, by so I started acquiring photos in order to get my Dvorak fix. Despite the more than 1,200 photos of the Divine Miz D. that now reside in my collection, my first love remains those 11×14, hand-colored works of art – lobby cards.

Even though lobby cards are much more scarce than photographs, I’ve still managed to track down 12o with Ann-D featured on them. However, there still are a handful of her titles that I don’t own anything from, and in some cases have never even seen a lobby card from.

I Sell Anything is one of those titles that I had never seen a single piece of paper from. Ann’s role is small, and the film is nothing to write home about, so it’s not nearly as coveted by me as say, The Strange Love of Molly Louvain. Still, early 1930s Warner Bros. lobby cards are gorgeous and I figured I Sell Anything would be no exception.

Turns out, I was right! Last Sunday, I woke up to see this beauty listed on eBay as a Buy It Now. And buy it I did! Finding a lobby card is such a seldom occurrence these days that to find a 1934 portrait card with Ann that I had never seen before was exceptionally amazing.

It just goes to show even after two decades of collecting and a published biography, it’s no where near over!

Ann Dvorak Goodies From the Upcoming Morris Everett Auction

June 5th, 2015


As a hardcore collector of all things Ann Dvorak, there is one place I regret not travelling to in my quest to be a Dvorak completest. That place is Cleveland. For it is in Cleveland that Morris Everett and his massive collection of lobby cards reside.

My understanding is that Mr. Everett attempted to collect a lobby card from every American film ever made, and that he came pretty damn close. Last year he tried to sell the collection as a whole through Profiles in History, but no buyers came forward. Now, the first round of individual lots is set to go up for auction at the end of the month, and wow, just wow. The items are beyond description. Read the rest of this entry »

Love for Ann Dvorak Over at “Silent Locations”

May 9th, 2015

If you’re a classic film fan and not aware of John Bengtson, there’s a big gaping hole in your life. John is a rock star film historian. I’d say he’s the David Lee Roth of film historians, and if you’ve seen one of his lectures, you know why. For the last couple of decades, John’s specialty has been identifying precise locations of movies shot outside of studio lots. This happened a lot in the early days of film, particularly in Los Angeles in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. These movies now serve as amazing time capsules of a city that once was.

John focused his earliest efforts on Buster Keaton, which resulted in the book Silent Echoes (Santa Monica Press, 1999). I like to add that the research for that book was done in the dark pre-Internet days without the aid of such online marvels as Google Maps. Plus, his research was conducted largely from his home base in San Francisco! The guy doesn’t even live in Los Angeles and was able to pin-point locations and buildings that no longer exist with hard copy maps and photos, etc. Since then, he’s given the treatment to Charlie Chaplin in Silent Traces (Santa Monica Press, 2006) and Harold Lloyd in Silent Visions (Santa Monica Press, 2011).

Maybe I am not doing John’s projects justice, but trust me, they are incredible. I first saw him lecture at UCLA around 10 years ago and the audience was mesmerized by his weaving though all these different sources to give a visually dazzling presentation that traced the footsteps of these early film giants throughout Los Angeles. When he pieced together three screen captures from different films to create a panoramic image of Downtown Los Angeles, I think we have him a standing ovation. Yeah, it was that kind of crowd.

In the ensuing years I have gotten to know John through my work at the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Leave it to him to teach me a thing or two about Ann Dvorak movies that I did not know. The most recent post on his excellent  Silent Locations website focuses on location shots from Three on a Match and G Men. While I figured the kidnapping scene in Match was filmed at Hollenbeck Park, I never caught that the schoolyard scene was filmed at the long-departed Los Angeles High School. I also had no clue that G Men provided a great look at the interior of the long-gone Southern Pacific Depot (yes, there’s  a lot of “long gone” in John’s work).

A little birdy told me just this morning that John has another book in the works, and I certainly hope so. In the meantime, check out his books and website and run, don’t walk, if he comes to your town to do a lecture.

“Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone” on DVD From Warner Archive

May 5th, 2015

It’s been awhile since any Ann Dvorak films have been released on DVD, so hooray to Warner Archive for giving us a Dvorak fix!

This time around it’s Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone, a 1950 MGM mystery/comedy starring James Whitmore and Marjorie Main and directed by Norman Taurog who first worked with Ann in 1933’s The Way to Love. Personally, this is not a favorite of mine, though Ann does get to catch the bad guy, literally with a mink stole. And like I always say, any Dvorak is good Dvorak!

This release is part of a double feature set with the other offering being Having Wonderful Crime with Pat O’Brien assuming the role of Mr. John J. Malone and George Murphy and Carole Landis in support.

Full details are over at the Warner Archive site. 


“Heat Lightning” Closes Out Noir City Festival at Egyptian Theatre

April 16th, 2015


I love Los Angeles. It’s been home my entire life and as a fan and researcher of classic Hollywood, there probably isn’t a better place to be. However, there is one great deficiency in my years of living in the City of Angels – I have never seen an Ann Dvorak film at a theater in L.A. The closest I came was around 10 years ago when the American Cinematheque, who programs at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, scheduled a screening of Howard Hawks’ The Crowd Roars from 1932 with Ann, James Cagney, and Joan Blondell. Unfortunately, the theater received a print of the 1938 The Crows Roars with Robert Taylor which we did not find out about until the film rolled and the MGM lion mightily roared, to my extreme disappointment.

Now, this horrible wrong is going to be righted in the best possible way with a screening of Heat Lightning, one of my favorite Ann Dvorak films. This fabulous flick is part of a quadruple “proto-noir” marathon which is closing out the annual Noir City festival presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation at the Egyptian. Also on the bill are The Ninth Guest, Let Us Live, and Safe in Hell, three films I have never seen. All in 35mm!

What could be better than spending an evening watching a favorite Ann Dvorak film in a historic theater full of people? Why, introducing that film of course! That’s right, I’ll be joining Eddie Mueller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation in giving an introduction of my beloved Heat Lightningwhich makes me giddy beyond belief.

The full line-up is posted on the Cinematheque’s website. Stop by and say hi if you can!

“I Was An American Spy” on TCM

April 8th, 2015


I Was an American Spy is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, April 9th at 2pm PST.

If  you’ve never seen I Was an American Spy, there’s a couple of things it has going for it. It’s one of the few films where Ann Dvorak is the star of the picture and it’s seldom shown on Turner Classic Movies. It was an Allied Artists production, which means it was on the lower budget side, but it’s still enjoyable enough. How can one not like a film that has this much Ann in it?


TCM Film Fest 2015 Recap

April 1st, 2015


View of the Egyptian Theatre courtyard while waiting in line for Gunga Din. 

At long last, I FINALLY attended (and survived) a TCM Film Fest. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – I live 10 minutes away from Hollywood and have never gone? The inaugural year I was 8 months pregnant and the cost of admission was too steep for a couple of expectant parents. I stayed away the next 4 years because I didn’t want to be away from my daughter for too long, and I didn’t think the cost of the festival pass could possibly be worth it. Boy, was I wrong!

It’s truly amazing when you stop and think about it. Thousands of people from all over the world converging in one location for four days with a mutual love of classic film. Growing up, most of my old movie experiences consisted of hitting the numerous video stores I had memberships to and watching the films at home alone, or dragging my Mom to sparsely attended revivals where a quick glance at the audience could have easily caused one to mistake it for a porno screening. To see so many people gathered at TCM Film Fest is a truly incredible experience.

I love being a mom, more than I thought would be possible and haven’t minded switching priorities over the last 5 years. I even scaled back my Ann Dvorak spending considerably (though I do sometimes think of the Housewife 1/2 sheet and insert that got away). However, I really do miss going to revivals with my classic film partner-in-crime Darin. The festival felt like I was able to make up for some lost time over the weekend. He’s a recap of what Darin and I crammed in over the fest. Read the rest of this entry »

Lecture on Pre-Code Actresses at the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library

March 29th, 2015


I have returned home from the TCM Film Festival (home being only 10 minutes away) and will give a full report as soon as I recover a bit. Who knew watching movies could be so exhausting?

In the meantime, I wanted to plug a lecture I’ll be giving at the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library. Last year, the fine librarians at the branch invited me to do some sort of talk for Women’s Heritage Month. I prepared a slideshow discussing the changing roles of women in the post-War era using images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Valley Times Collection, which I happen to oversee. That topic drew a whopping 3 people, so when they invited me again this year, I wasn’t taking any chances.

This time I’ll be talking about the pre-Code era and focusing on a handful of actresses and illustrating film clips. If that doesn’t draw more than 3 people, than I don’t know what will! Narrowing down which actresses to spotlight was no easy task though Ann Dvorak was always a shoe-in (was there any doubt?).

The lecture will start at 6:30pm on Tuesday, March 31st. The branch is located at 18231 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91356. Full details can be found here.

Hope to see some of you L.A. locals there!