Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis – The Dueling Divas of “Housewife”

February 3rd, 2015

I had started working on this post for what I thought was a week-long Dueling Divas blogathon. Turns out, it was only a day-long event and I stupidly missed it by a few days. Since I had already written most of it before I realized my faux pas, I figured I would post it anyway. Plus, it was an excuse to scan the dozen or so photos from the film that I have purchased over the years which can be perused here.

Here goes…

Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis arrived at Warner Bros. as contract players roughly around the same time, and when the pair appeared in Three on a Match in early 1932, it seemed that Ann was the one to keep an eye on. However, it was Bette who would go on to achieve world-wide fame and immortality as one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, while Ann became more of a cinema footnote.

Their diverging career paths can at least in part be attributed to Bette’s dogged determination to succeed in Tinsel Town, versus Ann’s ambivalence towards her career once she married Leslie Fenton. Both actresses were beautiful in an unconventional way and while each had markedly different acting styles, they were still suited for the same types dramatic roles. Had Ann paid more mind to her career in the beginning, she and Davis may have found themselves vying for the same parts. But, she jeopardized her relationship with Warner Bros. pretty early on by skipping town for an extended honeymoon, so we’ll never know what roles may have been in Ann Dvorak’s future.

Bette Davis had known feuds with actresses like Miriam Hopkins and Joan Crawford, but the few comments she made about Ann only expressed admiration for Dvorak’s skills and empathy for her troubles with Warner Bros. The only time Davis and Dvorak exchanged catty words and narrow glances, was in the 1934 drama Housewife.

Directed by Alfred Green, Housewife presents Ann as the consummate homemaker, George Brent as the wimpy husband who she loves despite his many shortcomings, and Bette as the evil career woman trying to destroy their marital bliss. As I discussed in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the casting is so on the nose with Ann as the elegant noble wife and Bette as the steamrolling bitch, that I think it would have been way more interesting if their roles were reversed.

In the film, George Brent is only able to succeed as the owner of a PR firm with Dvorak bank rolling him with money she’s been socking away and dolling out constant moral support, while Davis’s brilliant marketing ideas are the ace in his hole. As he achieves considerable success, Davis moves in for the kill and she and Ann become increasingly cooler with each other while battling over the same uninteresting) man.

There is plenty about Housewife to make modern audiences cringe including the notion that homemaker is the most noble endeavor a woman can aspire to while the career woman should beware. I’m not going to give away the ending for those who have not seen it, but I am usually tempted to through my shoe at the screen when the credits role. The most redeeming thing about Housewife are Ann and Bette sparring away, though I think the film would have been much better had they both ditched George Brent and gone into business for themselves.

Ann Dvorak Personally-Owned Photos Available For Purchase

January 2nd, 2015

 

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Last month when I was in Hawaii, I journeyed to an antique shop on the North Shore to buy the remaining items that once belonged to Ann Dvorak. The owner of the shop had obtained the contents of Ann’s storage unit following her death in 1979, and while most everything had been destroyed in a hurricane, he still had a stack of photos. Over the last 11 years I purchased a bit at a time (there were no deals to be had from this fella) and at long last the whole stash is finally mine! The final purchase consisted of a fat stack of duplicate 8×10 prints that I am guessing Ann kept on hand for autograph requests. The photos are matte prints, five different poses from the mid-1940s and in decent condition.

As a professional archivist, there is a part of me that thinks I should keep the photos together. At the same time, I really don’t need this many duplicate prints and in all honesty, I don’t think anyone is going to come along who will research Ann Dvorak more than I have. So, I have decided to make the prints available for those who would like to have something that had been personally owned by Ann.

I did have to fork over a decent amount of cash for these, so I can’t give them away. However, after collecting on Ann for over 17 years, I think my asking prices are fair, and damn low compared to some dealers. The prices on the individual prints ware based on how many of each I have, and all 5 poses can be purchased as a set for a reduced rate.

Orders can be place in the online store, by clicking here.

Enjoy, and thanks!

Collecting on Ann Dvorak: A Year End Review

December 26th, 2014

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A friend of mine has been working on a book about Maria Montez for eons (though I still think it’s taking him less time than I took on Ann Dvorak). Like me, he also collects vintage movie memorabilia on his subject and has amassed a decent collection. Recently, he asked if I stopped collecting on Ann Dvorak once the book was done. The answer was a resounding NO! I’ve been a collector since birth and always will be. It’s just in my blood whether I like it or not. Sometimes, when I look at my cluttered home, I wish I didn’t collect, but then I acknowledge how cool my stuff is and get over it.

I will admit to scaling back on the Ann Dvorak collecting the past few years, but this had been more about becoming a parent and having to shift my financial priorities, rather than completing the Ann Dvorak biography. Also, after collecting on Ann for seventeen years, there does not seem to be much stuff floating around that I do not already own. Still, 2014 turned out to be a pretty good year for Ann Dvorak memorabilia. Most if it came in the form of photos, but considering I have over 2,500 original pics of our dear Ann, I was actually surprised at some of my cool finds this year. And so, here are some of the highlights from 2014.

Mine at Last

The portrait at the top of this post, and the majorette photo below are ones that have come up on eBay multiple times over the years and I have always been outbid! Finally, I nabbed them both in 2014. I am guessing the portrait, by Warner Bros photographer Scotty Welbourne, is just so darn pretty that it has had mass appeal. Anything remotely cheesecake is always popular regardless of the actress, which is why I have had to battle for this one over the years.

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Brunette Molly Louvain

The Strange Love of Molly Louvain has always been a personal favorite of mine because it’s one of the few films where Ann is the bonafide star. I am especially partial to the first part of the film when she shares scenes with Leslie Fenton, who she was in the process of falling madly in love with. Most scene stills I have found come from the second half of the film when she is wearing a bad blonde wig, so I am always jazzed to find Molly Louvain images with her natural hair. I recently scored these two with co-star Richard Cromwell.

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Warner Bros. Goodies

To know me is to know I love Heat Lightning. In fact, I love this Warner Bros. pre-Code so much that I will collect pieces from it that Ann’s not even on! Still, it’s oh so sweet to come across stunners with Ann,  like this pic of her and co-star Aline MacMahon.  I am less enthralled with Housewife, co-starring Bette Davis, but isn’t this portrait of housewife Ann with George Brent stunning??

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Ann Land

I am always excited to find photos of Ann at her Encino ranch house, which is where I was married in 2007. I came across this lovely photo in a newspaper around eight years ago and was thrilled to finally locate a print.

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The find was somewhat bittersweet though. As you can see from the above 2008 photo that even though the patio had been enclosed at some point, it was otherwise virtually untouched, down to the light fixture. However, the wall and picture window were taken down in 2014 in order to expand the dining room. At least we have these photographic remembrances!

Candid Ann

If I had found this photo of Ann and Leslie Fenton at the U.S. Experiment Station for sugar cane in Hawaii two years ago, it would have gone into Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. Ann and Leslie had spent the 1934 Christmas holiday on a quick trip to Hawaii, and the impression it left on Ann was deep enough that she relocated to the islands 25 years later. I actually posted a similar photo on this site, as it ran in a newspaper, so it’s great to have an actual print.

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Getting Personal

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about acquiring the remaining items from Ann’s storage unit that had been sitting at a North Shore antique shop. Those photos were not the only Ann Dvorak personally owned images in 2014. As some of you may recall, in 2013, just as the book was being prepared for publication, I was contacted by someone who had some of Ann’s stuff. You can read about that adventure here, but the main takeaway from that negotiation was Ann’s scrapbook from her 1932/33 honeymoon (which can now be purchased in book form). Well, I was recently contacted by the same person about items that didn’t make it into the first batch and managed to secure those. This bunch mainly consisted of more scrapbook pages and family photos of people I cannot identify. For me, the most interesting piece is this one of Leslie Fenton, circa 1941 in his Royal Navy uniform. On the back, Ann wrote “Just a snap darling – will send more soon. You must see him in his coat etc. Love xx oo.”

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My guess is that this was either sent to Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr or Leslie’s mom. What’s interesting about this snapshot is that it is laminated. Many of the photos from the storage until are also laminated so I am wondering if this was something Ann did to protect the photos from the damp Hawaiian air. If so, I find it fascinating that she would preserve a photo of  Leslie Fenton decades after divorcing him.

Chorus Cutie

I always get a cheap thrill out of finding items from Ann’s MGM chorus girl days. Up until now I had only found one photo with Ann from the 1930 William Haines flick Way out West, and that pic her face is not visible. I was thrilled to find this little gem with a sassy Ann all the way over on the left. This isn’t the first time I have seen this photo though, since it was used on sheet music for the film.

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This lobby card from Lord Byron of Broadway might be my favorite piece of the year. To find photos of Ann among the chorus is one thing, but a lobby card is a whole other ball game!

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Just in case you don’t spot Ann on the left side, here’s a closer look.

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There are certainly other things I picked up during the year, but I think this pretty well conveys that even though the book has been out for over a year now, I am by no means finished with Ann Dvorak.

Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

December 24th, 2014

Wishing everyone an Ann-tastic Holiday Season!

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Remembering Ann Dvorak

December 10th, 2014

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Remembering Ann Dvorak  on this 35th anniversary of her passing.

Things I’ve Learned From Ann Dvorak: Hawaii is Awesome

December 8th, 2014

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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.

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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!

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We hiked!

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.

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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!

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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.

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The stash

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.

Totally Off Topic, But – I COMPLETED A HALF MARATHON!

November 19th, 2014

 

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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.

Ann Dvorak Dressed Like a Bird in “Sweet Music,” Now Available on the Internet Archive

November 7th, 2014

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.

“Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel” One Year Later

November 2nd, 2014

 

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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 on TCM – Again

October 4th, 2014

 

Scarface is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, October 5th at 7:00am EST

If you have not caught Scarface during one of the many viewings on TCM this year, what are you waiting for??