On December 10, 1979, Ann Dvorak passed away at age 68 from complications due to stomach cancer.
At the time of her death, Ann had lived on Oahu for twenty years, and been widowed for five (she actually outlived all three of her husbands). She had been a successful film actress, starred on Broadway, traveled the world, and survived life in London during World War II. For all her achievements, she died in relative obscurity and on a very fixed income, having had all of her money squandered by her last husband. Her ashes were spread off Waikiki Beach.
Yes, this was a crummy end to a rather extraordinary life, but at least she left behind a tangible legacy of great film performances. Instead of pondering the sad circumstances of her final days, pop Three on a Match, G Men, or Scarface in the DVD player and enjoy the enormous talents of Ann Dvorak.
A few months back, I was one of many Los Angeles Conservancy volunteers interviewed by Turner Classic Movies for a short piece about the many movie palaces in Downtown Los Angeles, and the annual Last Remaining Seats film series.
Mr. Mankiewicz was nice enough to humor me during the interview and asked questions about Ann Dvorak, which I figured would be cut out of the final product (they were). I still has a lot of fun waxing ecstatic about old movie theaters with the Turner crew.
For the sake of making this a Dvorak related post, I successfully pitched Scarface for the 2007 Last Remaining Seats, which played to a sold out crowed at the Alex Theater in Glendale, CA. My posse and I cheered very loudly when Ann first showed up on screen, which I am sure confused most people in the audience.
I hope you enjoy this mini tour of my city’s movie palaces. By the way, I am the one talking about how cool it would have been to have a grandma get slapped by Joan Crawford on screen.
I love this trailer for Midnight Alibi, mainly because it gives very little indication of what the movie is actually about. The film focuses on Richard Barthelmess, a gangster who is torn between his “job” and his love for an adversary’s kid sister (Dvorak). While on the run, he winds up in the house of a reclusive elderly spinster who convinces him love is the way by telling her tale of youthful sorrow, via a lengthy flashback featuring Barthelmess in a dual role.
The trailer for Midnight Alibi gives the impression that viewers are in for a hi-lar-ious and “swellegent” romantic romp with a “hard-boiled egg” and a “sweet petunia.” In actuality, Ann Dvorak’s role is not a big one and a large chunk of the film is taken up by the flashback, which is not even hinted at in this promo. My best guess is that Warner Bros was attempting to capitalize on the success of Columbia’s It Happened One Night by promoting this as a screwball comedy, which it is most definitely not.
Compared to some of Dvorak’s mediocre Warner films from the period, I actually think Midnight Alibi is somewhat enjoyable, even though her screen time is limited.
If I may stray away from the Divine Miz D for a moment, I would like to give Los Angeles residents a heads up that the 3rd annual Archives Bazaar will be held at the University of Southern California on October 25th. Over 60 institutions with local history collections will be participating, including the Los Angles Public Library where I am employed. I will be representing the Library at this event, so please stop by the LAPL table and talk to me about how much you love Ann Dvorak!
Additional info can be found here:
Hope to see you there!!
Archives Live! – 3rd Annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar
Saturday, October 25th 2008 – 10am – 5pm
USC Davidson Conference Center
3415 S Figueroa Street (at Jefferson Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90089
Admission is free, though parking is $8
Merrily We Live is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, September 20th at 11:00am EST.
College Coach is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, September 3 at 11:30am EST.
Andre Soares at the Alternative Film Guide recently interviewed me about Ann Dvorak and it just got posted.
As previously mentioned, I am currently writing a full length Ann Dvorak biography and have uncovered a great deal of information about Ann not previously discussed anywhere else. However, writing a extensive biography in addition to working a full time job is proving to be a very long process. In the meantime, I thought I would draw attention to some of the other writers who have turned the spotlight on Ann.
First up is Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames by Laura Wagner and Ray Hagen. Published in 2004, Miss Wagner wrote the excellent Dvorak chapter, and I believe Laura is the first to discuss Ann’s 1936 lawsuit against Warner Bros in depth, as well as her relationship with first husband Leslie Fenton. In addition to Ann, the other actresses discussed include Lucille Ball(her pre “I Love Lucy” film career), Lynn Bari, Joan Blondell, Gloria Grahame, Jean Hagen, Adele Jergens, Ida Lupino, Marilyn Maxwell, Mercedes McCambridge, Jane Russell, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor and Marie Windsor. Killer Tomatoes is a great read that pays tribute to some long neglected talents. This book is still in print and can be ordered on Amazon or from the publisher McFarland.
If I am not mistaken, Hollywood Players: The Thirties by James Robert Parish is the only book to prominently feature Ann Dvorak on the cover. Not only is she on the cover, but it’s a photo of her wearing that ridiculous bird outfit from Sweet Music. Parish has specialized in these Hollywood biography compilations for decades, and his books are always a great source for info. This one was published in 1976, but used copies are easy to find online or at a used book store.
Doug McClelland was probably the first person to write about Ann retrospectively, and his piece appeared in volume 95 of a publication called Film Fan Monthly. I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. McClelland, who passed away a few years back, but a friend of his told me that he was a huge fan of Ann’s and even saw her perform on Broadway in the Respectful Prostitute. The title of the 1969 article is “The Underground Goddess,” which I borrowed for this website for five years before changing it to “Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.” Film Fan Monthly is no longer around, but this issue pops up on eBay every so often.
Thanks again to all those who have sent me emails of encouragement as I continue writing the biography. In the meantime, these three sources are worthwhile if you want yo find out more about Ann Dvorak.
It’s been almost a year since I got married at Ann Dvorak’s house and since I am feeling a bit sentimental, I thought I would share a few wedding photos and give some background on the property.
Ann Dvorak and her husband, Leslie Fenton, purchased the property in the San Fernando Valley in 1934. Originally a 50 acre walnut ranch, the Fenton’s built a fairly modest home in the middle of the land along with servants quarters, horse stables, a pool house, and a greenhouse. The house and grounds were embellished with European imports and tiles by a local manufacturer called D&M.
Ann and Leslie lived on the ranch for ten years and made a substantial annual profit harvesting walnuts. When the Fentons split up in the fall of 1944, the home was put on the market and sold to crooner Andy Russell and his bride, Della. The Russells lived on the property until 1954 after having sold off the bulk of the acreage in the late 1940s. A music editor at Disney was the third owner of the Dvorak property who sold it to the current owner in 1959.
Ann was photographed on the property quite a bit and you can take a look at some pics on the Candids Page.
Here are a few shots of the wedding which give an idea of how amazing Ann’s home on the ranch is.
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, August 4th at 6:00am EST
A while back I went to a screening of Ruben Mamoulian’s Applause starring Helen Morgan. The host began his introduction with something along the lines of “there were a lot of wrecks in 1929 and most of them were on the screen.” I think this perfectly sums up the pains Tinsel Town was experiencing as it launched into its first full blown year of talking pictures. While a few gems managed to make their way to audiences (Applause being one of them), many features of 1929 tended to be stiff and stagey, and generally difficult to sit through. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is an interesting film because it’s really hard to watch and yet features so many great talents of the day that as a classic movie fan, it almost seems like necessary viewing.
On paper, the Hollywood Revue of 1929 sounds kind of great. Most of MGM’s biggest stars (sans Garbo) were dragged out to perform tricks on the pseudo vaudeville stage where the film takes place. Jack Benny plays emcee, Joan Crawford tap dances with flailing arms, Norma Shearer and John Gilbert perform Shakespeare in two-color Technicolor, comedy is dished out by Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Marie Dressler, Polly Moran, etc etc etc. It all culminates in a splashy color finale with everyone belting out “Singing in the Rain” while wearing yellow slickers.
In reality, the film suffers from that poor early-talkie sound quality and very static camera work, which is typical of so many movies from 1929. Also, the material itself tends to be really dated and kind of corny. Despite its shortcomings, I still recommend Hollywood Revue for early film fans, though it is more tolerable to watch in small parts instead of all at once.
For Ann Dvorak fans, it’s not to be missed. The chorus is featured prominently in a lot of the musical numbers and a teen-age Ann is very easy to spot, usually on the left and always very enthusiastic. She even gets to speak two words and slaps Jack Benny! I especially love the “Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don’t Watch Out,” number, which does not star the actor himself, but has actors dressed up like Chaney monsters terrorizing Ann and other chorus girls.
When the film was released, MGM pulled out all the stops in promoting it including a gala premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in late June of 1929. A couple of days before opening night, the studio promoted the film by setting up a “living billboard” on Wilshire Boulevard. This advertisement spelled out HOLLYWOOD REVUE is giant letters with a chorus girl perched upon each one. Photos of the “live ad” show Ann sitting atop one of the letters and looking extremely bored. This bizarre publicity stunt would be repeated on a larger scale in Times Square when the Hollywood Revue of 1929 had its New York premiere.