Ann Dvorak was a chorus girl/assistant choreographer at MGM from 1929-1931. She desperately wanted to get out of the chorus and into acting roles, and even had Joan Crawford rooting for her, but the studio would not give the teenage dancer anything more substantial than extra parts. Since MGM appears to have had no interest in promoting Ann as a full-fledged actress, it’s interesting that Clarence Sinclair Bull, the head of the stills department, took portraits of her.
Prior to the portrait session, Bull had photographed Ann on a Los Angeles beach with Marjorie King (alleged namesake of the margarita). When Ann first began dancing at MGM, it was under her mother’s name, Anna Lehr. By the time of the beach session, she had christened herself Ann Dvorak, but apparently had not decided on the spelling. The snipe on this back of the photo credits her as Ann Devorak as does this Cine-Mundial 1931 magazine with a cover copied from one of the Bull beach photos. The portrait credits her as “Ann Dvorak, MGM contract player,” but she still played around with her new stage name after leaving Metro, signing her Howard Hughes contract as D’Vorak.
The portrait is printed on that great MGM double-weight matte paper and embossed with the photographer’s name. I love this photo not only because it was taken when Ann was a no-name chorine, but because she is so young and has yet to receive the full Hollywood glamor treatment. In a few short months, Ann Dvorak would be introduced to audiences with a strikingly different look.
Merrily We Live is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, January 23rd at 2:45pm EST.
This 1938 Hal Roach Studios comedy stars Constance Bennett as the spoiled socialite whose zany family takes in a successful author (Brian Aherne) as their chauffeur when they mistake him for a tramp in need of assistance. Ann Dvorak appears in a very brief role as a senator’s daughter who has the hots for Aherne.Although Merrily We Live is pretty much a My Man Godfrey remake (and not as good), it is still a lot of fun and definitely worth watching. Billie Burke received her only Oscar nomination for playing the scatterbrained family matriarch and she is a joy to watch.
Ann Dvorak does not have a whole lot to do, but makes the most of her minor role as a high society hussy. Her name in this one is Minerva Harlan which gets my vote as ‘Best Moniker For an Ann Dvorak Character” (Miss Beulah Boyd, her name in Friends of Mr. Sweeney, is a close second). Ann’s hair and clothing in Merrily We Live is fairly hideous, but she still manages to look beautiful.
This film is definitely a crowd pleaser, so enjoy!
On January 15, 1932, the film going public was officially introduced to Ann Dvorak when Sky Devils debuted at the United Artists Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles, at Broadway & 9th.
She had appeared in three silent films as “Baby Anna Lehr” and could be found hoofing her way through twenty-five or so MGM features and shorts, but this was this first time the name Ann Dvorak appeared in a film credit (she initially worked at MGM under the name Anna Lehr). In actuality, Sky Devils was the second film Ann shot under her newly inked contract with Howard Hughes’ Caddo Company. The release of Ann’s first film, Scarface, would be delayed another two months while Hughes battled with censors. Dvorak’s role as “the inevitable girl”* in this aviation comedy pales in comparison to Cesca Comonte, her tragic character in the classic gangster flick, and it’s unfortunate that Scarface’s censorship issues prevented her career from beginning with a bang.
This concludes This Day in Ann Dvorak History.
*”United Artists Shows Hughes Sky Thriller.” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1932
‘G’ Men is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 10th at 1:15am EST.
This 1935 FBI drama with James Cagney playing on the right side of the law was the second and (alas) last time he was paired with Ann Dvorak (the first being The Crowd Roars). Even though Margaret Lindsay is the main love interest, Dvorak’s character who pines for Cagney but settles for thug Barton MacLane is a much more interesting role. Her introduction as a night club singer/dancer who flirts with Cagney while performing “You Bother Me an Awful Lot” is a great showcase of her musical talents. Her cold-blooded murder and death scene remind us why she was touted as the next big thing in 1932.
Even though her role is not a big one, Ann Dvorak is a definite presence in ‘G’ Men and the film demonstrates what she was capable of as an actress when given the chance. Her 20+ year career was comprised of many mediocre films, so ‘G’ Men is one of the few highlights (and one of the few Dvorak titles available on DVD).
I love YouTube and am so grateful to the handful of individuals who routinely post clips of bizarre numbers from early sound musicals. Ann Dvorak was an MGM chorine and assistant choreographer to Sammy Lee from 1929-1931 and shows up in many features and shorts. Despite the flailing arms and sometimes clumsy footwork (which apparently was the style at the time), Ann is usually the enthusiastic standout in the musical numbers. In scene stills, she is usually (as my husband calls it) spiking the camera with her goofy but adorable 17-year-old grin.
This clip is from 1929’s It’s a Great Life starring vaudevillians Vivian and Rosetta Duncan, aka the Duncan Sisters. Ann is just to the left of Vivian (the Duncan sister on the left) and takes center stage with another gal when the sisters exit. Apparently, Ann was responsible for coming up with these dance steps, called the “Hoosier Hop” which may explain why she looks especially exited during this number.
I love this clip not only because a teen-aged Ann is featured dancing her little heart out to her own choreographic creation, but also because it is in two-strip Technicolor. These early MGM musicals marked the only time is her career that Ann was filmed in color.
Nothing like a little Hoosier Hoppin’ to start the New Year!