In December 1936, Ann Dvorak wrapped up filming on The Case of the Stuttering Bishop, picked up her final paycheck from Warner Bros and left the Burbank studio for the last time. After nearly five years of battles over money, bad roles and suspensions, Dvorak’s contract was terminated (at her urging), and she entered the arena of freelance acting. One of the first things she did with her new-found freedom was visit the studio of famed Hollywood photographer George Hurrell.
By 1937 Hurrell had more that established himself as the preeminent Hollywood glamor photographer. After a two and a half year stint as Head Portrait Photographer at MGM, Hurrell set up a studio at 8706 W. Sunset Blvd where the stars could come to him. It was here where Ann Dvorak more than likely went to have the master photographer work his magic for her. At the time, Hurrell was also contributing monthly portraits to Esquire magazine and one of his Dvorak photos was featured in the June 1937 issue.
The three portraits in my personal collection belonged to Ann Dvorak. In 2003 I somehow tracked down an antique dealer on the North Shore of Oahu, who had come into possession of the contents of Ann’s storage unit after she died. While most everything had been destroyed by a Hawaiian hurricane years ago, some photos remained including the three double weight embossed Hurrells. At the time, I was unaware that she ever sat for him and was stunned to come across these. I am terrible haggler and it took much whining on the part of me, my mother and the antique dealer’s wife to lower his asking price, but he finally caved (a bit).
A few months later, I interned in a photo-archive which contained three more Hurrell’s of Ann, one with husband, Leslie Fenton (no, those never came home with me!).
‘G’ Men is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, February 25th at 8:30am EST.
Ann Dvorak is known to movie buffs as a leading lady of the 1930s/1940s, but she actually made her film debut on February 7, 1916, when Ramona premiered at Clune’s Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles.
Based on the immensely popular novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona was a major production directed by Donald Crisp and filmed at various locations around Southern California. I am not sure how a four-year-old Ann Dvorak became involved, but since her mother was acting in westerns at the time, it must have been a family connection that got the youngster the role.
This heavily romanticized tale set in California after the Mexican-American War, period had previously been filmed in 1910 as a 17 minute short by D.W. Griffith. The 1916 version ran around 12 reels (about as long as The Birth of a Nation), and was highly anticipated, esp by Southern California residents who looked upon the story as almost local mythology. Despite being completely fictional, the movie was shot on locations described in the book, many which became draws for tourists wanting to witness where Ramona lived and breathed.
Credited as “Baby Anna Lehr,” Dvorak portrayed the title character as a child in the prologue. Despite a limited amount of screen time the youngster received rave reviews. The day after the premiere, the Los Angeles Evening Herald proclaimed:
“Of all the Ramonas, the most charming and heart luring is the child of four, played with rare childish artistry by little Miss Anna Lehr. Probably the most disappointing feature of the entire production is the fact that this sweet youth remains on the canvas only a few brief moments.”
A couple of weeks later, another local paper ran a feature on the actress, complete with a portrait and the headline “Anna Lehr Great Hit in Ramona.” Unfortunately, we will probably never get the chance to see if Ann’s film debut lived up to the hype, as only reel #5 is known to exist (I think at the Library of Congress).
On a side note, Clune’s Auditorium, located on the corner of 5th and Olive in Downtown Los Angeles, was originally the Temple Baptist Church. William Clune leased the 2,700 seat theatre from roughly 1915-1920 before it became home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Commonly known as the Auditorium Building, the location has been a parking lot since the mid-1980s and will soon feature an overpriced condominium complex.
This concludes This Day in Ann Dvorak History.