Andre Soares at the Alternative Film Guide recently interviewed me about Ann Dvorak and it just got posted.
Archive for August, 2008
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.
On August 2, 1911, Ann Dvorak…was born!
It was a Wednesday in New York City when the only child of vaudevillians Anna Lehr and Edwin McKim was introduced to world under the name Anna McKim. Since Ann’s birth did not make headlines, I am including a snippet of the front page of the New York Times on August 2, which reveals that there was a runaway horse buggy on Fifth Avenue and that financing was found to begin construction on the Woolworth Building.
I am currently slogging my way through chapter one of the Ann Dvorak biography (feel free to write harsh emails berating me for extreme procrastination), and have been putting together the early careers of Anna Lehr and Edwin McKim. Last night, I realized that a mere two and a half months before Dvorak was born, her mom was still performing on stage in Washington D.C. in all her pregnant glory. It’s no wonder Ann would pursue a career in showbiz, since her prenatal care included a healthy dose of audience applause.
So, If you get a chance, pop an Ann Dvorak movie in the DVD or VHS player and pay tribute to Ann on what would have been her 97th birthday!