Bright Lights is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, November 30 at 7:45 EST.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I know, it sounds terrible and is the type of thing most people do not want to think about, including myself. Fortunately, it was caught very early on and I should be A-OK except I am now missing my thyroid in addition to my appendix and tonsils.
As a follow-up to the surgery, my doctor recommended a low dose of iodine radiation, just to make sure any remaining thyroid tissue was taken care of. For those of you not in the know, this type of radiation consists of popping a pill and has very few physical side effects other than the patient emitting unsafe levels of radiation. Turns out, this is a pretty big side effect, especially if one lives with a small child, as I do.
I would need to be isolated from the human race for a few days, stay away from my daughter for a full week, and have limited contact with her for an additional seven-or-so days. Previously, I had only been away from her for one night, when I had the thyroid-ectomy, and that was damn unbearable, so a week would be pure torture. We had the option for me to spend a couple of nights in the hospital and then be locked in our bedroom, with the hubby sleeping on the couch, but decided that being quarantined at my mom’s house for the full week was the best route.
At the beginning of September, I put my daughter down for her nap, had a crying jag in the arms of my husband, and headed to the hospital. The doctors slapped a bright yellow bracelet on my wrist which proclaimed I was radioactive and set a led canister in front of me which contained The Pill, encased in its own container (kinda like the plutonium in Back to the Future. I really wanted to scream out “1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!,” but thought better of it). A few minutes after taking The Pill, they sent me on my merry way, and I began the trek from Burbank to my mom’s house in Glendora.
Now,Mom was thrilled to have me at her place for a full week, even though it was because of cancer and she would have to have conversations with me from the other side of the room. I was happy to spend some quality time with her, though she would be gone most of the day at work. Even though the hubby and I planned to engage in a fair amount of Face Time, I would still need something to keep my mind off how much I was missing him and my daughter.
That something was Ann Dvorak.
I had hoped the silver-lining to this lousy situation would be time to work on the book and that did turn out to be the case. I brought along my mountains of research, along with DVDs of movies aired on Ann Dvorak Day, and spent a week completely immersed in the project. I revisited Massacre (damn fine movie), Gentlemen Are Born (not as bad as I remembered, though Ann’s talents are wasted), and Friends of Mr. Sweeney (just as bad as I remembered, though Ann is adorable in it). I even watched F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer, the film Leslie Fenton made while he and Ann were on their extended transcontinental honeymoon (started out strong, then I kind of lost interest).
I also pounded out a couple more solid chapters dealing with Ann’s first few films at Warner Bros., her courtship and marriage to Leslie Fenton, and her walk-out on Warners in order to go honeymooning. I have never been a huge fan of Leslie Fenton and will always lay some of the blame on Ann’s stalled career on the poor decisions she made while under his influence. However, as I was writing about their early relationship, I came to see Fenton through Ann’s young eyes and started to appreciate the qualities she saw in him. This doesn’t change the fact that he caused her to take some questionable actions in regards to Warner Bros., but I do believe thought he was acting in her best interest.
Even though I have spent the past decade with Ann Dvorak, I never felt like I had much in common with her. As much as I admire her acting abilities, I have always viewed her from a distance as the subject I was writing about. While drafting this early part of her life, I really connected with her for the first time. I may not always agree with her decisions, but I came to understand why she made them. Considering the emotionally troubled years she would have later on, I was happy that, for at least a little while, she experience a period of relative joy, which seems to have been the case during the early Fenton era. Clearly, I have always been interested in Ann, both as an actress and a person, but during that week, I was grateful for her. I appreciate that she was able to distract how miserable I was to be away from home and that I was able to experience some emotional highs as I re-lived the spring of 1932 with her.
In the midst of all my health issues, we closed escrow on our first home and are now dealing with the hell of unpacking. New home-ownership has put the breaks on writing for the moment, but those first seven chapters have been polished and edited, and are being sent to a prospective publisher on Monday. Fingers crossed they are interested in giving give me a contract, and most importantly, a deadline.
Thanks again to all of you who have been so supportive and enthusiastic about the project. And most of all, thank you Ann Dvorak.