Heat Lightning is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, July 11th at 12:15pm PST.
I was born and raised in Southern California, and while I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, I usually can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Occasionally, I wish I could live in New York City, and that desire usually coincides with what’s playing at the Film Forum theater. On July 15th, they will be launching four glorious weeks of Pre-Code programming and every print will be 35mm. There are four Ann Dvorak films being screened, which are:
Scarface: July 23-25
The Strange Love of Molly Lovain: August 3
Three on a Match: August 4
Heat Lightning: August 9 (same day as TCM’s Summer Under the Stars tribute)
There are also plenty of non-Dvorak goodies being screened, so if you live in the area, please indulge and let me envy you!
Love is a Racket is going to air on TCM on Thursday, June 9th at 8:15am PST.
Oh Turner Classic Movies! As if I needed another reason to love you. The schedule for their annual Summer Under the Stars month, in which an actor is featured each day in August, had been posted and the 9th is all about Ann Dvorak. That’s right, there is actually going to be 24 hours of Ann Dvorak films being broadcast. The last time I remember TCM giving so much love to Ann was back in the fall of 1997, and even then it was maybe six or seven movies that were shown. This time around, they will be airing sixteen of Ann’s films.
There will be some old friends, like Scarface, Three on a Match, and G Men, along with seldom aired Warner Archive titles like Side Streets, Stranger in Town, and I Was an American Spy. I am especially excited for a few films that are neither available on DVD, nor recently shown, including Sweet Music, Massacre, Gentlemen Are Born, and Friends of Mr. Sweeney.
This will come one week after what would have been Ann’s 100th birthday, and I cannot think of a more appropriate tribute to her. As the day gets closer, I will post more in depth info about the films being shown. In the meantime, the full schedule for the entire month can be found here.
I am still writing on the subway to and from work, and still making good progress. I have written about 32,000 words of the first “rough, rough” draft which takes me up through the end of 1936 and the end of Ann’s tenure at Warner Bros. Even though I still am following the mantra of “just write it,” I had to take a bit of time to go over my documentation for her 1936 court case against the studio, just because I found myself at a loss to write about it without trying to understand exactly what happened. Now that I have gotten passed her legal issues and into her career as a freelancer, the pace is picking up once again.
At this point, I have been digging into the life and career of Ann Dvorak for around 10 years and I have come to find that the research never will completely end. In the past two months I spoke with a niece of Ann’s third husband, Nicholas Wade, who provided some fascinating insight into her retirement years and confirmed some unfortunate suspicions I had about that time period. I also exchanged emails with a gent whose mother knew Ann during her M-G-M chorus girl days and shared a couple of wonderful stories that had me doing a happy dance when I read them.
I can remember back in 2002 whining to my friend, Laura Wagner, about how I just needed to write the damn book and be done with it. Her constant reply was always, “What’s your rush? You’re the only one writing Ann’s story, so take your time and do it right.” Those have turned out to be wise words, because if I had banged out the book back then, it would have been pretty thin and probably not much more than a “films of” type thing. Because I followed Laura’s advice, I now know way more about Ann Dvorak than I ever dreamed of, and a lot of that info has come to light over the past four or five years, and keeps coming.
Still, there will come a time when the book will finally be written and I will have to finally let it go. Until that happens, I will continue to be amazed by the new things I find out about Ann on a regular basis.
Scarface is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, April 30th at 6:00am PST.
A Life of Her Own is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, April 26th at 11:45pm PST.
Just a Gigolo is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, April 27th at 4:45am PST.
Just a Gigolo is for Dvorak completists only. This William Haines flick is from Ann’s waning days at M-G-M when she was usually cast an an extra. She can be seen dancing in the background at a club and then dining at a table.
Midnight Court is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, April 19th at 8:45am PST
The last time I recall Midnight Court airing on TCM was the fall of 1997, which is also the last (and possibly only) time I am aware TCM did a tribute to Ann Dvorak by showing a bunch of her movies. I really don’t remember much about Midnight Court, and have no clue what the plot is. I’m pretty sure John Litel is a lawyer, and Ann is a court reporter and possibly his ex-wife. I vaguely recall many courtroom scenes with Ann having nothing to do but feign an interest in what’s taking place around her. Overall, I remember being disappointed by Ann being handed yet another mediocre roll by Warner Bros.
There is one thing exceptionally memorable about Midnight Court. Ann Dvorak gets to wear the most fabulously hideous costume of her career. She shows up for a party wearing what appears to be a dress covered gold lame fish scales. The dress is impressively unflattering on Ann’s normally fashion-friendly figure and, shockingly, the matching cape does not improve the overall presentation. Topping off this glorious monstrosity is a Juliet cap, which had become a minor fashion rage that year after Norma Shearer donned the headgear in Romeo and Juliet. While Norma. may have pulled it off, Ann doesn’t fare as well. It’s been over thirteen years since I first watched Midnight Court with my friend Darin, but I can still remember the moment Ann walked onscreen in the Fish Dress and we both gasped in horror and then convulsed in laughter. At the time, I had yet to purchase any Dvorak memorabilia and Darin took me to the Hollywood Poster Exchange which used to be located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and La Cienega in West Hollywood. Imagine my glee when the owner of the shop, Bob Colman, brought out a folder full of Midnight Court photos including a couple of Ann in the Fish Dress. I’ve been collecting on her ever since.
My understanding is that the Warner Bros costume department is fairly intact and I can only hope against hope that the Fish Dress is still there in all its gold lame glory. I recently took a tour of the lot with my friend Kenton, a WB employee. Alas, he doesn’t have a connection in the costume department, and neither did anyone else I encountered and asked, and believe me, I asked anyone who would make eye contact with me. Someday, the gods will smile down and I will be able to behold the Fish Dress in living color.
Midnight Court was the second to last film Ann made at Warner Bros during her contract. It was the first film she had made for them in over a year, following an illness, suspension, and lawsuit against the studio. By the time she was filming this one, Ann was really done with Warner Bros and vice versa.
I’m not sure if you’ll enjoy Midnight Court, but you can’t help but enjoy the Fish Dress.
I am happy to report that I have been making serious progress on the Ann Dvorak biography, but had to completely alter my methods to get things moving along.
The first five chapters I wrote were done so in a very methodical and laborious manner. I would wait until I was “in the mood” to write, then would sit down at my desk, surround myself with mountains of research, put on a little mood music, and begin the excruciating task of putting Ann’s life on paper. The process was excruciating because I was attempting to make my first draft a final draft, which I now realize is ridiculous. As I worked on each sentence, I would shuffle through papers looking for facts and quotes, add proper citations, and would frequently stop to fact check things on the Internet which would lead to some serious time-killing. All this meant that each paragraph and most sentences would take an unbelievably long time to compose and I felt like I was back in college writing a term paper. A full-time job and an awesome husband who I want to spend time with also meant that that my free moments to work on the book were few and far between. In short, five chapters took me two years to write.
As I discussed in the last Progress Report, I had a baby in June and my free writing moments went from few and far between to nonexistent. I quickly realized I no longer had the luxury of getting in the mood and surrounding myself with a pile of research and the sweet sounds of the Andrews Sisters. I had to either figure out a way to squeeze in the writing while working forty hours a week and devoting all my free time at home to my daughter, or just put the project on hold indefinitely.
My husband is a writer by profession and whenever I would whine about my lack of progress, he would comment “just write it.” In other words, don’t stop to look for quotes, to cite things, or to fact check. Just get the basic narrative on paper and go back later to add those other things and polish.
The funny thing is that during my many years of researching Ann Dvorak’s life and career, I entered most of the info I found onto a spreadsheet. The idea was that once I finally sat down to write, I would have a fairly fleshed out time-line of events to easily reference. However, I was so busy shuffling through my chronologically arranged stacks of papers that I seldom looked at the spreadsheet I had spent so much time creating.
Last week, I made two drastic changes in my approach to writing the biography. First, I packed all the papers away and vowed to only reference the spreadsheet/time-line for the first draft. Second, I began taking my laptop to work so I can write on the 20 minute subway ride to and from work, as well as on my lunch break. So far, this has worked out amazingly well, and for the first time I am actually having fun writing the biography. I have been with Ann for so long and know her story so well that writing what I already know has been easy. In less than two weeks, I have written over 6,500 thousand words and am in the midst of the eighth chapter. This is triple the amount I completed in the ten months since my daughter was born. Granted this is a very rough first draft, and I will need to eventually go back to my mountains of research and be meticulous once again, but in the meantime I am really enthusiastic about the project, which I have not been for a very long time.
This Thursday marks what would have been the 100th birthday of screen legend Jean Harlow. To commemorate this occasion, the Kitty Packard Pictorial has organized a Blogging it for the Baby, Jean Harlow Blogathon which is taking place this entire week. The project, which encourages bloggers with film related sites to post about Harlow all week, struck me as a really interesting idea and something I wanted to participate in. However, my instant reaction was how could I possibly write about Jean Harlow in a way that is appropriate for a site devoted solely to Ann Dvorak? I figured I would have to sit this one out on the sidelines until I really started thinking about these two actresses and realized they actually have a few things in common, not least of which 2011 also marks Ann Dvorak’s centenary this coming August 2nd.
At first glance it seems that Jean Harlow and Ann Dvorak were worlds apart. Harlow was the wise-cracking platinum blonde who was able to use overt sexuality as a comedic weapon. Dvorak was the brooding brunette whose high-wire intensity played out best in dramatic form. Harlow landed at M-G-M, a studio who carefully crafted an on screen persona that film fans loved and sent her skyrocketing to the top of the box-office. Dvorak was at Warner Bros., a studio focused more on making movies than movie stars and who let Ann languish in mostly supporting roles unworthy of her talent. Harlow was stricken down at age 26 at the height of her popularity, her funeral was a star studded media event, and her grave is a place fans visit (or at least try to visit) continuously. Ann died in obscurity at age 68, almost 30 years after retiring and her ashes were spread over Waikiki Beach by a handful of friends. Harlow has had a consistently high place in the annals of film history, while Dvorak is lucky to be included as a footnote.
Despite these many differences, the two actresses also had a few things in common. Both women started off in the film industry when they were teenagers. Harlow as an extra and bit player with Fox, Paramount, and Hal Roach, and Dvorak as an extra and chorus girl at M-G-M. Both assumed their mother’s name as their stage moniker, and while Harlean Carpenter was always known to fans as Jean Harlow, Anna McKim went by Anna Lehr for only a short period of time before opting for the more exotic Ann Dvorak. Both mothers were very dominant and seemed to enjoy their daughters being in the spotlight more than the actresses themselves did. While Dvorak’s mother had a decade long career as a film actress, Mother Jean’s aspirations at film stardom never panned out.
Ok, perhaps the above comparisons are grasping at straws a bit, but there is one common thread between the careers of Jean Harlow and Ann Dvorak that is undeniable. They were both given their big break in the movies by Howard Hughes. Harlow delighted audiences in as the vampy Helen in 1930’s Hell’s Angels, and Dvorak shocked 1932 film-goers in Scarface as Cesca, whose feelings for older brother Tony (Paul Muni) go way beyond sisterly affection. While Hughes’ eagle-eye spotted talents in both woman that wasn’t readily apparent to other film-makers, his association with both was brief. Harlow would make only the one film for the Caddo Co. before being loaned out to M-G-M who eventually bought her contract from Hughes for $30,000. Dvorak made one more film for Hughes, Sky Devils, and was then loaned out to Warner Bros. exclusively. The Burbank studio became her permanent home after Hughes unloaded her contract for $40,000. Without Howard Hughes, it’s possible that neither woman would have made their mark on film history by becoming the emblematic Pre-Code female, strong, sexually aware, self possessed, and damn fun to watch.
While my Ann Dvorak biography is still a seemingly never ending work in progress (I’ll have an updated report soon), I can at least mention a new Harlow book, Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937, by Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira. Due out this month, Harlow in Hollywood contains a bonanza of rare images and judging from Vieira’s previous books like Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince, I am betting the text will be well researched and thoughtful. This book looks like it’s going to be a must have for fans of Harlow, classic films, and Los Angeles history.
Happy 100th to the Baby and Ann-D! Enjoy the rest of the Harlow Blogathon over at the Kitty Packard Pictorial.