Monthly Archives: February 2013

Happy President’s Day!

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 49

This is probably the most patriotic photo I have of Ann. I think I’ve used it in the past for the 4th of July. I’ll probably use it again.

While were on the subject of the Executive Branch –  Ann Dvorak claimed to have been a direct descendent of Vice President John C. Calhoun. I have found absolutely no proof to back this up, and I work in a library with an extensive genealogy department. Both of Ann’s grandparents on her mother’s side were Czech immigrants, and her paternal grandfather came from Scotland. That leaves Edwin McKim’s mom, but she was from a line of Pittsburgh people, whereas Calhoun and his kin were Southerners.

I like to think that Ann would be happy with what I have done to promote her as an actress, but she may have been less than thrilled with some of the debunking I have done.  At any rate, Happy President’s Day!

This Day in Ann Dvorak History: Warner Bros. Plays Nice (Kind Of)

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 48

In February 1933, Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton had finished traipsing around Europe & Africa, and were taking the slow boat back to Los Angeles from Italy. They had been MIA since July of the previous year after abruptly departing, leaving Hollywood and Ann’s Warner Bros. contract behind. As Ann and Leslie were taking in the sights, her studio had been trying to figure out what do about her. They had recently shelled out $40,000 to Howard Hughes for her contract, and while they were incensed (and baffled) by her actions, they needed to recoup that cost and were not about to let her go. They assumed she would have to return eventually and decided to follow business as usual, which included exercising her options as they came up.

On February 17, Warner Bros. exercised an option which extended Ann’s contract and raised her rate to $325 a week, which was $75 more than when she took off. Not too shabby for a 21-year-old during the country’s worst economic climate. They sent the notice to Ann’s recently appointed agent, Myron Selznick, to a hotel in Naples, Italy (the couple’s last known whereabouts), and to 3339 Troy Drive, the address the studio had on file that was also the residence of Leslie Fenton’s mother.

In light of Ann’s departure, Warner Bros. seemed to be behaving in a fairly level-headed manner. Only time would tell how they would act once the boat docked.

Collection Spotlight: “Stranger in Town” Insert

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 47

Stranger in Town is a pretty weak film and Ann’s talents are utterly wasted. Still, I am an Ann Dvorak completest who especially love inserts, the movie posters that measure 14″ by 36″, so this is actually one of my favorite pieces in the collection. The film and insert are from 1932, so it’s the oldest large form paper I own. Since I bought it 10 years ago, I sometimes forget how cool it is, even though the film does not have “5 times the laffs with this 5 star cast.”

Guest Blogger Glen Creason and His Ann Dvorak Crush

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 46

Today’s post comes from my colleague and friend, Glen Creason. He is known to many as the “tall and affable” Map Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library and even wrote THE book on L.A. Maps. We have worked together in the History & Genealogy Department for close to seven years, and as with most people who have had to spend an extended amount of time with me, Glen now knows more about Ann Dvorak than he ever thought he would. At least he  seems to have genuinely enjoyed the ride. In return, he introduced me Lucille Cataldo and Precious Taft.

And now, with much appreciation, I turn it over to Mr. Creason:

“My Ann Dvorak Crush”

Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke. ~Lynda Barry

There is a strange phenomenon that occurs in the hearts of old movie lovers that results in extreme mooniness and unrequited movie star obsession. I learned this when I attended a fantastic silent film festival at UCLA back in the 1970’s that featured the exquisite countenances of Louise Brooks, Mary Pickford and the Gish sisters on the glorious big screen of Royce Hall. I became so enamored of Mary Pickford I went to the public library and tried to find every photo of her I could find which was actually quite a few. During that time it occurred to me that I was just one of hundred of thousands of fellas that fell for America’s sweetheart when she batted her huge, expressive eyes framed by her stylish bobbed hair. Unfortunately, my Pickford-lust faltered when the producers of the 1976 Oscars telecast decided to invade her home where the dotty old octogenarian seemed to be completely out of it. It was at that point that I learned to leave my movie star love on the silver screen and not read on to the final chapter.

That was until my co-worker Christina Rice introduced me to a doe-eyed beauty we call Miss Ann. Of course, as a kid who watched matinee movies on early TV I had seen Scarface but was sort of blinded by the overpowering evil of Paul Muni. Yet, when I revisited the same film on DVD I was mesmerized by Ann as the tough but gorgeous Cesca. This set me on an Ann-bender that ranged from the broken-hearted damsel tickling the ivories in The Strange Loves of Molly Louvain to the gravely hung-over lowest vote getter for Mother of the Year in the truly terrific Three on a Match.  Ann is really hard to resist in her calf-eyed glory, even as the evil Vivian Revere. She is still sexy and appealing even as she dismisses her kid’s hungry whining by pointing at a platter of day-old toast and deviled eggs as the day’s brunch. Still Ann does redeem herself in one of the most truly shocking final scenes in all of my personal film watching history. I loved her as the tough as hell Claire “high pockets” Philips in I Was an American Spy and the stiff-upper-lip dame Jean Morgan in G-Men complete with a dazzling dance number. I have also admired her stoic bravery in The Crowd Roars, and swooned at her stylishness at a Sardi’s table in Love Is a Racket.

I still have my crush on Miss Ann but I need not search too far for images since it only requires a short stroll over to Christina Rice’s office to get my fill of La Dvorak photos in all her saucer-eyed beauty. I prefer to remember her at the piano, or looking sharp in Sardi’s or dancing up a G-Man storm on the big screen. I have heard the rest of the story…the no-good men, the overbearing Mother, the bad career choices, the wasted Honolulu days and the too early end –  but it all just makes me love Ann more.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 45

Valentine

I won this on eBay a couple of weeks back.

Please don’t ask how much.

Meet Edwin McKim

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 44

Last month, we took a brief look at Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr. Now it’s her dad’s turn.

Samuel Edwin McKim was born in Pittsburgh in 1869 to a Pennsylvania native and a Scotch-Irish immigrant. He abandoned a successful career in local government after getting bit by the acting bug. He started going by the name Edwin S. McKim and hit the road in various traveling productions. In 1905 he was acting at a theater in Harlem where he encountered a 15-year-old student named Anna Lehr who also had show-business aspirations. Despite their difference in age, the pair were soon married and performed onstage together. Their only child, Anna McKim, was born in 1911.

By 1916, the marriage was going sour and Edwin began working for the Lubin studio in Philadelphia while Lehr made movies in Los Angeles and New York. They were finally divorced around 1921 and this split saw a long-term separation of McKim from his daughter. After a few failed show-business ventures, McKim boomed and busted in the Florida real estate market of the 1920s and then returned to Pennsylvania.

In late 1933, McKim’s brother, Walter, became aware of media reports that actress Ann Dvorak was looking for her long-lost father. McKim confirmed paternity by sending Ann footage of her as a child taken in Cuba when she was on location with her parents for a film. By this time, he was a man of modest means and since he insisted on paying for his own train ticket, Ann was not reunited with her father until August of 1934. She and Leslie Fenton met him at the train station in Pasadena, along with a lot of press photographers.

The reunion seemed to be a successful one, and Ann remained in contact with McKim until his death in 1942.

The Book May Be Done, But It’ll Never Be Perfect

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 43

Squadron

(Image from eBay)

I just won this portrait of Ann and Eric Portman on eBay. It’s from Squadron Leader X, a 1943 feature Ann made in Britain which is now a sought after “lost” film. Unlike Ann’s other films from the 1940s, photos from this one are really hard to come by, which is why I paid 40 bucks for it (I would love to know who the hell bid me up that high). I actually would have liked to use this in the book, and probably could have waited the extra week and a half before submitting the final manuscript in order to include it. However, there was no guarantee I was going to get it and, quite frankly, I just wanted to get the damn thing done and turned in.

It just goes to show that I could work on this project for the next 10 years, and it would never be truly perfect. As I mentioned in the last Biography Progress Report, the only photos I had access to of Ann’s last husband are lost in the mail somewhere and there are some other minor leads that I never followed-up on. Even in the final months of writing, there were key pieces of info that popped up, and I am sure people will come out of the woodwork with great stories once the book is published.

So no, by Ann Dvorak biography is not going to be perfect, but it’s damn close (and for all I know, this photo can get lost in the mail)!

Ann Dvorak, Flower Girl

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 42

I probably have around 100 original photos of Ann Dvorak as a chorus girl at MGM, including a handful of solo shots. This is one of the more unusual ones and is from the short Flower Garden. I have never actually seen the film, so I have no idea what is going on, though it looks like she is dressed up like a flower. What’s amazing is that despite the make-up and goofy headdress, it’s clearly Ann. She was 18 or 19 when this was made, and a mere year later, she would be starring in Scarface.

A Candid Ann Dvorak Moment

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 41

 

I usually don’t post videos from YouTube here, because the clips tend to get pulled from the site. However, I’m going to give it another shot with this compilation of the best of the Warner Bros. blooper reels.

If I am not mistaken, Warner would put together these reels at the end of the year and show them at an event, like a holiday party. This particular video has selected choice moments over multiple years and includes Bette Davis, James Cagney, Carole Lombard, Errol Flynn – and Ann Dvorak.

At 00:28 into the clip, you’ll see Paul Muni flub a line in Dr. Socrates which cracks Ann up. It’s just a couple of seconds long, but there’s something sweet about her reaction, and there appears to be a genuine affection between Ann and her former Scarface co-star. As far as I know, this is the only Ann clip that popped up on any of these reels. Even though there’s just a couple of seconds of Ann, it’s worth watching the whole thing. Yes, people really did swear in real life during the reign of Joseph Breen!

Special thanks to Ann-D fan, Scott, who reminded me of this special clip!

 

Biography Progress Report #12: The Ann Dvorak Book is Done!

Year of Ann Dvorak: Day 40

With great pleasure, I am happy to report that the final manuscript of the Ann Dvorak biography has been completed and sent off to the University Press of Kentucky for publication!

I have to admit, I am proud of how it turned out, especially considering that Ann did not leave much of herself behind, besides her film performances. If I can brag for just a moment, the second “Reader” who was employed by Kentucky to asses the manuscript stated, “I must say upfront that this is one of the best-written show-business biographies I have ever read.” Well, that was a huge relief and I hope many others will agree.

Unfortunately, this final submission did not go off without a horrid hitch. Two weeks ago, the niece of Ann’s third husband, Nick Wade, sent some snapshots of Ann & Nick in Hawaii in the 1970s. The photos were traveling via USPS from Long Beach to North Hollywood, but have yet to arrive. I’m pretty sure Kentucky will let me add them after the fact, IF they show up,  but I really think they’re gone. Just heartbreaking, especially considering I have never seen a photo of Nick. In all the years I have been purchasing photos online, there were two other times that packages got lost and both contained candid Ann photos. I’m cursed!

But, back to the more cheerful news. I have been working on Ann’s story 15 years, and now it’s done. Kind of. There’s still the proofing of copy-edits & galleys, along with indexing (yes, I get to create the index) and a few other steps, so we’re still a ways off, but we’re getting there!

Thanks again to everyone who has stuck with me these many long years. A book on Ann Dvorak is really just around the corner!