Can’t imagine there is anything that will get one in the Easter mood quite like a photo of Ann Dvorak with bunny rabbits.
I’ve been collecting on Ann Dvorak for around 15 years now, and initially was interested in paper pieces like posters and lobby cards. After a while, those types of items became harder to find, so I turned to original photos of which there are thousands floating around. Once I committed to writing Ann’s biography, I really started keeping an eye out for images that might be good for the book. Eventually, I ended up with a handful of non-Ann photos that were still somehow related to Ann and her career, like this portrait of her first husband Leslie Fenton, who was arguably the love of her life.
Once it came time to select images for the book, I realized that it would be silly to use up valuable real estate on photos of people other than Ann. If the book is about Ann Dvorak, readers want to see photos of Ann Dvorak, right? In the case of Leslie Fenton, I have so many images of him and Ann together that it seemed especially wrong to use this portrait, even though it is rather nice. I did use three non-Ann photos, which are of her parents, but otherwise there will be 66 glorious images of the Divine Ms. D when it comes off the press.
In the meantime, we’ll spend some days in the next week looking at images that did not make the cut.
On March 29, 1933, Warner Bros. sent Ann Dvorak a letter officially reinstating her contract. Ann had been suspended after walking out on her contract the previous July to go on an extended honeymoon with her bridegroom, Leslie Fenton. They had returned to Los Angeles on March 22, and the studio was anxious to resolve the issues with their wayward actress, who they had recently invested $40,000 in after purchasing her contract from Howard Hughes.
Considering Ann skipped town and made some unfavorable comments about the studio system to the press, Warner Bros. was actually fairly generous towards Ann. The exercised all her options while she was away and even though she was technically on suspension, Ann came back to a raise in pay. Additionally, they did not tack the suspension time onto the end of her contract, a common practice in those days. It probably helped that Ann had fired her agent, Charles Feldman, who had encouraged her to leave and talk to the press, replacing him with Myron Selznick. Even though Selznick could play hardball like no other, he could see that Warner Bros was offering a good deal, so Ann signed the March 29th letter, agreeing to the terms.
Now that Ann was back on the payroll, all she needed was a movie to act in. Five months later, she was still waiting…
If you hadn’t already guessed, I own a lot of Ann Dvorak memorabilia. Literally thousands of pieces. Of all her films, I’m pretty sure the one I have the most items on is sadly, not Three on a Match, but I Was an American Spy. I have the full lobby card set, both 1/2 sheets, the insert, one-sheet, three-sheet, six-sheet…I think the only thing I don’t have is the twenty-four-sheet – but give me time.
I also have some foreign posters for the film, including this one from Italy. The American artwork is rather severe, with bold colors (not that I don’t love it), but I like that the Italian art is more subdued in style, even if the content is still heavy. It is an intense WWII drama after all.
This is actually one of my favorite posters in the collection, and it may be the only Italian one I own – but give me time.
On Monday, I made first contact with the Marketing Department over at the University Press of Kentucky. They sent for approval the text they wrote for their Fall Catalog along with the summary for the book jacket, which included a great pull quote from a Hollywood biographer who I greatly admire.
Receiving the text gave me a jolt and really brought it home that this book I have labored over for more years than I care to think about, is now out of my hands will be out in the world very soon. It’s exciting, and also bizarre, to see my manuscript being described and interpreted by someone else, but is also proof positive that there is no turning back. What I have written will be the permanent record of Ann Dvorak, (unless it actually sells enough to warrant a revised edition down the line, but I don’t think I’ll count on that).
Fingers crossed that next Biography Progress Report will be a book cover!
The Crowd Roars is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, March 27th at 7:00pm PST.
For the majority of the time Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton were married, they were ranch dwellers. They first rented a walnut ranch on Woodman Ave. in Van Nuys for a few months before officially taking the plunge and purchasing a decent amount of anchorage in the nearby Encino neighborhood. Over the years, Ann gave plenty of quotes about how she and her husband were not “gentlemen farmers” and actually worked the land when they weren’t making movies.
The heart of the property was covered with potted plants and flowers along with a green house filled to the brim with flora. I have not doubt that Ann was responsible for these touches, but I still have my doubts that she was actually driving around in a tractor. One of Ann’s many endeavors in England during the War was as a member of the Women’s Land Army and it seems that the level of labor during this time far exceeded any farming she may have engaged in back home.
If she and Fenton really did cultivate their ranches themselves, I certainly hope Ann did so in full hair and make-up like the above photos imply and that she wielded a scythe almost as big as her.
It’s Sunday of a brutal week for me, so I’m making this one short and sweet and posting this awesome photo of Lyle Talbot convincing Ann to throw her life down the toilet in Three on a Match.
I can never get enough of that movie!
The great thing about early movie memorabilia is that there is so darn much of it. And, as long as you’re not interested in Universal horror, King Kong, or Metropolis, it’s usually not too terribly expensive. As I mentioned before, sheet music for movies is relatively easy to find and usually inexpensive. Ann Dvorak showed up on a sheet music for a handful of titles, including Crooner, The Way to Love, Thanks a Million, and Flame of Barbary Coast. My favorite piece of Ann-D sheet music, however, is this one from the 1930 MGM feature Way Out West starring William Haines. Ann is a dance hall girl in the film, and only in it for a few moments, but whoever designed the sheet music could not resist including this bevy of scantily-clad beauties.
I remember first coming across this sheet music around 2003 at a shop called Baseball Cards & Movies Collectibles. I was sitting on the floor, plowing through stacks of lobby cards, desperately looking for anything with Ann on it. My friend Darin was searching through a mountain of sheet music when he suddenly paused and said, “Hm, was she in something called Way Out West?” At that point we both did the happy dance. I would also like to point out that most people who have known me long enough, can now pick out Ann Dvorak in a crowd – or on 1930 sheet music.
This is one of those items I have owned for so long, that I sometimes forget how cool it is. I purchased this Love is a Racket lobby card in 2002 at the Hollywood Collector’s Show, formerly held at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Studio City. I was in one of the dealer rooms, contemplating if I wanted to spend $50 on some 1970s German Scarface poster, when my friend Darin ran in from one of the other dealer rooms and stopped me. He then reached into the bag and pulled out this beauty. It was also 50 bucks and he just bought it, knowing it was a no-brainer for me.
This scene isn’t actually in the movie, but who cares? It’s gorgeous. It’s Ann Dvorak. It’s from 1932.
Sorry about the poor photo. I really need to go back and rescan/photograph everything I originally did back in 2002.