Well, at least my work on the actual book is now done. The index for Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, expertly compiled by my friend Kim, has been completed and was submitted to the University Press of Kentucky yesterday. As far as I can tell, that’s it. There’s nothing left for me to do for the actual book, and the next time I see it will be in its completed form.
I have hit many deadlines during this process, but this is the first time where I felt an overwhelming urge to break open a bottle of champagne. It’s been a crazy long process, as I have been working with UPK for almost two years, not to mention the years and years – and years of research. It’s nice to feel an ever-so-slight amount of relief.
It is only a slight amount though. I still have the huge job of marketing the book and convincing people they want to read the life story of an actress they’ve possibly never heard of. I also have four more months of blogging everyday. Even though my husband has encouraged me to drop this fool’s errand, I feel that after 233 days, I need to see it through.
So, the book may be done on my end, but I won’t be going to bed earlier any time soon.
Thanks again to everyone who has stuck with me through this!
On August 20, 1934, Ann Dvorak stood on the platform of a Pasadena train station, anxiously awaiting the next arrival. She was wearing a dress from the movie Gentlemen Are Born which she had just finished filming three days before and had her husband, Leslie Fenton, by her side. Any moment now, the twenty three-year-old actress would be reunited with a man she had not seen in over ten years – her father.
Like Ann’s mother, Edwin McKim had been a theater and vaudeville performer before entering the burgeoning film industry around 1912. Despite his background as an actor, McKim’s film work consisted almost exclusively as a director and scenario writer. When the marriage to Anna Lehr started to unravel, he took work at the Lubin studios in his home state of Pennsylvania while his wife split her time between Los Angeles and New York. The couple divorced around 1920, which also ended McKim’s relationship with his only child.
Ann had wanted to renew ties with her father, but expense and know-how had prohibited her from looking. Once Ann became an actress of note, she used the newspaper press in December 1933 to make an appeal for her long-lost father to get in touch with her. There were many false leads, but the real Edwim McKim finally stood up.
Ann offered to pay for his transportation from Philadelphia, but McKim insisted on saving up the fare himself, which took six months. He finally pulled into Pasadena in August where his was greeted by his daughter, son-in-law – and some press photographers who were on hand to document this intimate moment.
I haven’t updated my log lately, (yes, I keep a log of all the Ann Dvorak items in my collection) but at last count I own over 1,100 photos of Ann-D. Some images are favorites just because they are beautiful or unusual. Others because of the circumstances under which I found them.
This photo of Ann in Our Very Own falls under that latter category. I found it in the bottom of a box at a junk shop in Las Vegas around eight or nine years ago. If I am remembering correctly, my friend Darin and I had made the trip because Virginia Mayo was appearing at a paper show. We were able to spend a few minutes with her, though her strongest recollection of Out of the Blue, the film she made with Ann, was that “it wasn’t much of a picture.” Neither one of us are much for drinking or gambling (though Darin can sure clean up at that Wheel of Fortune slot machine) so when we’re in town we usually hit the antique shops. We were at a particularly junkie shop with piles of paper all arounf when I started digging in a box and found this photo at the bottom of it. “Hey look!” I exclaimed to Darin, “Ann Dvorak!” He was not impressed.
It’s really not that great a photo, but it is one of the few I have from this film and has a much better story than “I bought it on eBay.”
Here’s another piece from my modest Anna Lehr collection. Lehr (on the left) was Ann Dvorak’s mother and a respected film actress in her own right in the 1910s and early 20s. Unfortunately her movies are not around, but every so often I am able to find a piece of Mama Lehr memorabilia. This is a photo from the 1920 feature The Valley of Doubt with Arline Pretty. The film was produced by Lewis J. Selznick whose son Myron would later be Ann Dvorak’s agent. His other son David would not cast Ann as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, though he thought about it for a millisecond.
I recently came across this trailer for the 1979 reissue of the 1932 Howard Hawks classic Scarface which also happens to be Ann Dvorak’s first credited roles. There are a few things about this trailer that stick out for me. First is the quality of the print, which is pristine and looks simply gorgeous. Next is that whoever produced this managed to cram damn near every violent scene from this film into two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Finally, I love how the narrator of the trailer doesn’t quite know how to pronounce Dvorak and kind of stumbles over it.
My one gripe is the absence Boris Karloff whose scenes are sparse but delightful as a rival gangster. Otherwise, after watching this teaser, I am ready to fire up the DVD player and watch some Scarface ala Muni.
Today is Ann Blyth’s Summer Under the Stars day over at Turner Classic Movies. As many of you are aware, Ms. Blyth is alive and well and even made an appearance at the TCM Film Festival back in April. Before you ask – no, she is not interviewed in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.
Mind you, that’s not from a lack of trying. I wrote her a couple of letters that were not returned, so I assume they made it to their destination. No answer. About five years ago, I was volunteering at a screening of Mildred Pierce for the annual Last Remaining Seats series where Blyth’s daughter and grandchildren were in attendance. I accosted the poor woman in her seat and begged her to have mom get in touch with me. Had the aisles at the Million Dollar Theatre not been so narrow, I would have gladly gotten on my knees to emphasize my desperation. The daughter was lovely and receptive, but I still never heard from Blyth.
Even if Ann Blyth had contacted me, I probably would not have gotten much out of her. I am a fantastic researcher and a decent writer, which I feel confident in saying are two strengths of the book. However, I am a lousy interviewer, which was my main failing during this process. Locating people who were still alive and worked with Ann was hard enough, but trying to extract information about a person they worked with 50+ years ago in an insignificant film with minimal screen time – damn near impossible, for me at least.
I did get in contact with a handful of people, including Virginia Mayo, Hugh O’Brien, and Jane Wyatt. They didn’t have much to say other than Ann was lovely and very professional. It never occurred to me to send them a copy of the film to refresh their memory. Had I done that, Joan Leslie may not have looked at me like an idiot when I asked her about Flowers for John, the teleplay she an Ann appeared in sometime in the early 1950s.
In all honesty, I just flat out hate contacting people for interviews. I always felt like I was being intrusive and people were not always receptive. I tracked down the daughter of a couple who were caretakers on Ann and Leslie Fenton’s ranch. I figured she would be thrilled to hear from me. Instead, she had her husband email me to say she knew nothing about it and wasn’t interested. It didn’t help that I contacted her while she was planning her own daughter’s traditional Chinese wedding. You see? Intrusive.
Still, I sucked it up and tried to get a hold of people. Angela Lansbury never responded. Neither did one of Igor Dega’s (husband #2) dance partners. I was thrilled to find Herbert Rawlinson’s 90-something-year-old daughter was still around, as he seemed to be a friend of Ann and her mother. No response. I became so desperate to find people who knew Ann that I placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times. That resulted in a bunch of collect calls from county jail inmates, and one repeat caller whose messages were so obscene they made our unflappable friend Tony blush.
The best recollections I was able to pull out of people were actually from non-actors, including a gentleman who corresponded with Ann in the 1960s and spent an *interesting* evening with Ann and her mother, and another who knew Ann in Hawaii at the end of her life.
Don’t get me wrong, the book still turned out great and the primary source documents I was able to access are, in my opinion, far more valuable than vague, decades old recollections. But this aspect of biography writing is why I’ll probably never undertake a project of this nature again.
Our Very Own is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, August 17th at 1:15am PST.
Or, it’s airing on Friday if you go by TCM’s schedule for which their programming day begins at 6:00am EST. In other words, Friday is Ann Blyth day and Our Very Own is on the tail end which throws it into the following calendar day. Got it?
As far as I know, Ann Dvorak only appears on one lobby card from the Republic Pictures feature Manhattan Merry-Go-Round. This is not counting the title card where Ann’s head shares the card with stars Phil Regan and Leo Carillo, along with Gene Autry, Cab Calloway, and Joe DiMaggio, among others who made cameos in the film.
It’s fitting Ann is only on one card as she is barely in the film and disappears for a large chunk of it. This was Ann’s second film as a freelancer, and despite it having DiMaggio singing “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” at gunpoint, it’s fairly mundane and possibly had Ann pining for those halcyon days of Warner Bros.
It’s only slightly noticeable in the photo, but the lobby card has a giant crease in the upper right hand corner, courtesy of the United States Postal Service.
I’ve spent the last 3 weeks or so going over the hard-copy proofs of Ann Dvorak, Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel with a fine-toothed comb, hopefully finding any remaining issues. Yesterday, I sent off around 60 pages with corrections. I spotted a few typos here and there and a couple of glaring errors. Most of my changes were small things like adjusting sentences to make more sense and eliminating word repetition. I used the extremely boring word “effective/effectively” so many times to describe Ann’s performances, that I was ready to punch myself.
If there are two things I have learned while writing this book (I actually learned hundreds of things), they are; a 100,000 word manuscript is going to have a lot of mistakes and typos, and I am a terrible proofreader. Prior to submitting my first draft to University Press of Kentucky, I had two very capable proofreaders go over it, one of which is a walking encyclopedia of classic cinema. They both found many corrections, and then it went to a copy editor who made additional revisions. From there, I received the laid-out proof which I read twice, along with Indexer Kim who also read it and found the word “complied” instead of “complied.” That mistake got by four of us. Kentucky also sent the proof to an additional proofreader. That person found “impeding” instead of “impending,” “absolved” instead of “absorbed,” and “closest” instead of “closet.” They didn’t even catch “complied!” For the record, I found none of these incorrectly used words, which was very frustrating.
At this point, there have been at least six people who have read this thing, looking for mistakes. I like to think that we caught them all, but who knows? So, when you finally have Ann Dvorak, Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel in your hands, please be assured that twelve eyes did their damnedest to make this book perfect.
On August 12, 1948, the New York Times reported that Ann Dvorak was sent an official contract to sign on for the lead role in the Broadway production of Jean Paul Sartre’s The Respectful Prostitute. Ann would be replacing Meg Mundy in the lead role and was scheduled to start on September 1st. Ann’s run at the Cort Theater would last a few months and was an overall success. Unfortunately, this first go at Broadway would end up being her last (for reasons to be explored in a certain book).