Today would have been Ann Dvorak’s 107th birthday. Yesterday, one of the few living connections to Ann was lost when actress Mary Carlisle passed away at the age of 104. Mary only interacted with Ann briefly in 1929 when they were both on the MGM lot. Mary wanted to get her foot in the studio door as a chorus girl and was referred to Ann who was Sammy Lee’s assistant choreographer at the time. Ann was only 18, but had become a mother-hen to the other dancers, so she stayed up with Mary all night teaching her a time-step. When the two minors had to get their contracts approved in court, they were photographed together. Mary would go on to appear in dozens of films, travel the world with Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, and run the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills. The tie between Mary and Ann was thin one, but Mary’s connection to the Golden Age of Hollywood was iron cast.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Mary over the last few years. When Mary moved into the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, my friends Darin and Darrell immediately took to Mary, and they affectionately became “her boys.” At least one of them visited her every Sunday for the last 5 or so years. At first, when she was merely in her late 90s and was still able to get around, she was a guest of honor at the release party for my Ann Dvorak book. She was beyond gracious and it was incredible to have someone who knew Ann in the room. Later, when it became too difficult for her to leave the grounds of the Home, she would still hold court and dazzle us with her wit and tales of Hollywood giants. I would sometimes bring my daughter Gable to visit, and when I would call out her name, Mary would respond, “Did you say Gable? I knew Clark Gable. What a handsome man!” It’s not everyday my daughter can speak with someone who knew her namesake.
Even though she retired from film in the early 1940s, Mary carried herself like only those born of the studio system did. One year, Darin brought her to my Mom’s for Thanksgiving. The house in Glendora had belonged to my grandparents, and even though my grandma had passed away in 2005, her absence is always acutely apparent. My grandma was of the same era as Mary Carlisle, and even though she wasn’t schooled by the Hollywood studio system, she was a trained opera singer (and once auditioned at MGM) and still carried herself in that same elegant manner. On the Thanksgiving Mary was there, it was almost like having grandma with us again, which was so meaningful. However, at one point during dinner Mary leaned over to Darin and whispered, “Why does our hostess keep leaving the room?” When Darin responded that my Mom was preparing the meal, Mary followed-up with, “Where is her serving staff?” We undeniably had a movie star in the house!
As each year goes by, we have fewer living ties to Hollywood’s past. However, there are so many out there who make the effort to ensure that these people and their contributions to do fade from memory, and I take great comfort in that. RIP Mary Carlisle, and thanks to “her boys” Darin and Darrell for letting me play a walk-on part in her story.
When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was released in November 2013, I was often asked, “who are you going to write a book on next?” At the time, my answer was an emphatic “No one!” It had taken me 15 years to research and write the book on Ann and I simply could not conceive of tackling a similar project on someone else. Instead, I went the opposite route and started writing issues of the My Little Pony comic book series.
After a spell, Patrick McGilligan over at the University Press of Kenucky asked me if I had considered writing a follow-up book. By that time, I had thawed on the idea of never writing another biography and was open to it. I told him I found Aline MacMahon fascinating, to while he replied, “We’d like to see you write about someone less obscure than Ann Dvorak. How about Jane Russell?”
How about Jane Russell? I have to admit that I had never given much thought to Jane Russell. Sure, I LOVED her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and was vaguely familiar with all the hoopla surrounding Howard Hughes and The Outlaw, but otherwise I knew nothing about Jane. Ok, I did remember those Playtex bra commercials from when I was a kid. I found the suggestion intriguing and started exploring the life and career of Jane Russell.
What did I discover? Jane Russell is fascinating! Despite being discovered by Howard Hughes in 1940, Jane only had 3 movies released the entire decade, but managed to hold the public’s attention all that time, largely by being one of the favorite pin-ups of servicemen. While the marketing of Jane Russell was some of the most overtly sexual in Hollywood history, offscreen Jane was extremely spiritual and an avid student of the Bible. Jane worked with some of the era’s most notable director’s and actors, but considered her work as an adoption advocate to be her greatest accomplishment. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on Jane and commit to another book.
I am please to present the official website for Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. Please check it out! If you’re a Jane Russell fan, I hope this is exciting news. If you’re not that familiar with Jane, I hope this book will make you a fan.
What does the mean for Ann Dvorak? Ann has been a major part of my life for over 20 years and that is not going to change. I’ll be obsessed with that glorious dame for the rest of my days!
A few weeks back, someone emailed me to say they spotted Ann in the MGM John Gilbert feature The Phantom of Paris. Sure enough, she was there! This got me thinking that I should probably go back and really scrutinize MGM’s titles from 1929-1931, when Ann was under contract as a dancer and extra. I had explored the short-features of the time and uncovered quite a few of those titles Ann had appeared in, but had largely depended on existing filmographies for her feature appearances.
This weekend, I started taking a closer look at the MGM flicks, and lo and behold – I found the above image from The Great Meadow (1931) starring Johnny Mack Brown and Eleanor Boardman. Who do you think is standing behind the two stars? That’s right, our own Ann-D!
To top off this exciting discovery (well, exciting for me at least), the Warner Archive is releasing The Great Meadow later this month!
I’ve placed my pre-order and will report back and verify that Ann actually has screen time in the final release. Fingers crossed that as I continue to go over the MGM titles with a fine-toothed-comb, I’ll dig up more Ann!
Bad news! It’s at 9:45pm (sorry, I’m not the night owl I used to be).
Good news! John Carpenter is introducing it!
This will only be the 4th TCM Film Festival I have attended, but I am fairly certain this is Ann Dvorak’s 1st. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Scarface on the big screen so many times I’ve lost count. However, seeing Ann on the big screen is something I cannot pass up, so you know where you can find me this Saturday in the waning hours of the day. Please don’t mind when I make a loud fuss the first time she shows up.
Viva Ann Dvorak!
Greetings all you Dvorak devotees! I hope you’ve been enjoying some of the Ann Dvorak films TCM has been that airing lately. My apologies for not staying on top of that here, but life has been in overload for a while now.
However, I did need to take a moment and share some exciting news. It’s not often that there are Ann Dvorak updates these days, so I am crazy excited to share that another one of Ann’s uncredited MGM appearances has come to light!
Classic film fan Terry Shepitka was kind enough to email me after watching Phantom of Paris (1931) with John Gilbert a few weeks back. They were positive they saw Ann in a scene as a domestic servant and asked me to verify it. Thanks to magical Warner Archive, I was able to get my hands on a copy within a couple of days, and low and behold – there was Ann!! It’s so undeniably her and she even has a line!
Here are a couple of clips which show her. My apologies for the quality of these, but I don’t own a computer with a disc drive anymore, so I shot these with my phone.
Enjoy, and special thanks to Terry for the heads up!
Happy New Year all you Dvorak devotees! As far as Ann things go, this year is starting out with a bang as we are treated to a screening of The Strange Love of Molly Louvain at the Billy Wilder Theater, courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Big screen Dvorak is a rarity in my hometown, so I am beside myself with excitement to settle in with a few close friends and take in the glory of pre-Code Ann in one of her few starring roles.
The screening is this Saturday at 7:30pm and full details and tickets are over at the UCLA website. As if Molly Louvain weren’t enough, this is a double feature with another pre-Code gem, the fabulous Female starring Ruth Chatterton. Both films were directed by Michael Curtiz, and these screenings are part of the Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. Just is case you weren’t sold, Alan K. Rode, author of the recently published biography on Curtiz will be on hand to introduce the films and sign copies of the book. Alan is one of the most knowledgeable classic film fans/scholars around and his passion for these titles is contagious.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, come on down to Westwood this Saturday! If you’re at the screening, please stop by and say hi. I’ll be the one cheering the loudest when Ann’s name is first mentioned.