On this day in 1979, Ann Dvorak passed away in Honolulu from stomach cancer at the age of 68. The last few years of her life had not been particularly easy, largely due to her finances being drained by her abusive third husband. She maintained a small group of friends and had a orange tabby to keep her company, and while expressing some regrets about how the promise of her long abandoned carrier had been squandered, seemed to have found some measure of peace at the end.
I was recently contacted by a fellow Dvorak devotee who asked if I had any additional images of Ann in her later years besides what I included in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I do have one more photo, which I am posting here. This was taken in July 1979, and it’s hard to recognize the Ann we’re familiar with in this image, but those Dvorak eyes are still there.
As much as Ann didn’t like to look back, and I am not sure she would have liked me prying into her life like I did, I do think she would have enjoyed the increased appreciation her work has experienced the last decade or so. In honor of our fabulous gal, be sure to slow down and watch some Dvorak flicks during this hectic time.
In March 2002, I placed a winning bid on eBay and snagged a Three on a Match lobby card for $105. That felt like a king’s ransom at the time, but I had no regrets. After all, it was (and is) my favorite Ann Dvorak film and how often would I have the opportunity to add any of these cards to my collection? As it turns out, not very often. Occasionally, they’ll come up on Heritage or Profiles in History, which means a hefty opening bid plus crazy buyer’s premiums which has priced me out before the bidding even begins.
This past March, almost 14 years to the day that I got that first one, I was finally able to add a second Three on a Match card to the collection. And it’s a beaut! This is the one card from the set I desperately wanted as it focuses on Ann after she has made the ultimate sacrifice to save her nauseatingly precocious child. At $136, it almost seems like a steal these days, though I do think that’s the most I have ever paid for an Ann-D lobby card.
I put the card away before properly scanning it, so the scan is from the eMovieposter site, which is where I won it from.
Remembering our favorite gal on what would have been her 104th birthday. Here’s a pic of Ann during her 1932 European honeymoon with Leslie Fenton from her personal scrapbook.
I have been collecting Ann Dvorak memorabilia for almost (gulp) 18 years, and have indeed amassed a respectable collection. When I first started, I focused primarily on the various sized posters. After awhile, those paper pieces became harder to come, by so I started acquiring photos in order to get my Dvorak fix. Despite the more than 1,200 photos of the Divine Miz D. that now reside in my collection, my first love remains those 11×14, hand-colored works of art – lobby cards.
Even though lobby cards are much more scarce than photographs, I’ve still managed to track down 12o with Ann-D featured on them. However, there still are a handful of her titles that I don’t own anything from, and in some cases have never even seen a lobby card from.
I Sell Anything is one of those titles that I had never seen a single piece of paper from. Ann’s role is small, and the film is nothing to write home about, so it’s not nearly as coveted by me as say, The Strange Love of Molly Louvain. Still, early 1930s Warner Bros. lobby cards are gorgeous and I figured I Sell Anything would be no exception.
Turns out, I was right! Last Sunday, I woke up to see this beauty listed on eBay as a Buy It Now. And buy it I did! Finding a lobby card is such a seldom occurrence these days that to find a 1934 portrait card with Ann that I had never seen before was exceptionally amazing.
It just goes to show even after two decades of collecting and a published biography, it’s no where near over!
I had started working on this post for what I thought was a week-long Dueling Divas blogathon. Turns out, it was only a day-long event and I stupidly missed it by a few days. Since I had already written most of it before I realized my faux pas, I figured I would post it anyway. Plus, it was an excuse to scan the dozen or so photos from the film that I have purchased over the years which can be perused here.
Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis arrived at Warner Bros. as contract players roughly around the same time, and when the pair appeared in Three on a Match in early 1932, it seemed that Ann was the one to keep an eye on. However, it was Bette who would go on to achieve world-wide fame and immortality as one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, while Ann became more of a cinema footnote.
Their diverging career paths can at least in part be attributed to Bette’s dogged determination to succeed in Tinsel Town, versus Ann’s ambivalence towards her career once she married Leslie Fenton. Both actresses were beautiful in an unconventional way and while each had markedly different acting styles, they were still suited for the same types dramatic roles. Had Ann paid more mind to her career in the beginning, she and Davis may have found themselves vying for the same parts. But, she jeopardized her relationship with Warner Bros. pretty early on by skipping town for an extended honeymoon, so we’ll never know what roles may have been in Ann Dvorak’s future.
Bette Davis had known feuds with actresses like Miriam Hopkins and Joan Crawford, but the few comments she made about Ann only expressed admiration for Dvorak’s skills and empathy for her troubles with Warner Bros. The only time Davis and Dvorak exchanged catty words and narrow glances, was in the 1934 drama Housewife.
Directed by Alfred Green, Housewife presents Ann as the consummate homemaker, George Brent as the wimpy husband who she loves despite his many shortcomings, and Bette as the evil career woman trying to destroy their marital bliss. As I discussed in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the casting is so on the nose with Ann as the elegant noble wife and Bette as the steamrolling bitch, that I think it would have been way more interesting if their roles were reversed.
In the film, George Brent is only able to succeed as the owner of a PR firm with Dvorak bank rolling him with money she’s been socking away and dolling out constant moral support, while Davis’s brilliant marketing ideas are the ace in his hole. As he achieves considerable success, Davis moves in for the kill and she and Ann become increasingly cooler with each other while battling over the same uninteresting) man.
There is plenty about Housewife to make modern audiences cringe including the notion that homemaker is the most noble endeavor a woman can aspire to while the career woman should beware. I’m not going to give away the ending for those who have not seen it, but I am usually tempted to through my shoe at the screen when the credits role. The most redeeming thing about Housewife are Ann and Bette sparring away, though I think the film would have been much better had they both ditched George Brent and gone into business for themselves.
Last month when I was in Hawaii, I journeyed to an antique shop on the North Shore to buy the remaining items that once belonged to Ann Dvorak. The owner of the shop had obtained the contents of Ann’s storage unit following her death in 1979, and while most everything had been destroyed in a hurricane, he still had a stack of photos. Over the last 11 years I purchased a bit at a time (there were no deals to be had from this fella) and at long last the whole stash is finally mine! The final purchase consisted of a fat stack of duplicate 8×10 prints that I am guessing Ann kept on hand for autograph requests. The photos are matte prints, five different poses from the mid-1940s and in decent condition.
As a professional archivist, there is a part of me that thinks I should keep the photos together. At the same time, I really don’t need this many duplicate prints and in all honesty, I don’t think anyone is going to come along who will research Ann Dvorak more than I have. So, I have decided to make the prints available for those who would like to have something that had been personally owned by Ann.
I did have to fork over a decent amount of cash for these, so I can’t give them away. However, after collecting on Ann for over 17 years, I think my asking prices are fair, and damn low compared to some dealers. The prices on the individual prints ware based on how many of each I have, and all 5 poses can be purchased as a set for a reduced rate.
Enjoy, and thanks!
A friend of mine has been working on a book about Maria Montez for eons (though I still think it’s taking him less time than I took on Ann Dvorak). Like me, he also collects vintage movie memorabilia on his subject and has amassed a decent collection. Recently, he asked if I stopped collecting on Ann Dvorak once the book was done. The answer was a resounding NO! I’ve been a collector since birth and always will be. It’s just in my blood whether I like it or not. Sometimes, when I look at my cluttered home, I wish I didn’t collect, but then I acknowledge how cool my stuff is and get over it.
I will admit to scaling back on the Ann Dvorak collecting the past few years, but this had been more about becoming a parent and having to shift my financial priorities, rather than completing the Ann Dvorak biography. Also, after collecting on Ann for seventeen years, there does not seem to be much stuff floating around that I do not already own. Still, 2014 turned out to be a pretty good year for Ann Dvorak memorabilia. Most if it came in the form of photos, but considering I have over 2,500 original pics of our dear Ann, I was actually surprised at some of my cool finds this year. And so, here are some of the highlights from 2014.
The portrait at the top of this post, and the majorette photo below are ones that have come up on eBay multiple times over the years and I have always been outbid! Finally, I nabbed them both in 2014. I am guessing the portrait, by Warner Bros photographer Scotty Welbourne, is just so darn pretty that it has had mass appeal. Anything remotely cheesecake is always popular regardless of the actress, which is why I have had to battle for this one over the years.
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain has always been a personal favorite of mine because it’s one of the few films where Ann is the bonafide star. I am especially partial to the first part of the film when she shares scenes with Leslie Fenton, who she was in the process of falling madly in love with. Most scene stills I have found come from the second half of the film when she is wearing a bad blonde wig, so I am always jazzed to find Molly Louvain images with her natural hair. I recently scored these two with co-star Richard Cromwell.
To know me is to know I love Heat Lightning. In fact, I love this Warner Bros. pre-Code so much that I will collect pieces from it that Ann’s not even on! Still, it’s oh so sweet to come across stunners with Ann, like this pic of her and co-star Aline MacMahon. I am less enthralled with Housewife, co-starring Bette Davis, but isn’t this portrait of housewife Ann with George Brent stunning??
I am always excited to find photos of Ann at her Encino ranch house, which is where I was married in 2007. I came across this lovely photo in a newspaper around eight years ago and was thrilled to finally locate a print.
The find was somewhat bittersweet though. As you can see from the above 2008 photo that even though the patio had been enclosed at some point, it was otherwise virtually untouched, down to the light fixture. However, the wall and picture window were taken down in 2014 in order to expand the dining room. At least we have these photographic remembrances!
If I had found this photo of Ann and Leslie Fenton at the U.S. Experiment Station for sugar cane in Hawaii two years ago, it would have gone into Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. Ann and Leslie had spent the 1934 Christmas holiday on a quick trip to Hawaii, and the impression it left on Ann was deep enough that she relocated to the islands 25 years later. I actually posted a similar photo on this site, as it ran in a newspaper, so it’s great to have an actual print.
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about acquiring the remaining items from Ann’s storage unit that had been sitting at a North Shore antique shop. Those photos were not the only Ann Dvorak personally owned images in 2014. As some of you may recall, in 2013, just as the book was being prepared for publication, I was contacted by someone who had some of Ann’s stuff. You can read about that adventure here, but the main takeaway from that negotiation was Ann’s scrapbook from her 1932/33 honeymoon (which can now be purchased in book form). Well, I was recently contacted by the same person about items that didn’t make it into the first batch and managed to secure those. This bunch mainly consisted of more scrapbook pages and family photos of people I cannot identify. For me, the most interesting piece is this one of Leslie Fenton, circa 1941 in his Royal Navy uniform. On the back, Ann wrote “Just a snap darling – will send more soon. You must see him in his coat etc. Love xx oo.”
My guess is that this was either sent to Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr or Leslie’s mom. What’s interesting about this snapshot is that it is laminated. Many of the photos from the storage until are also laminated so I am wondering if this was something Ann did to protect the photos from the damp Hawaiian air. If so, I find it fascinating that she would preserve a photo of Leslie Fenton decades after divorcing him.
I always get a cheap thrill out of finding items from Ann’s MGM chorus girl days. Up until now I had only found one photo with Ann from the 1930 William Haines flick Way out West, and that pic her face is not visible. I was thrilled to find this little gem with a sassy Ann all the way over on the left. This isn’t the first time I have seen this photo though, since it was used on sheet music for the film.
This lobby card from Lord Byron of Broadway might be my favorite piece of the year. To find photos of Ann among the chorus is one thing, but a lobby card is a whole other ball game!
Just in case you don’t spot Ann on the left side, here’s a closer look.
There are certainly other things I picked up during the year, but I think this pretty well conveys that even though the book has been out for over a year now, I am by no means finished with Ann Dvorak.
Happy New Year!
I’ve been collecting Ann Dvorak memorabilia for almost sixteen years, so it’s now rare that I’ll come across something spectacular that I do not already own. Sure, the occasional scene still will pop up that I don’t have, so I’ll grab it if the price is right. However, I seldom have the opportunity to purchase a piece that really blows me away, so I was thrilled to add this photo to the collection this week. The image shows Ann and Kirk Douglas in 1948 having lunch in the 20th Century-Fox Commissary during production of the Walls of Jericho. I love this photo because it’s not taken directly on the set of the film and appears to be a truly unguarded candid moment. They are both in costume for the film, with Ann’s carefully coiffed hair held in place with a net and she looks absolutely beautiful. I’ve never been in the Fox Commissary, though it seems to look remarkably the same as it did in the 1940s. which makes this photo that much cooler.
If I had owned this image a year ago I would have used it in the book, though I really can’t adequately explain it is so special for me. I don’t have too may behind-the-scenes photos from Ann’s post-War films, and since Ann’s role in The Walls of Jericho is relatively small I don’t have many photos of this film in general. Also, I just love candids. Maybe I’m just so starved for new items for the collection that even the hint of something different will send my spirits soaring. Whatever the reason, it’s awesome and I hope some of you will enjoy seeing it.
Here’s another image from the Ann Dvorak vaults. This photo which is probably from 1934/35 shows Ann at her Encino ranch house. According to the description on the back, the painting of the Madonna and child was an original by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, though I don’t know if that’s true or what became of it following Ann’s divorce from Leslie Fenton.
What is striking to me is that Ann is not wearing any make-up, which would be unusual at the time. The image is credited to one of the wire services and not a Warner Bros. photographer, so I am not sure what the circumstances were when this was taken. Even without make-up, Ann looks still looks lovely. This was during one of the most prosperous and secure periods of her life so she also looks bright-eyed and happy to me.