If you’re visiting this website and are not familiar with Pre-Code.com, then you need to correct that wrong immediately. It’s a comprehensive ready-reference source of pre-Code film titles, actors, and resources that was conceived and constructed by a fella named Danny Reid who maintains the site out of passion, not profit. I refer to it fairly often and utilized it quite a bit while preparing a pre-Code lecture earlier this year.
I first started following Danny on Twitter years ago when he was watching and reviewing every Audrey Hepburn movie. I respected his being honest about not liking the much revered Funny Face, which is a film I have always secretly loathed, but usually don’t fess up to in polite company. In the ensuing years, Danny and I have become friends and I was happy to be a contributor to his brainchild Thoughts on the Thin Man which was released last year and includes my ode to the Thin Man display at the dearly departed Movieland Wax Museum.
Recently, Danny launched an online journal called The Pre-Code Companion which is largely designed to serve as a primer to pre-Code films and actors. Each issue spotlights three actors/actresses along with one film each of those actors appeared in. The first issue was released in August and focuses on Barbara Stanwyck/Baby Face, Jean Harlow/Red Headed Woman, and Mae Clark/Waterloo Bridge.
When Danny put out a call for the second issue, which included Ann Dvorak, I just had to throw my hat in. My piece, which compliments Danny’s essay on Three on a Match, briefly discusses Ann’s pre-Code experience and how those films cause her to sink into obscurity post-retirement, but have ultimately brought her talents to the forefront with classic film fans. Since a huge chunk of my brain is still a Dvorak repository, I was happy to be included and appreciate that Danny didn’t scoff at having me write the Ann essay.
In addition to Ann/Three on a Match, Volume 2 of The Pre-Code Companion features Ruth Chatterton/Female and Grant Withers/Other Men’s Women. As if reading about pre-Code cinema wasn’t great on its own, 100% of the proceeds go to the ASPCA. You’ll be reading about Ann Dvorak AND helping adorable animals. It’s a win-win!
Both issues of The Pre-Code Companion are available on Amazon with more issues around the corner.
When I first discovered Ann Dvorak around 1995, finding copies of her movies was an exercise in futility. Other than Three on a Match, Scarface, and G-Men, I was sunk and my quest to become better acquainted with Ann the actress remain unfulfilled. Eventually, I made the right connections and entered the network of classic film fans who readily produced VHS copies of films in their personal libraries. These would be swapped for titles they had been unable to find or even sent out at no charge except for the cost of postage. I was really impressed by how generous these fans were in wanting to share classic films, but the one downside to this system was the quality of the prints. These would frequently be copies taped off of TNT, with the commercials crudely edited out. I am guessing by the time I received some of these Dvorak titles, they were 10th generation copies and were barely watchable because the quality was so bad. This could sometimes taint my perception of the film itself. For example, the first time I watched my lousy print of The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, I thought it stank. Years later, when a good copy showed up on one of the streaming services, I discovered that I in fact loved it, and it remains one of my favorite Ann Dvorak films.
I am hoping this is the case with I Sell Anything, which is going to be released later this month via the Warner Archive on the Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9 set. I have watched this yarn twice and absolutely hated it both times. Well, hate may be too strong a word, because I really found it too boring to stir up an emotion as intense as hate. Still, it is one of my least favorite Dvorak films.
The first viewing came sometime around 2003 when I initially got my hands on a copy. The second time was nearly a decade later when I had to revisit I Sell Anything in order to write about it in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I don’t recall too much about the film, other than thinking that watching Pat O’Brien as a con-man should be way more interesting, and that this film might be the biggest waste of Ann’s talents that Warner Bros. subjected her to. She has very little to do, and I am under the impression that her part was hastily added after the script was done. A lot of her dialogue seems like it was taken from the supporting male cast and passed along to her, and she serves very little purpose other than giving the film a pseudo happy ending. I had similar feelings the first time I watched Gentlemen Are Born, mainly due to how Dvorakless it is, but eventually came to appreciate its reflection on the struggles of college graduates in an extremely depressed economy. I don’t think I Sell Anything has as much interesting social commentary to offer. My mom was with me for the second viewing, and halfway through she turned to me and said, “Gee, this isn’t very good, is it?”
I Sell Anything has not been shown on TCM recently, if ever, so I am interested to hear what people think of it. I don’t remember the film being deliciously pre-Code, so I was actually surprised to see it on the set, alongside:
• Mervyn LeRoy’s BIG CITY BLUES (1932, Warner Bros) w/ Joan Blondell, Eric Linden
• Rowland Brown’s HELL’S HIGHWAY (1932, RKO) w/ Richard Dix
• Michael Curtiz’s THE CABIN IN THE COTTON (1932, First Nat’l) w/ Bette Davis, Richard Barthelmess (Ann was originally pegged for the Davis role!)
• Harry Beaumont’s WHEN LADIES MEET (1933, MGM) w/ Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy
Despite any misgivings I have about the film, I will be purchasing the set on October 27th and revisiting I Sell Anything, in hopes that a good print will render it more enjoyable. Plus, like I always say – any Dvorak is good Dvorak and it’s always great to check off one more title on her filmography that fans are able to see.
Extra special thanks to the always special Will McKinley for breaking this story in Social Media Land, last night!
As a hardcore collector of all things Ann Dvorak, there is one place I regret not travelling to in my quest to be a Dvorak completest. That place is Cleveland. For it is in Cleveland that Morris Everett and his massive collection of lobby cards reside.
My understanding is that Mr. Everett attempted to collect a lobby card from every American film ever made, and that he came pretty damn close. Last year he tried to sell the collection as a whole through Profiles in History, but no buyers came forward. Now, the first round of individual lots is set to go up for auction at the end of the month, and wow, just wow. The items are beyond description.
If you’re a classic film fan and not aware of John Bengtson, there’s a big gaping hole in your life. John is a rock star film historian. I’d say he’s the David Lee Roth of film historians, and if you’ve seen one of his lectures, you know why. For the last couple of decades, John’s specialty has been identifying precise locations of movies shot outside of studio lots. This happened a lot in the early days of film, particularly in Los Angeles in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. These movies now serve as amazing time capsules of a city that once was.
John focused his earliest efforts on Buster Keaton, which resulted in the book Silent Echoes (Santa Monica Press, 1999). I like to add that the research for that book was done in the dark pre-Internet days without the aid of such online marvels as Google Maps. Plus, his research was conducted largely from his home base in San Francisco! The guy doesn’t even live in Los Angeles and was able to pin-point locations and buildings that no longer exist with hard copy maps and photos, etc. Since then, he’s given the treatment to Charlie Chaplin in Silent Traces (Santa Monica Press, 2006) and Harold Lloyd in Silent Visions (Santa Monica Press, 2011).
Maybe I am not doing John’s projects justice, but trust me, they are incredible. I first saw him lecture at UCLA around 10 years ago and the audience was mesmerized by his weaving though all these different sources to give a visually dazzling presentation that traced the footsteps of these early film giants throughout Los Angeles. When he pieced together three screen captures from different films to create a panoramic image of Downtown Los Angeles, I think we have him a standing ovation. Yeah, it was that kind of crowd.
In the ensuing years I have gotten to know John through my work at the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Leave it to him to teach me a thing or two about Ann Dvorak movies that I did not know. The most recent post on his excellent Silent Locations website focuses on location shots from Three on a Match and G Men. While I figured the kidnapping scene in Match was filmed at Hollenbeck Park, I never caught that the schoolyard scene was filmed at the long-departed Los Angeles High School. I also had no clue that G Men provided a great look at the interior of the long-gone Southern Pacific Depot (yes, there’s a lot of “long gone” in John’s work).
A little birdy told me just this morning that John has another book in the works, and I certainly hope so. In the meantime, check out his books and website and run, don’t walk, if he comes to your town to do a lecture.
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!
Out of the Shadows panel l to r: Richard Harland Smith, Alan K. Rode, Christina Rice, Tom Zimmerman, and Andrew A. Erish.
Yesterday turned out to be Ann Dvorak-filled one for me! First up was the discussion panel at the Los Angeles Central Library. “Out of the Shadows and Into the Spotlight: Resurrecting Hollywood’s Stories” put me in stellar company with Richard Harland Smith (TCM’s Movie Morlocks), Alan K. Rode (Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy), Tom Zimmerman (forthcoming Maria Montez: Queen of Technicolor), and Andrew A. Erish (Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood). Each of these talented gents could have easily talked about their subjects for the whole program, so to have all of them together in one place was a real treat. Special thanks to Richard for taking the reigns and and moderating! If you weren’t lucky enough to attend the program, it was recorded and should be available on the library’s website within the desk couple of weeks.
After the panel, I rushed home to the Valley in order to make it in time for my spot on Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer Talk Radio Show. This was only the second episode in this new live internet show through LA Talk Radio , hosted by Alicia Mayer, grand niece of Louis B., and Will McKinley. This was the first time I had done a live interview, so I was seriously fretting some technical catastrophe or making a fool of myself, but all went smoothly and I had a great time. I seriously tip my hat to Will and Alicia for keeping everything moving along and within the allotted timeslot. We did a live giveaway for copies of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, as well as the companion volume The Inseparables, which were bizarrely won by two different women named Christy. If you weren’t able to catch it live, the archive is already up on this site. My interview is around the half hour mark, but I encourage you to listen to the entire show, which is a lot of fun. Josh Mankiewicz (grandson of Herman, son of Frank, brother of Ben) is right before me and absolutely fascinating. Thanks to Alicia & Will for being such gracious hosts.
Now that the Ann Dvorak biography has been out for close to a year, it’s been awhile since I had the opportunity to talk about our gal. Having the opportunity to wax ecstatic about her in two different venues on one day was truly magnificent.
I am very excited to share that this evening I will be a guest on the Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer. It’s a new show focusing on classic film which aires live at 6pm on Saturdays through LA Talk Radio. This is only the second episode, so it’s a real honor to be invited on the show. Just in case you were wondering about Alicia’s surname, she is in fact the grand niece of Louis B. Mayer. Tonight’s episode will also feature Josh Mankiewicz, brother of Ben and grandson of Herman, so there is some serious Hollywood pedigree at work here!
Alicia will be joined by co-host Will McKinley, who somehow manages to watch classic films 24/7, so this should be a lot of fun. Just in case you’re not able to tune in at 6pmPST, the show will be archived for later listening. BUT, for those who listen live, we’ll be giving away a free copy of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, as well as the companion volume The Inseparables, so it pays to listen live.
Take a listen, won’t ya?
Those of you who have been following this site for the last year and/or read the preface to Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel are aware that last year I has the opportunity to obtain some of Ann Dvorak’s personal possessions. Among the cancelled checks and rent receipts was a holy grail for a Dvorak collector – her personal scrapbook of photos from her 1932 honeymoon with Leslie Fenton. This was the trip that pretty much torpedoed her career trajectory at Warner Bros, as she breached her contract with the studio to take it. The 8 month journey was also quite possibly the happiest time of her life. To become the custodian of something so precious to Ann was an unexpected honor.
I used four photos from the scrapbook in the Ann Dvorak bio and posted a handful more on this site, but I wanted to do something more with the 100+ images of Ann and Leslie Fenton which also contained snapshots from some of their later travels. I didn’t think such a large quantity of images would be practical to navigate here, but I didn’t want to hide them away either. My solution was to put together a book, which is now available.
The book, titled The Inseparables is an intimate glimpse into the lives of two Hollywood personalities during the peak of their romance which I hope will be of interest to all you Dvorak devotees out that. It can now purchased directly through this site where I can sign and personally inscribe copies or through Amazon.
I will also have copies for sale at Cinecon on Labor Day weekend (more details on that will be forthcoming).
Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 103rd birthday. To celebrate, here’s a 1938 image from Ann’s personal scrapbook.
As many of you may know, I work for the Los Angeles Public Library, overseeing the library’s Photo Collection. A couple of weeks back, the Central Library docents invited me to be the guest speaker at their annual Spring luncheon. Of course, I was honored to receive the invitation but I was especially pleased to be asked to speak about Ann Dvorak. My parents and one of my sisters were able to come, which was great, and the audience was very receptive.
The presentation discusses my history with Ann, from when I first encountered her until the completion of the book. It’s pretty much the same talk I gave for LAVA in November, though the quality of this video is probably a bit better.
And don’t forget that Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel is still 30% off when ordering directly from University Press of Kentucky!