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!
It’s true what they say about Chicago – it IS one hell of a town. Specifically one hell of a film town. I am still dumbstruck that I was invited to introduce two Ann Dvorak films on consecutive nights at two different movie palaces in the Windy City. On both nights I was welcomed with open arms by appreciative classic film fans and even managed to sell a few books.
First up was The Strange Love of Molly Louvain at the Patio Theatre in the Portage Park neighborhood. The screening was sponsored by the Northwest Chicago Film Society who secured a restored 35mm print from the Library of Congress, which was gorgeous. Around 250 people showed up, and it was exciting to see this film on the big screen for the first time with an appreciative crowd. The only damper on the evening was that this was the last screening at the Patio for the foreseeable future, as the owners are having trouble maintaining the operating costs.
Night two brought us to the Pickwick Theatre in the suburb of Park Ridge for Scarface, sponsored by the Park Ridge Classic Film Series. At least 100 people came to this gorgeous theatre to watch this 1932 classic. This was the third or forth time I have seen the gangster flick on the big screen and it never gets old. Even though I have seen Scarface countless times over the years, I never made the connection that the play Muni and his gang are watching shortly before gunning down Boris Karloff in a bowling alley is Rain. As I’ve noted before, Howard Hughes made every attempt to secure the film rights for Rain in order to have Ann Dvorak star as Sadie Thompson. It didn’t pan out and Joan Crawford ended up with the role. I’m not sure if this was something Hughes requested of director Howard Hawks or if it were just a coincidence.
I need to extend my sincere gratitude to Kyle Westphal of the Northwest Chicago Film Society and Matthew C. Hoffman of the Park Ridge Classic Film Series. They were the ones responsible for pulling the two nights together and were incredibly hospitable to me and my family. Kyle and Matthew were at both screenings, handled logistics and took care of the book sales. Chicago film fans are very lucky to have these two!
Over the course of the two nights, I was able to meet up with old friends and new ones and it was wonderful to see so much attention focused on Ann Dvorak. As if the screenings themselves were not grand enough, me and the family had a blast at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Adler Planetarium, many pizza places and a productive weekend for my husband at the C2E2 convention.
I have to admit it was difficult to leave such a beautiful city, though the 80+ degree temperatures in Los Angeles were a nice welcome home present. Just in case you missed them, I did interviews all about Ann-D over at the Chicago Reader and the Cine-File blog.
Thanks a bunch Chicago!
Long before I became Ann Dvorak’s biographer, I was a classic film fan who devoured Hollywood bios. As I recall, the first one I ever read was Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers when I was in the 8th grade. I could not even fathom a guess as to how many I have read since then. What I can say is that 20+ years of almost non-stop biography reading was a fantastic way to prep myself for drafting my own manuscript.
There have been good, bad, and mediocre biographies along the way, so when I finally sat down to write about Ann I was essentially trying to write something I would want to read. As I was working on Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, there were a handful of bios that really stayed with me and served as an influence for my own book.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of great film biographies, but just a few that stood out for me as particularly good or had elements I tried to incorporate into my telling of Ann’s story
It’s been at least 20 years since I read this early biography of Miss Marilyn, but even as a teenager I remember being impressed by the amount of research Guiles did, including interviewing people from all stages of her life. If memory serves me correctly, this book presents a fairly balanced look at Monroe and does not overemphasize or exaggerate some of the most troubling aspects of her life. A bio like this helped me understand that it is possible to discuss the less than savory traits of a person without exploiting them. My other takeaway was that I shouldn’t beat myself up for not having access to the types of people Guiles did. This book was published in 1969, only seven years after Monroe’s death and the author spent five years working on it. For me to have accomplished something similar with Ann in terms of a timeline, I would have needed to start working on the book when I was seven.
The reviews on this one were fairly mixed, but I don’t remember having any issue with it. What proved to be influential about this bio is that Sikov discussed every film Bette Davis ever made. In my experience this tends to not be the case, especially with the contract players who were making upwards of ten films a year. A lot of the books I read growing up were published by mainstream publishers, so the books leaned more towards a personal focus versus film scholarship. This approach would often leave me frustrated when a film I was partial to would be omitted from the narrative. With Ann Dvorak, I was hell bent and determined to discuss every last film, and Sikov’s bio made me realize that it was ok to do it.
This tome on Selznick is impressive in its scope and exhaustive in its presentation, but never boring or tedious. What I learned from this book is that it’s acceptable to be very thorough as long as the writing is good and the information relevant. This book is also a lesson in perspective. Selznick was a driving and influential force in the film industry and there really was enough to say about the man to justify almost 800 pages. Perhaps I could have squeezed more pages out of Ann’s story, but I doubt that would have been necessary.
This is one of my all time favorite bios and a big reason why I was thrilled to have University Press of Kentucky as my publisher. I like Joan & Constance Bennett just fine, though I am not a huge fan, but Kellow’s book was more of a page turner than any other bio I have read. He bravely tackled the task of writing about multiple people in the family (father Richard, and sister Barbara in addition to Joan and Constance) and handles the transitions seamlessly. He also has a knack for giving greater context to the individual stories without distracting from the narrative of the subjects. The fact that Richard and Constance were such characters made this bio absorbing, but Kellow’s execution was something I definitely tried to emulate.
In my opinion, these two books set the gold standard for film biographies and contain the best aspects of the previously mentioned books – flawless research, engaging writing, and a balanced narrative made these two very difficult to put down. Stenn deserves extra points for conducting his research in the days before the internet.
Yes, there are also books that set a strong example of what NOT to do in a film biography but I am too much of a lady (or too chicken) to call them out in a public place. I will say that these other books cause me to steer clear of:
Well, there’s a quick rundown of the dos and don’ts I tried to adhere to while writing Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, and I hope I succeeded. If you have any bios you’re especially fond of, please feel free to discuss them in the comments.
After blogging about Ann Dvorak every day for an entire year, I guess you could say that I have really embraced the break from it. Since I don’t want to be too neglectful of Ann, along with those of you who have been so faithful and supportive – here’s what’s been going on in the world of Ann Dvorak (and me).
The big Ann Dvorak news is that Our Blushing Brides is now available from the Warner Archive. This is actually a Joan Crawford film that was made during Ann’s waning days at MGM. Even though the film does have some dance numbers, Ann does not appear as a chorus girl but only as an extra fawning over Robert Montgomery. I don’t remember what I thought of this film overall, so I can only recommend it for you Dvorak completists.
On a bright personal note, I received my first royalty statement for Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. The numbers were considerably higher than my publisher or I were expecting, so a big THANK YOU to everyone out there who purchased a copy!
I recently submitted a proposal for what I hope will be my next big project. It’s for the 33 1/3 series which are books focusing on a specific music album. The publisher recently did an open call for submissions, so I threw my hat in the ring with Heart’s Dreamboat Annie. The open call resulted in a whopping 410 submissions, so I am definitely a long-shot! Writing about a band from the 1970s might sound like an extreme departure from a 1930s movie star. However, much like Ann Dvorak, the Wilson sisters challenged the conventions of their sector of the entertainment industry, so I don’t feel that writing about them will be that much different from Ann. And if my proposal isn’t selected? Well, I have a couple of other ideas floating around…
On a totally non-Ann related note, I will be back at the Encino-Tarzana Branch Library on March 25th, lecturing on the changing roles of woman in the post-War San Fernando Valley. The entire presentation will be illustrated with images from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Valley Times photo collection, so hopefully there will be some interest.
Finally, I have two screenings/book signings arranged in Chicago in late April and a royalty check to pay for the trip! Keep an eye out here for more details very soon!
Otherwise, I have been slumming it a bit and enjoying free time with my daughter and husband. Hope all is well with all you Dvorak devotees, and check back for more updates.
At long last we have come to the 365th and final post in the Year of Ann Dvorak. And what a year it’s been! When I first decided to write a full length biography on Ann back in the late 1990s, I frequently daydreamed of the day when the book would finally be finished and out in the world. The actual release of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel exceeded all those dreams of the last 15+ years and I am ok admitting that I am proud of how it turned out. At the same time, I am extremely relieved and grateful for all the positive feedback I received so far. In case you didn’t notice, all the wonderful press and reviews have been compiled onto one page, called – Press & Book Reviews.
As to my commitment to blog about Ann everyday for an entire year – well, that may not have been my most inspired idea. I am not sure what I hoped to accomplish by blogging daily, and now that it’s over I am not exactly sure if it really achieved much of anything. The process was rather grueling and since I was usually unable to get multiple posts queued up, every night found me uttering the phrase, “Not yet, I still have to do my blog post.” In retrospect, committing to once a week probably would have sufficed, but no one can accuse me of backing out once I set my mind on something!
For all the complaining I have done the last year over this fool’s errand, there were a handful of people who genuinely seemed to appreciate my efforts. I wanted to take a moment (or more specifically, a paragraph) to thank those who took the time to frequently comment here over the last year which reminded me that I wasn’t playing to an empty room. These fine folk included Dick P., Scott, Mike, Vienna, and JV. Your comments really fueled me to keep going! Major gratitude needs to go to the guest bloggers who gave me a much needed break when I was finishing up the manuscript for University Press of Kentucky. Mary Mallory, Paul Petro, Daniel Nauman, Glen Creason, and Mary McCoy are the bees knees! Finally, much appreciation to Cliff Aliperti, Will McKinley, John Rabe, Danny Reid, and Kendra Bean for the many tweets and re-tweets. My sincere apologies to anyone I may have forgotten.
Finally, thanks to my husband Joshua Hale Fialkov and my daughter Gable, who thought the Ann madness had ended when I finished writing the book. Little did they know what insane heights I could rise to in the name of Ann Dvorak!
Just because the Year of Ann Dvorak is over, doesn’t mean my work here is done. I’ll still be posting news, tv airings, film screenings, etc as they come up, though I will probably take a break from writing up my random musings on Ann. I might add that I am still a compulsive collector who is always on the prowl for new Dvorak memorabilia. The book may be out, but I am by no means finished with Ann.
Before I end this, let’s go out on a true AD note with a This Day in Ann Dvorak History factoid: On December 31, 1931 Ann Dvorak met Leslie Fenton for the first time. In less than three months, the pair would be married and Ann’s life and career would be dramatically altered.
Happy New Year!
A few weeks back I did my first ever Ann Dvorak lecture for the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA). The fine folks with LAVA recorded the whole thing and have now posted it on YouTube and their website.
Even though I was wearing two pairs of Spanx that day, I cannot bring myself to watch it so I hope the quality is ok. The content is rough in a few spots and I will be making some adjustments, but otherwise this will probably be my standard talk about Ann and the book.
If you’re willing to sit in front of your computer for the next hour or so, I hope you enjoy it!
Those of you who have stuck around this site long enough already know that a big chunk of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was written during my subway commute from the Valley to Downtown Los Angeles. The folks at Metro who run the trains thought it was a pretty good story and put together, what I think, is a pretty elaborate piece for their show Metro Motion.
When I first spoke with one of their reps, I figured my story would warrant a blog post so I was really surprised when I ended up spending over 3 hours with them a couple of months back. I think the shot of me pretending to wait for the train is kind of silly, and it’s an brutal reminder that I am still a long ways off from my pre-pregnancy weight, but overall it’s pretty awesome. Plus, the hubby and daughter get to make a cameo.
The video should be kind of cued up to my segment, but if not it’s at 7:42 and runs about 4 minutes.
As some of you may already know, Three on a Match was the film that introduced me to Ann Dvorak back in the mid 1990s and got me started on this crazy journey. Since that first viewing, I have watched the film countless times, though I had never seen it on a big screen with an audience. This past weekend, I screened Three on a Match at Central Library where I work and preceded it with a brief lecture on pre-Code cinema. First off, I was happy to have around 50 people show up, which was pretty good considering it was a rare rainy day in Los Angeles which usually sends residents cowering inside (present company included). We even sold a few books after!
Of all the times I have watched this film in the past 18 or so years, I had never been moved to tears by it. Sure, I had always been blown away by Ann’s performance, but it never actually made me cry. That changed on Saturday and I was surprised to find myself choking back the tears during the movie’s climatic scenes. After the film ended, it dawned on me that this was the first time I had watched it since becoming a mother. I don’t know if that’s why Ann’s final scenes with her young child got to me, or if it were that much more dramatic watching it on a big screen. Either way, the fact remains that Three on a Match is a damn fine movie with one hell of a performance from Ann Dvorak.
The other thing I noticed while watching it is that a lot of scenes were ultimately cut from it. The above photo of Ann and Lyle Talbot which I recently purchased is from a scene in the film that is no where to be found. I have a couple of other Three on a Match stills from cut scenes and have seen a couple others in various places over the years. Talk about lost footage I would love to see!
I have to admit I am rather sad to see November come to an end. Sure, my three-year-old is beside herself that it’s finally December with Christmas around the corner, which is almost as exciting for me. However, November 2013 was one of my most memorable and I think can appropriately be called the “Month of Ann Dvorak.”
I had dreamed of having an Ann Dvorak biography published for years, and its release on November 4th exceeded all my expectations. I was treated to positive reviews by five film bloggers and one online magazine, a fabulous mention by old school columnist Liz Smith who likened Ann to Gloria Swanson, a radio interview with yours truly about writing the book on the subway, along with a discussion at the Silver Screen Oasis. The official launch party was an overwhelming success with more people in attendance than the fire marshall would have liked, and the first Ann Dvorak book talk was well received.
As if all of the above weren’t enough, I was also fortunate enough to have Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel selected for the Turner Classic Movies Book Corner. Throughout the month I heard from countless people who saw the promo run on the station and the spoiled brat in me is sad that as of today, it will no longer be running.
Finally, I have heard some wonderful feedback from the Dvorak faithful on this site, for which I cannot adequately express my appreciation. But don’t worry, there’s more Ann Dvorak coming down the pipeline as we head into December and round out the Year of Ann Dvorak.
Yesterday, we braved the shopping crowds in order to take in a viewing of Frozen with the wee one (which by the way, was fantastic). Since we had already fought the good fight for a parking space in the busy Burbank shopping district, I could not help but pop into the Barnes & Noble where I figured I would find disappointment, but instead experienced pure elation. For there, the the Film & TV section, in between Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey and Titanic & the Making of James Cameron, sat Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I did have my doubts that the book would find its way into a chain like B&N and seeing it there got me choked up a bit because it was something I have dreamed about for a very long time. Don’t ask about the shelving order, which is supposed to be by author but is not quite happening. Also, I am choosing to believe that there is only one copy on the shelf because the other 5 sold (I can continue to dream, can’t I?).