Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 105th birthday. She’s been in my life for almost 20 years now and I cannot overstate the impact she has had on me. If you would have told me back then that I would author a full length biography on anyone, I would have rolled my eyes. Me? No way! And yet, I am currently able to work on a second book because Ann was such a motivating factor for the first one. Some of my dearest friends came into my life because of Ann, along with so many interesting people who I would have never encountered had it not been for her. When I was an insecure and painfully shy twenty-something, Ann helped me find my voice because I was so hell bent on making sure the world knew about her.
I pretty much celebrate Ann Dvorak’s life everyday, but on this anniversary of her birth, here’s a special tip of the cap is an amazing lady who means so much to me.
Remembering Ann Dvorak on this 35th anniversary of her passing.
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!
On December 23, 1936, gossip grand dame Louella Parsons reported that after a year of battles in and out of the courtroom, Ann Dvorak and Warner Bros. had finally decided to part ways. Ann had spent many months earlier in the year trying to get out of her contract early, but her efforts had been futile. After losing her lawsuit and any attempted appeals, Ann had reluctantly returned after being loaned out to RKO for two film. Perhaps by December Jack Warner felt he had made his point as the victor in the proceedings and reasoned it was a good time to wash his hands of her. Whatever Warner’s motives may have been, it turned out that The Case of the Stuttering Bishop would be Ann Dvorak’s last film under her Warner Bros. contract. Ann’s last day on the Burbank lot was actually December 19th, and when filming wrapped her last paycheck was already cut and handed to her. With that, Ann Dvorak left the place that had been her home away from home for the previous three years.
By December of 1933, Ann Dvorak had become a known name around Hollywood for her acting as well as for walking out on her Warner Bros. contract for an 8-month honeymoon. She may not have been Jack Warner’s favorite person at the time, but many members of the press found Ann interesting enough to run her plea to find her father in their newspapers.
Edwin McKim was divorced from Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr, sometime in the early 1920s. Subsequent years were spent in Pittsburgh, New York, and Florida. All the while he had no contact with his only child even though he longed to and vice versa. Ann used her celebrity to her advantage, and on December 16, 1933 newspapers around the country ran her request to be reunited with her father. Countless false leads came through, but in early February of 1934, Edwin McKim finally reappeared in Philadelphia.
McKim was elated that his daughter had found him, but insisted on paying his own train fare. It took him six months, but he finally made it to Southern California in August 1934. The reunion was a successful one and Ann stayed in contact with her father until his death in 1942.
On October 19, 1949, a staged version of People Like Us was slated to open at the Court Theatre in New York City. The play, written by Frank Vosper, was to star Ann Dvorak and Sidney Blackmer as real-life accused British murderers Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters. Unfortunately, an inexperienced and corrupt producer, along with some bumpy previews in Canada caused the production to fold before it made it to Broadway. The experience was so traumatic that Ann Dvorak swore off live theater permanently.
I actually go into a great amount of detail about People Like Us in the book. So yeah, 300 days into the Year of Ann Dvorak and less than three weeks away from the book release and I’m getting a bit lazy here, but thanks for sticking around!
On October 11, 1935, Ann Dvorak reported to Warner Bros. to begin Sweet Music, a musical comedy starring Rudy Vallee and directed by Alfred Green. Even though Ann had started her film career as a chorus dancer at MGM, by 1935 she had developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress. Ann wanted to return to her roots, so to speak, and lobbied hard for the role in Sweet Music. She finally convinced Green and Warners that she was up to the task and was given the role.
I personally don’t think Sweet Music has held up as well as some of the other 1930s Warner musicals, but at the very least, it’s one of Ann’s bigger budget Burbank flicks.
On October 9, 1933, Ann Dvorak reported to Warner Bros. to begin filming Massacre co-starring Richard Barthelmess. The film, which saw Ann portraying a modern Native American on a reservation was only the second film she made at the studio in 1933, despite having had returned from her extended European honeymoon in March. By this time, Warner Bros. seemed to have gotten over any ire they had towards Ann for walking out on her contract and Massacre would kick-off a very prolific time in Ann’s career, in quantity if not always quality.
On Monday, October 7, 1935, Warner Bros. officially suspended Ann Dvorak for being too ill to report to the set of her latest film Backfire. Her husband, Leslie Fenton, had called in sick for her a couple of days, and even though Ann soon claimed she was well enough to come back to work, Warner Bros. didn’t buy it. They kept her on suspension until she received a clean bill of health from one of their own doctors. Ann refused, so the suspension continued and she was replaced on the film (eventually released as Boulder Dam) with Patricia Eillis.
When December rolled around with the suspension still in place, the Fentons filed a lawsuit against the studio. Ann Dvorak was going to war with Warner Bros.
On September 11, 1931, a twenty-year-old Ann Dvorak appeared before a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge to receive approval to sign a contract with Howard Hughes’ Caddo Company.
Since she was under twenty-one, Ann was still considered a minor, which is why she needed the judge’s approval to sign the deal. This was not the first time Ann had made such an appearance. She had been required to obtain similar approval when she signed her MGM contract in 1929.
In addition to the court visit, the Caddo contract also had to be co-signed by Ann’s mother, Anna Lehr. What’s also interesting about the document is that Ann signed her last name D’Vorak. She made have already decided how she would pronounce her stage name (vor-zhak – not that anyone else picked up on this), but she still didn’t know how she wanted to spell it.