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.
When Ann Dvorak returned from her extended honeymoon abroad in March of 1933, she made amends with Warner Bros., signed a new contract with them, and was ready to get in front of the cameras again. Instead, she waited…and waited.
Towards the end of the summer, the studio loaned Ann out to Paramount for The Way to Love, co-starring Maurice Chevalier. Then, they let her wait a while longer. Finally, they cast her as the leading lady in College Coach opposite Pat O’Brien and Lyle Talbot. Ann began production on September 6, 1933, and while the role was small and uneventful, at least she was working again.
On September 3, 1936, Warner Bros. and RKO Pictures reached an agreement for Ann Dvorak to be loaned out to the latter for All Scarlett, which was ultimately released as Racing Lady. Ann had not made a film for Warners for a year, and actress and studio had spent the first half of 1936 embroiled in litigation over the terms of her contract. The only thing they seemed to have agreed on was Ann making movies for RKO – this was her second visit in less than two months, the first being for We Who Are About to Die. For her services, RKO handed $3,000 a week to Warner Bros., half of which covered Ann’s weekly salary.
Ann was probably relieved to have the steady work, and to not have it be at the studio she’d been warring with. She didn’t need to worry too much – her days at Warner Bros. were numbered.
On August 30, 1934, Ann Dvorak started production on the Warner Bros. feature Murder in the Clouds. It was her sixth and last film with Lyle Talbot.
I’m suffering from Ann Dvorak one-a-day burn-out, so that’s all I have in me for today.
On August 29, 1931 Ann Dvorak signed a contract with Howard Hughes’ Caddo Company. Howard Hawks had selected her to play Cesca in Scarface opposite Paul Muni a few weeks earlier, and the contract officially made her Howard Hughes’ property.
She would only make one other film for Hughes, Sky Devils, before her started loaning her out to Warner Bros. Mere months after signing Ann, Hughes would sell her contract to WB, which she was less than thrilled with. It was downhill from there.
At least in August 1931, the world was hers.
On August 27, 1943, Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton boarded the S.S. Mauretania in Liverpool and headed back to the Unites States. Fenton, a British citizen by birth, had enlisted in the Royal Navy and returned to his homeland in September 1940. His wife followed him in December.
By August of 1943, each had endured their fair share of war-time misery and were ready to come home. With Fenton having recovered from injuries sustained during the Battle of St. Nazaire resulting in an honorable discharge, the time seemed right.
When the couple went aboard the Mauretania, Fenton identified himself as film director, his occupation both before and during the war. Ann on the other hand, listed herself as a journalist. Even though she had made movies while in England, Ann had also served as a war corespondent, which is the post she clearly felt was more important. She had harbored a desire to be a writer from a young age and despite the horrors of the war years, the experience had enabled her to fulfill a lifelong dream.
On August 20, 1934, Ann Dvorak stood on the platform of a Pasadena train station, anxiously awaiting the next arrival. She was wearing a dress from the movie Gentlemen Are Born which she had just finished filming three days before and had her husband, Leslie Fenton, by her side. Any moment now, the twenty three-year-old actress would be reunited with a man she had not seen in over ten years – her father.
Like Ann’s mother, Edwin McKim had been a theater and vaudeville performer before entering the burgeoning film industry around 1912. Despite his background as an actor, McKim’s film work consisted almost exclusively as a director and scenario writer. When the marriage to Anna Lehr started to unravel, he took work at the Lubin studios in his home state of Pennsylvania while his wife split her time between Los Angeles and New York. The couple divorced around 1920, which also ended McKim’s relationship with his only child.
Ann had wanted to renew ties with her father, but expense and know-how had prohibited her from looking. Once Ann became an actress of note, she used the newspaper press in December 1933 to make an appeal for her long-lost father to get in touch with her. There were many false leads, but the real Edwim McKim finally stood up.
Ann offered to pay for his transportation from Philadelphia, but McKim insisted on saving up the fare himself, which took six months. He finally pulled into Pasadena in August where his was greeted by his daughter, son-in-law – and some press photographers who were on hand to document this intimate moment.
On August 12, 1948, the New York Times reported that Ann Dvorak was sent an official contract to sign on for the lead role in the Broadway production of Jean Paul Sartre’s The Respectful Prostitute. Ann would be replacing Meg Mundy in the lead role and was scheduled to start on September 1st. Ann’s run at the Cort Theater would last a few months and was an overall success. Unfortunately, this first go at Broadway would end up being her last (for reasons to be explored in a certain book).
Today marks what would have been the 102nd birthday of Ann Dvorak, who was born on August 2, 1911 in New York City.
Over the years, Ann’s birth year has frequently been listed as 1912, but here is definitive proof that she was born one year earlier. I present – her birth certificate.
Those of you who have been following this blog for a least the last couple of months might recall that I recently happened upon some of Ann’s personal possessions. Included in that stash was a copy of her birth certificate, which is cool because I had not been able to get a copy previously. Please note that there is only a space here for Father’s Occupation, because, you know, no self respecting woman would have a career in those days. Had there been a place for Anna Lehr to fill in her occupation, it would have read “theatre,” the same as Edwin McKim.
If you’re able, pull up a chair, throw Three on a Match in the DVD player, and raise a glass to the Divine Ms. D!
On July 31, 1936, RKO closed a deal to borrow Ann Dvorak from Warner Bros. for the feature We Who Are About to Die, co-starring Preston Foster and John Beal. This was significant for Ann because she had not made a movie in over a year, having spent most of 1936 entangled in a legal battle over her contract with Warner Bros. Even though the courts had washed their hands of the matter weeks before, the two were still at an impasse, so the loan-out seems to have been a compromise each could live with.
For Ann’s services, RKO had to shell out $3,000 a week, half of which paid Ann’s contracted weekly salary. RKO would end up borrowing her again for Racing Lady, and even though she would end up making two more films for her home studio before the year was over, her days at Warner Bros. were numbered.