On July 26, 1934, Warner workhorse Ann Dvorak reported to the set of Gentlemen Are Born. She had finished working on I Sell Anything the day before, which was thankless role in a quickie programmer. Unfortunately, Gentlemen Are Born would not give her much more to do.
When I first saw Gentlemen Are Born a number of years ago, I absolutely hated it, mainly because it is such a waste of Ann’s talents. I re-watched it 2011 when it ran on TCM as part of Ann’s “Summer Under the Stars” day, and enjoyed it much more. It still angers me for its under-utilization of Ann, but overall this tale of college graduates who have difficultly adjusting to the real world in the midst of the Great Depression is fairly engaging. It’s also very timely, considering what today’s graduates have been facing the last few years, and the film is a great example of Warner Bros. willingness to tackle topical issues of the day.
However, it’s still a minuscule role for Ann Dvorak and therefore my job to complain about it.
On July 25, 1934, Ann Dvorak finished her scenes on I Sell Anything, one of the most inconsequential films of her career. Her part in the movie serves very little purpose, other than to give Pat O’Brien someone to end up with by the closing credits. It feels like most of her lines had originally belonged to some of the male characters and that her part was added as an afterthought. Ann worked on I Sell Anything for less than two weeks, though it’s impressive her services were needed for more than a couple of days.
Los Angeles Times headline
On July 18, 1932 Ann Dvorak and husband Leslie Fenton arrived in New York after two weeks aboard the SS Virginia, which had traveled east from Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. Ann had abruptly sailed at the beginning of the month, effectively breaching her contract with Warner Bros. Even though Jack Warner and her mother had sent telegrams urging Ann to turn around and come back to Hollywood, she had forged ahead. When she stepped off the ship, she and Fenton were on fire, proclaiming that producers were slave drivers and that Howard Hughes had sold Ann up the river by selling her contract with him to Warner Bros. Any hopes of reversing her actions of the previous two weeks quickly evaporated, and Ann and Leslie prepared to continue their defiant journey to Europe.
On July 3, 1932, Ann Dvorak sent a handwritten note to the Warner Bros. accounting department asking that all forthcoming paychecks be sent directly to the First National Bank of Los Angeles in Hollywood, as, “I will be out of town for a few weeks.” Less than 24 hours later, Ann and her bridegroom, Leslie Fenton would be far from Hollywood as they made their way to New York via the Panama Canal. From there, they would head to Europe for an extended honeymoon. The trip would be one of the most memorable experiences of Ann’s life, but is also what arguably torpedoed her career at Warner Bros.
Image courtesy of Annyas.com
On June 18, 1932, Warner Bros. officially purchased Ann Dvorak’s contract from Howard Hughes. Ann had signed with Hughes’ Caddo Company in August 1931 after having been cast in Scarface. She only made one other film for Hughes, Sky Devils, before he agreed to loan her out to Warner Bros. exclusively for the first half of 1932. The Burbank studio soon decided they were done borrowing Ann and wanted to own her outright, and negotiations were finally completed in June. The final price was $40,000 which was $10,000 more than what MGM had paid for another Caddo contract player – Jean Harlow.
Warner Bros. immediate plans were to loan Ann out to another studio while their annual summer shut-down was taking place. Little did they know that Ann had her own plans that did not involve making movies…
On June 17, 1935, Ann reported for work at Warner Bros. on the feature Dr. Socrates. The film marked the second time Ann acted opposite Paul Muni, their first pairing having been for legendary gangster film, Scarface. And while this second go-around isn’t nearly as memorable as the first, Dr. Socrates is one of the higher budget films Ann made at Warner Bros., and is enjoyable enough.
For the first five films Ann made for Warner Bros. in 1932, she was actually under contract to Howard Hughes and his Caddo Company, but on an exclusive loan-out to the Burbank studio. Three on a Match was the first film she made after Hughes had agreed to sell her contract. However, the deal had not been fully completed and Warner Bros. had not completed drafting one of their contracts for her.
Then, she made that mortal sin of skipping town for eight months and was still working under the conditions of the Caddo contract. This ultimately worked out in her favor, as the language regarding suspension time being tacked onto the end was vague so Warner chose not to add the many months on. Even though she returned in March of 1933, there was haggling to be done with her agent, Myron Selznick. Finally, all the kinks were hammered out and on May 18, 1933, Ann Dvorak signed the document and became Warner Bros.’ property.
The last week of April 1935, Warner Bros. told Ann Dvorak she would be traveling to San Francisco for a personal appearance at a premiere of G Men, her latest film starring James Cagney. She did not want to go and said she wouldn’t. However, being under contract and all, she really didn’t have much of an option – so off she went.
The San Francisco Examiner was on hand when she arrived in the city and snapped a few photos. As far as I can tell, the one of Ann exiting the train is the only one that actually ran in the paper, so the other two are previously unpublished.
Around 5 or 6 years ago, the photos from the San Francisco Examiner started being auctioned off on eBay and I acquired the original negatives from Ann’s trip up north. The shot of her standing on, what appears to be, the back of the train was posted in the auction description and has since shown up on other websites.
The negs are not in great condition, which is why the quality is a bit questionable. I am not proficient in online photo editing, but I am sure a guru could clean these up a bit. You have to admit that even though these images are not retouched, Ann looks beautiful and is putting on a movie star face, even though she does not want to be there.
Oh, there is one more of these photos not posted, which you will be able to view when a certain book comes out in November. In the meantime, enjoy these rare shots of Ann.
At the dawn of 1932, Ann Dvorak was under contract to Howard Hughes. The millionaire producer had allowed Howard Hawks to bring Ann over to Warner Bros. for The Crowd Roars, and the Burbank studio quickly became infatuated with her. They were, in fact, so eager to have Ann in their films that they cemented a deal with Hughes to borrow her exclusively for six months. One of the terms of this agreement gave Hughes script approval on anything they wanted Ann to appear in.
On April 11, 1932, Warner Bros. sent Hughes’ Caddo Co. the script for a movie called Crooner along with a letter requesting that Ann appear in this film instead of Cabin in the Cotton which had been previously approved. The role she had been pegged to play in Cabin in the Cotton was Nordie Lord, a plantation owner’s saucy daughter. By the time the film started shooting, the character’s name had been changed to Madge Norwood and Warner contract player Bette Davis had stepped into the role.
Those of you familiar with Crooner and Cabin in the Cotton may be either scratching your heads in wonder or screaming “WHY??” up to the heavens. While Crooner is an amusing enough little comedy, Ann has very little to do in it, especially when compared to Madge Norwood, who Bette later described as the first “downright, forthright bitch,” she ever played.
Warner Bros. seems to have frequently cast actors in one film and then suddenly swap them out for someone else, so I don’t think there was any deep meaning behind putting Ann on Crooner instead of Cabin in the Cotton. Eighty three years later, it’s just another “what if” in the career of Ann Dvorak.
On April 4, 1934, Ann Dvorak finished up her scenes opposite Richard Barthelmess in Midnight Alibi. Ann’s role was a sparse leading lady one, and she worked on the film for only two weeks. By this time she had been back in Hollywood for a year following a lengthy honeymoon which had not been approved by Warner Bros. Upon her return, the studio let her stew for nearly six months before casting her in anything, but seemed to be trying to make up for lost time as Midnight Alibi was her sixth film in less than seven months.
Overall, I think Midnight Alibi is watchable enough, though anyone viewing it for Ann will certainly be disappointed. Even if you don’t want to watch the film, be sure to check out the goofy trailer that seemed to be promoting the film as a screwball comedy.