Today would have been Ann Dvorak’s 107th birthday. Yesterday, one of the few living connections to Ann was lost when actress Mary Carlisle passed away at the age of 104. Mary only interacted with Ann briefly in 1929 when they were both on the MGM lot. Mary wanted to get her foot in the studio door as a chorus girl and was referred to Ann who was Sammy Lee’s assistant choreographer at the time. Ann was only 18, but had become a mother-hen to the other dancers, so she stayed up with Mary all night teaching her a time-step. When the two minors had to get their contracts approved in court, they were photographed together. Mary would go on to appear in dozens of films, travel the world with Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, and run the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills. The tie between Mary and Ann was thin one, but Mary’s connection to the Golden Age of Hollywood was iron cast.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Mary over the last few years. When Mary moved into the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, my friends Darin and Darrell immediately took to Mary, and they affectionately became “her boys.” At least one of them visited her every Sunday for the last 5 or so years. At first, when she was merely in her late 90s and was still able to get around, she was a guest of honor at the release party for my Ann Dvorak book. She was beyond gracious and it was incredible to have someone who knew Ann in the room. Later, when it became too difficult for her to leave the grounds of the Home, she would still hold court and dazzle us with her wit and tales of Hollywood giants. I would sometimes bring my daughter Gable to visit, and when I would call out her name, Mary would respond, “Did you say Gable? I knew Clark Gable. What a handsome man!” It’s not everyday my daughter can speak with someone who knew her namesake.
Even though she retired from film in the early 1940s, Mary carried herself like only those born of the studio system did. One year, Darin brought her to my Mom’s for Thanksgiving. The house in Glendora had belonged to my grandparents, and even though my grandma had passed away in 2005, her absence is always acutely apparent. My grandma was of the same era as Mary Carlisle, and even though she wasn’t schooled by the Hollywood studio system, she was a trained opera singer (and once auditioned at MGM) and still carried herself in that same elegant manner. On the Thanksgiving Mary was there, it was almost like having grandma with us again, which was so meaningful. However, at one point during dinner Mary leaned over to Darin and whispered, “Why does our hostess keep leaving the room?” When Darin responded that my Mom was preparing the meal, Mary followed-up with, “Where is her serving staff?” We undeniably had a movie star in the house!
As each year goes by, we have fewer living ties to Hollywood’s past. However, there are so many out there who make the effort to ensure that these people and their contributions to do fade from memory, and I take great comfort in that. RIP Mary Carlisle, and thanks to “her boys” Darin and Darrell for letting me play a walk-on part in her story.
When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was released in November 2013, I was often asked, “who are you going to write a book on next?” At the time, my answer was an emphatic “No one!” It had taken me 15 years to research and write the book on Ann and I simply could not conceive of tackling a similar project on someone else. Instead, I went the opposite route and started writing issues of the My Little Pony comic book series.
After a spell, Patrick McGilligan over at the University Press of Kenucky asked me if I had considered writing a follow-up book. By that time, I had thawed on the idea of never writing another biography and was open to it. I told him I found Aline MacMahon fascinating, to while he replied, “We’d like to see you write about someone less obscure than Ann Dvorak. How about Jane Russell?”
How about Jane Russell? I have to admit that I had never given much thought to Jane Russell. Sure, I LOVED her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and was vaguely familiar with all the hoopla surrounding Howard Hughes and The Outlaw, but otherwise I knew nothing about Jane. Ok, I did remember those Playtex bra commercials from when I was a kid. I found the suggestion intriguing and started exploring the life and career of Jane Russell.
What did I discover? Jane Russell is fascinating! Despite being discovered by Howard Hughes in 1940, Jane only had 3 movies released the entire decade, but managed to hold the public’s attention all that time, largely by being one of the favorite pin-ups of servicemen. While the marketing of Jane Russell was some of the most overtly sexual in Hollywood history, offscreen Jane was extremely spiritual and an avid student of the Bible. Jane worked with some of the era’s most notable director’s and actors, but considered her work as an adoption advocate to be her greatest accomplishment. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on Jane and commit to another book.
I am please to present the official website for Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. Please check it out! If you’re a Jane Russell fan, I hope this is exciting news. If you’re not that familiar with Jane, I hope this book will make you a fan.
What does the mean for Ann Dvorak? Ann has been a major part of my life for over 20 years and that is not going to change. I’ll be obsessed with that glorious dame for the rest of my days!
A few weeks back, someone emailed me to say they spotted Ann in the MGM John Gilbert feature The Phantom of Paris. Sure enough, she was there! This got me thinking that I should probably go back and really scrutinize MGM’s titles from 1929-1931, when Ann was under contract as a dancer and extra. I had explored the short-features of the time and uncovered quite a few of those titles Ann had appeared in, but had largely depended on existing filmographies for her feature appearances.
This weekend, I started taking a closer look at the MGM flicks, and lo and behold – I found the above image from The Great Meadow (1931) starring Johnny Mack Brown and Eleanor Boardman. Who do you think is standing behind the two stars? That’s right, our own Ann-D!
To top off this exciting discovery (well, exciting for me at least), the Warner Archive is releasing The Great Meadow later this month!
I’ve placed my pre-order and will report back and verify that Ann actually has screen time in the final release. Fingers crossed that as I continue to go over the MGM titles with a fine-toothed-comb, I’ll dig up more Ann!
Bad news! It’s at 9:45pm (sorry, I’m not the night owl I used to be).
Good news! John Carpenter is introducing it!
This will only be the 4th TCM Film Festival I have attended, but I am fairly certain this is Ann Dvorak’s 1st. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Scarface on the big screen so many times I’ve lost count. However, seeing Ann on the big screen is something I cannot pass up, so you know where you can find me this Saturday in the waning hours of the day. Please don’t mind when I make a loud fuss the first time she shows up.
Viva Ann Dvorak!
Greetings all you Dvorak devotees! I hope you’ve been enjoying some of the Ann Dvorak films TCM has been that airing lately. My apologies for not staying on top of that here, but life has been in overload for a while now.
However, I did need to take a moment and share some exciting news. It’s not often that there are Ann Dvorak updates these days, so I am crazy excited to share that another one of Ann’s uncredited MGM appearances has come to light!
Classic film fan Terry Shepitka was kind enough to email me after watching Phantom of Paris (1931) with John Gilbert a few weeks back. They were positive they saw Ann in a scene as a domestic servant and asked me to verify it. Thanks to magical Warner Archive, I was able to get my hands on a copy within a couple of days, and low and behold – there was Ann!! It’s so undeniably her and she even has a line!
Here are a couple of clips which show her. My apologies for the quality of these, but I don’t own a computer with a disc drive anymore, so I shot these with my phone.
Enjoy, and special thanks to Terry for the heads up!
Happy New Year all you Dvorak devotees! As far as Ann things go, this year is starting out with a bang as we are treated to a screening of The Strange Love of Molly Louvain at the Billy Wilder Theater, courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Big screen Dvorak is a rarity in my hometown, so I am beside myself with excitement to settle in with a few close friends and take in the glory of pre-Code Ann in one of her few starring roles.
The screening is this Saturday at 7:30pm and full details and tickets are over at the UCLA website. As if Molly Louvain weren’t enough, this is a double feature with another pre-Code gem, the fabulous Female starring Ruth Chatterton. Both films were directed by Michael Curtiz, and these screenings are part of the Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. Just is case you weren’t sold, Alan K. Rode, author of the recently published biography on Curtiz will be on hand to introduce the films and sign copies of the book. Alan is one of the most knowledgeable classic film fans/scholars around and his passion for these titles is contagious.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, come on down to Westwood this Saturday! If you’re at the screening, please stop by and say hi. I’ll be the one cheering the loudest when Ann’s name is first mentioned.
I’m not exactly sad to see 2017 come to end, but if this year has taught me anything, it’s how important it is to find light, joy, and beauty, no matter how small and in what form. Recently, it did occur to me that this year marks a number of personal Ann Dvorak milestones, which for me is a reason to celebrate. If you don’t mind, I did want to take a moment and acknowledge my many Ann-versaries.
Ann-iversary #1: 20 Years of Collecting (and 20 years with Darin)
In the fall of 1997, I was on the verge of graduating with a B.A. in Film and needed to do an internship. I wound up at a below-the-line talent agency in Beverly Hills where I spent a fairly miserable 3 months with the demanding agents. It was also 3 amazing months because the assistant was a fella named Darin who knew more about classic film than anyone I had ever met, and who collected vintage Norma Shearer memorabilia to boot. In a desperate attempt to impress him, I conjured up the name Ann Dvorak and – the rest is history. Darin introduced me to the world of movie memorabilia by giving me my first scene still and I was sunk. 20 years later, Darin and I are still the best of friends and our collections are magnificently out of control. Darin even finally put up his own website dedicated to Miss Shearer. Had I not signed up for that miserable internship, I might not be typing this right now.
Ann-iversary #2: 15 Years of AnnDvorak.com
It’s crazy to think that this website has existed for a full 15 years, but it has! In November 2002, I somehow managed to launched the first iteration of this site which I designed in Microsoft FrontPage. No, it wasn’t the best looking site to ever hit the web, but I was still very proud of it, and launching the site also helped light a fire that got me to actually finish the book. Well, I finished the book 10 years later, but you get the point.
Ann-iversary #3: 10 Years of AnnDvorak.com on WordPress
When I first started dating my husband in 2006, I ask what he thought of the Ann Dvorak site. He replied that it looked like site designed in FrontPage in 2002, which you know… He switched me over to WordPress which launched in November 2007. This switch gave me the ability to blog on the site and was also easier to update. That hot pink version of the site was up for a full decade until I did a redesign a couple of months back, which I hope you’ve been digging.
Ann-iversary #4: 10 Years Since Our “Ann Land” Wedding
It’s been a full decade since my husband and I tied the knot at Ann Dvorak’s former Encino ranch home, which is truly mind-boggling. I’ve written about the wedding before, so I’ll spare you the details now, but I have to admit it was quite the Ann-tastic day. Sadly, Arne Scheibel, the former owner of the property passed away earlier in the year, but I will also be grateful to him for allowing us to have the wedding there and share it our friends and family.
So, there you have my many Ann-iversaries this year. I hope you’ve also had some good reasons to celebrate this year. Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday season!
It’s not often that Ann Dvorak’s name comes up at the bigger auction houses, but last month Julien’s delivered big. The Joseff of Hollywood Collection featured pieces made by Eugene Joseff, who for years specialized in costume jewelry that was utilized by film studios. The collection, apparently largely intact from Joseff’s days went on the auction block on November 18th and included some impressive marquee pieces from Gone With the Wind, the Little Princess, and some Marilyn Monroe photo shoots.
Amazingly, there were also four Ann Dvorak pieces, all from Abilene Town, which made my little heart skip a beat when I saw them. I don’t own any screen-worn items of Ann’s, so this was huge deal for me. What were the offerings?
First up was this necklace, which was also credited to Clarie Trevor for a portrait sitting. As you can see from this image, Ann wore it prominently in the film, as well as some publicity shoots.
Next we have these earrings, which also show up in many images from the film. These were also worn by Margot Grahame in The Three Musketeers, so the earrings date back to at least 1935.
Then, there is this cameo broach which is the piece I instantly fell in love with. I actually wear similar broaches regularly, so I may have drooled on the auction catalog when I saw it. This piece was only credited to our Divine Miz D in the auction.
Finally, there was this glorious necklace, which was also prominently worn by Ann in Abilene Town. Unfortunately, Bette Davis wore it in ONE photo shoot in the late 1930s which shot the estimate up to $5,000-7,000.
So, how’d the pieces do? Well, the Bette Davis necklace did indeed hit the estimate, and the Claire Trevor necklace went above the estimates and became slightly out of reach.
As for the earrings and broach…
That’s right. At long last, I am finally the proud owner of Ann Dvorak screen-worn jewelry!
If you get a chance, check out some of the other instantly recognizable items that were up for sale, which are sure to blow the minds of any tried and true classic film fan.
This November will mark 15 years (!) since I first launched AnnDvorak.com. I designed the original site in Microsoft FrontPage and managed to somehow get it online. It was certainly clunky, but I was proud of it. When I started dating my tech-savvy husband in 2006, he gritted his teeth as he admired my handiwork, though later admitted the site looked like something that had been designed in FrontPage by a novice in 2002. A year later, he got me set up on WordPress, and now a full decade has passed!
This site was always meant to be an all-things-Ann-Dvorak resource, though it has certainly also served as a platform to promote my book Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. Now that the book has been out for almost 4 years, and my updates come in at a trickle, I wanted to redesign the site to be less about the updates and more about being a reference source.
The migration to a new theme was much smoother than I expected, though I still have a lot of work to do. I am redesigning all of the pages for each of Ann’s films, along with the ephemera galleries. This requires that everything be rescanned. Plus, I need to scan the hundreds of photos that have never been on this site. I am closing in on 2,000 photos of Ann in my collection, not including all the posters, lobby cards, etc. and I would like to have everything represented here eventually. Since this endeavor is going to take months to complete, I thought it better to have the rough version available rather than sticking it behind a maintenance wall indefinitely.
I hope you Dvorak Devotees enjoy the new design. Be sure to check in occasionally as I add new images to the site. My collection has gotten so big that I now have the tendency to forget just what I own, so I have enjoyed revisiting the collection as a rescan it.
Just wanted to give you Dvorak Devotees a heads up that this site is going to be going dark in the next week or so for a revamp. The current iteration is almost 10 years old (the site originally launched in 2002) and the WordPress theme I am using is so old that the company who designed it doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
Hopefully, the transition won’t be too bumpy, but I’m expecting the worst. The galleries were hardcoded by my husband back in the days before plugins, so I am guessing they won’t translate too well. I am in the midst of rescanning all my photos (well, my friend Darin is), so even after I switch themes, I’ll be gradually updating all the pages.
Now that the book has been out for a few years (!), my end goal is to have a website that serves more as an Ann Dvorak reference source, and is less reliant on updates which are admittedly few and far between these days.
See y’all on the other side and wish me luck!