Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 101st birthday. Fire up the media player of your choice, turn on an Ann movie, and celebrate the life and career of this amazing actress.
I am thrilled to announce my Ann Dvorak biography is going to be published by the University Press of Kentucky. My contract arrived in the mail yesterday and is now signed, sealed, and on its way to being delivered. Ever since I read “The Bennetts: An Acting Family” by Brian Kellow, I knew the University Press of Kentucky was the perfect publisher for my book, and was fortunate in that they initially contacted me back in 2008. I have been actively working with them since September on the proposal, and was relieved to hear the editorial board thought a book on Ann was a “no-brainer” for the Press.
As exciting (and surreal) as this latest development is, we still have a ways to go. My deadline is October 1st to submit a completed manuscript, and then it’s roughly nine months before actual publication. So, the book still will not see the light of day for another year or so. However, the fifteen years I have been working on this project have flown by, so what’s another year?
I have been frantically trying to complete all the research I have been putting off for years. Last week, I made the dreaded trip to the Superior Court archives which was just as awful as I anticipated (two hour wait for a microfilm reader among other things). I did dig up some valuable info and subsequently tracked down a lawyer who is still alive and has some vague recollections of Ann and her third husband. I also made a second trip to the Registrar Recorder/County Clerk’s Office in Norwalk, but have still not completed the property research and will have to squeeze another trip sometime in the near future. I made my fourth trip to the Warner Bros Archives at USC to make sure I had not missed anything over the years, and I finally visited USC’s Special Collections department to look at their images of Ann from the Los Angeles Examiner. Both archivists at USC were amazingly generous and allowed me to bring my two-year-old daughter with me. I also discovered some additional mysterious information about Ann which may remain unresolved because the research has to stop at some point!
Additionally, a woman whose maiden name is Romona Wade posted a comment on the 2008 interview I did on the Alternative Film Guide. Ramona is the granddaughter of Ann’s third husband Nicholas Wade, and is someone I am desperate to speak with. However, she did not leave any contact information. So, this is my official plea for Ramona to please contact me! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Since I am now officially under the gun to finish the manuscript, my postings here will continue to be limited. Thanks again to everyone who has been supportive and patient though this process. The end is in sight!
In the meantime, I have begun writing articles for the Huffington Post. Don’t worry, it’s part of my full time job and is not taking away from my Ann-D writing time. The first post I submitted is “The Los Angeles of Herman Schultheis.”
More news soon!
The Long Night is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, May 16th at 6:15am PST.
Today marks what would have been the 80th wedding anniversary of Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton.
On the morning of March 17, 1932, Ann and Leslie boarded a chartered plane from what is now the Bob Hope airport in Burbank, and flew to Yuma, Arizona. They were married by noon. Instead of flying back home immediately, they took a detour to the Agua Caliente resort in Mexico but did not tell anyone. When the couple did not show up at the expected time, and reports of a plane crash started appearing, the worst was feared. The newlyweds finally arrived in the early evening and were greeted by friends, family, and press photographers.
They marriage would last 14 years and during that time, Fenton would prove to have a great deal of influence over his wife. Ann’s pre-War years with Fenton did seem to be her happiest and most secure, and the day she eloped was probably one of the most memorable of her life.
Happy anniversary Ann & Leslie!
I have been a big fan of Tom Tierney’s paper doll books since I was a kid, when my grandma bought me his Vivien Leigh collection. I am now an even bigger fan of Mr. Tierney after coming across his “Movie Mobsters” paper dolls and discovering he included Ann Dvorak as Cesca Camonte in Scarface! The book was published in May of 2011, and how it could have not landed on my Ann-D radar for almost an entire year is a mystery. Oh how I wish I had Mr. Tierney’s talent, so I could create an entire paper doll book devoted to Ann and include such costumes as the “Fish Dress” from Midnight Court, the bird-like thing from Sweet Music, and the poofy-sleeved monstrosity from Merrily We Live.
This delighted me so much that I had to share. OK, back to writing the biography.
(Images reproduced with permission from Tom-Kat Paper Dolls.)
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, March 6th at 8:15 PST.
If you have not seen this one, it’s an Ann Dvorak must!
In our last thrilling installment of “Ann Dvorak Biography Progress Report,” I had submitted the first seven chapters of the book to a prospective publisher for their review. They sent the manuscript to two anonymous readers who quickly sent back their assessments which I received in mid-January. Overall, their comments were very positive and both agreed that a full length book on Ann Dvorak has merit. They both said my research was excellent, and much to my relief, thought my writing was strong. They did have some suggestions and a few criticisms which were totally fair and have helped strengthen the manuscript considerably.
This week, I completed the revisions based on the reader’s comments and have re-submitted it to the publisher. They will now send it back to at least one of the readers for a reassessment. If the response is positive, then it will go before an editorial board who will determine if they want to commit and give me a contract. I have also imposed on myself a September deadline for completing the book. This is the year the damn thing is going to be done!
One of the reader comments, which really stood out for me, stated that there were not enough quotes from Ann herself and it was had to see things from her perspective. I kind of had my suspicions about this, and the reader confirmed it. I went through my sources and realized that I had been incredibly conservative in using quotes from the old movie magazines. I know there are people out there who have a big problem when biographers use these magazines as a source, which is why I was so gun shy. However, while I have some great primary sources for Ann’s later life, these magazine interviews are what exist for the early part of her career.
Author Patrick MacGilligan has been a huge help in guiding me through the writing process. When I posed the question about the legitimacy of the fan magazines, his response was, “Some of the people who wrote for fan magazines were journalists and some of those pieces are honest and factual enough. (Some magazines are better than others, just as some of the journalists are better than others.) I think if they “seem” accurate and journalistic to you that is good enough; you are the Ann Dvorak expert.” After re-evaluating these articles, I have to agree with him and I really think many of them are legit and the quotes ring true with Ann’s voice.
One of the pieces I really grappled with written by a journalist who claimed they had Ann’s journal from her chorus girl days. At first, I completely dismissed it because I could not imagine anyone handing over their diary to a magazine, plus I figured some of the naysayers would crucify me for using it as a source. I did include a small quote from it in the original manuscript, and this was something one of the readers targeted as a great example of Ann’s insight. I went back to the article, which I had only previously skimmed over, and realized that the entries were incredibly detailed and matched up to concrete sources I have. For example, one entry had Ann listing her weekly pay at MGM at $37.50, which her contract confirms. The scheduling of certain productions and gaps in employment coincide with MGM’s records. I supposed the journalist could have taken the time to do this kind of in depth research and create a long list of journal entries, but I really doubt it. The other thing that occurred to me is that while Ann may have not forked over the journal to a reporter, her mother would have in a heartbeat. Ultimately, I decided the source was legitimate and the quotes were too good not to be included.
There have been other articles that do seem generic and fabricated, and those I have not used. Therefore, I will not be sharing Ann Dvorak’s fudge recipe or her personal beauty regimen, but there are many other quotes that are being included after careful evaluation. For those of you who loathe the use of movie magazines as a source, you now have fair warning and may not want to read the book when it comes out.
Since I am now on a deadline and am using most of my spare moments for working on the book, the posts on this website will be minimal for the time being. Thanks to everyone for your continued support. Hopefully, the next progress report will include a confirmation on a publisher.
This week, the Warner Archive, adds The Woman Racket, to its list of “Ann Dvorak MGM Chorus Girl” titles. With this release, they’ve gotten through about half of the known features Ann appeared in back in her chorine days. I am especially impressed that someone over at the Archive caught that Ann is in this one and listed her in their description, something they have failed to do on some of her Warner Bros. films.
Right now, I am in the process of beefing up the chapter in the book about Ann’s MGM period and have been revisiting some of these films, so it’s great that so many of them are now available. If anyone at the Warner Archive is reading this, I certainly hope Ramon Novarro’s Devil May Care is in our future!
The availability of the following titles is not exactly recent news, but still worth reporting, even a few months later.
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, a 1947 period drama based on the Guy de Maupassant novel Bel Ami, is available via Netflix streaming. For years, my copy of this film was so bad that it was barely watchable, and I did not much care for it. However, having viewed a decent print though Netflix, I have revised my opinion. In fact, I found the film so enjoyable that I watched it a second time within a couple of days.
The story revolves around the ever-charming George Sanders as Georges Duroy, a cad and scoundrel who snogs his way up through 1880s Parisian society. Ann Dvorak, is Madeleine Forestier, a prize conquest who still gets thrown over when Sanders moves onto greener pastures. I have yet to see a George Sanders film that wasn’t made completely watchable by his presence, and this is no exception. Madeleine is one of the stronger roles of Ann’s post-war career, and she was so anxious to play the part that she reportedly bought her way out of her contract with Republic Pictures in order to appear in the movie. I am not sure if she thought the film would give her career a big boost, which it didn’t, but Madeleine is an interesting female character and it’s easy to see why Ann coveted the part. On a completely superficial note, this is one of the few times she appeared in period clothing and looks stunning. The film also marked an onscreen reunion of sorts for Ann and Warren William, her long suffering husband in Three on a Match. This would end up being William’s last film. Plus, how can one resist a 22-year-old Angela Lansbury throwing herself at Sanders and dancing her head off?
Incidentally, the film has been remade as Bel Ami, with Uma Thurman in the Ann Dvorak role, and is due to be released in March of this year.
Over at the Internet Archive, four presumably public domain titles are now available for anyone to view.
Gangs of New York (1938) – This has nothing to do with the Martin Scorsese film of the same name and was unavailable for many years. This Republic Production was highly coveted by Sam Fuller fans, as this was one of his early script writing credits. Unfortunately, it’s pretty lame and Ann’s hair and costumes are hideous. Additionally, the cat-fight in the above photo never takes place onscreen. I only recommend this if you are a Charles Bickford completest, though judging from the two reviews posted on the Internet Archive, I may be in the minority in my dislike for this one.
Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937) – Another Republic stinker Ann made shortly after leaving Warner Bros., though it’s not unlike a lot of the tripe she made over in Burbank in the mid-1930s. It’s been years since I have seen it, so I don’t recall the plot (if there was one) but I know Ann is a secretary and loyal girlfriend (yawn) and Gene Autry, Joe DiMaggio, and Cab Calloway show up at some point.
Murder in the Clouds (1934) – Someone must have been asleep at the copyright-wheel over at Warner Bros., because this is the only Dvorak title from that studio which seems to have fallen into the public domain. Ann is the loyal sister and girlfriend to Robert Light & Lyle Talbot in this quickie aviation drama. It’s typical fair for 1930s Ann Dvorak films, but in this one she gets to write out an SOS message on a rooftop which is a slight change of scenery for her.
Abliene Town (1946) – One of a handful of westerns Ann appeared in during the latter half of her career. She wears fancy costumes, gets to sing and dance a bit, and spars with Randolph Scott. Not great, but enjoyable enough and Ann’s characterization of the spunky Rita is what prompts me to think that she may have made a decent Belle Watling.
There’s nothing coming up on TCM for a couple of months, so this should wet your appetite for Ann in the meantime.
Happy New Year!