When it comes to Ann Dvorak, there are two questions I get asked the most. The first is, “Why Ann Dvorak?” and the other is, “What’s your favorite AD film?” Ann made over 50 films in her career, and many of them left a lot to be desired, but there are a few shining gems that in my humble opinion are worth more than one viewing.
Once I drew up the list, I realized they were all from the pre-Code era. Since I don’t want to neglect her later work, I give you these early 1930s gems and will do a separate post for the, um, post-pre-Code films.
Love is a Racket is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, January 11th at 3:00am PST.
Yeah, I’m taking the easy road today.
If I were in Chicago tonight, and could find a baby sitter, you would totally find me at the Portage Theater for a screening of the 1948 20th Century-Fox production, The Walls of Jericho. Presented by the Northwest Chicago Film Society, a 35mm print will be screened of this turn of the century drama starring Cornel Wilde, Anne Baxter, Kirk Douglas, Linda Darnell, and of course, Ann Dvorak.
I re-watched this one recently while writing about it in the Dvorak bio, and must admit that it’s an engaging film. Ann has a very small role, which had become the norm at this point in her career, but as Belle Connors (great name) she is a bitter and caustic drunk with an insecure streak not seen in most of her other characters. Belle is a loathsome person who behaves irrationally most of the time, but through Ann, she does illicit some sympathy as she is clearly battling some major demons. And, she gets to wield a gun!
As much as I adore Ann, the real stand out for me is Linda Darnell. As the conniving and opportunistic Algeria Wedge (another great name), she is delightfully evil while looking fabulous in the period costumes.
You may or may not know that Ann Dvorak was reared in show business. Her father, Edwin McKim was a stage actor and later a film director, but we’ll find out more about him on a later post. He wasn’t in Ann’s life during her formative years, so the true influence was her mother.
This 1934 Murder in the Clouds poster has two distinctions in my collection; it’s the earliest one-sheet I own from an Ann Dvorak film, and it’s the most I ever paid for anything. I won it on an online auction back in 2007 for a whooping $450, and then spent another $100 or so getting it framed with UV filtered plexi and all that jazz. Mind you, while this is the most I have shelled out for an Ann item, I have tried to pay more. I once bid $600 on a lobby card from The Crowd Roars with Ann and James Cagney on it. Sadly (or maybe fortunately), I was not parted with my cash for that piece.
By 1934, Warner Bros. seldom featured Ann on their one-sheets, so the image on the Murder in the Clouds poster is quite extraordinary. I guess that’s why I paid such a crazy amount for it while battling against a fervent Lyle Talbot or aviation fan to get it in my clutches. At this point, the poster also represents a time in my life when I could drop nearly 500 bucks on a piece of movie memorabilia. Now, six years, a child, and a mortgage later, I would be harboring some serious guilt for spending that much. Yes, those carefree days of blowing most of my disposable income on Ann Dvorak may be over, but at least I own some super cool posters!
If you’re taking the time to look at this website, you are probably already aware that Ann Dvorak was a very talented actress. Did you know that Ann was also a champion gardener with an amazing green thumb?
Ann had always shown a preference for the great outdoors, and when she and husband Leslie Fenton purchased a walnut ranch in the San Fernando Valley in 1934, Ann wasted little time erecting a green house. When she wasn’t working her tail off over at Warner Bros., Ann could be found tending to the flora around the ranch. In addition to the greenhouse, Bauer pots filled with colorful flowers covered the property where the main house, guest house, and pool were located. She supposedly grew black orchids and even entered and placed in local flower shows.
After she separated from Leslie Fenton and moved away from the Valley, her homes were still surround by countless plants and flowers. An acquaintance of Ann’s in the early 1970s remembers being impressed with the amount of greenery at her home in Hawaii. It appears this love of nature was one that lasted throughout her life, unlike her passionate flirtation with bacteriology. But, more on that later.
On January 5, 1935, Ann Dvorak and husband Leslie Fenton arrived in the port of Los Angeles on the S.S. Lurline. They were returning from a trip to Hawaii, where they had spent two days on Oahu, and around eleven days sea. So, the couple spent both Christmas and New Year’s afloat on the Pacific.
In typical Fenton fashion, they visited the U.S. Experiment Station for sugar cane, rather than engaging in more traditional touristy activities. However, they did live it up a little by spending their two nights at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, aka the Pink Palace.
When providing information for travel, Fenton identified himself as a writer even though he was still acting and does not seem to have actually published much of anything. Ann lists her year of birth as 1913, but it was actually 1911. I get the impression Ann’s mom could never quite remember what year her daughter was born, and Ann did not confirm it until years later.
The stay may have been short, but the impression was deep and lasting. When Ann and her third husband, Nicholas Wade, decided to moved away from Southern California in the late 1950s, Ann choose Hawaii, and lived their until her death in 1979.
I recently spent a bit of time reliving my wedding on the Ann Dvorak estate five years ago. You’re probably sick of reading about my wedding. If so, you may want to move on and wait for tomorrow’s post. If you’re a hopeless romantic, or just can’t get enough of Ann’s San Fernando Valley estate, the Los Angeles Conservancy has included my submission about it in their new “Share Your Story” feature on their website.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m simply mad about the property even though I can’t afford to own it. I also adore the folks at the Conservancy and the work they do. Back before I was a mom and had more time on my hands, I was a docent on their Broadway Theaters walking tour and actively helped plan the annual Last Remaining Seats event. I successfully pitched the 1932 Scarface for the 2007 line-up and had my peanut-gallery with me to scream our heads off when Ann first popped up on screen. If you ever took my Broadway tour, I am pretty sure it was the only one to talk about how Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr played the Orpheum (now called the Palace) in 1914, or that the Cameo was built by producer William H. Clune who was responsible for the 1916 Ramona, where a four-year-old Ann Dvorak made her film debut.
Ok, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten all this wedding business out of my system…at least for 100 posts or so.
When it comes to Ann Dvorak films, Three on a Match is my absolute favorite, with Scarface as a close second. However, right there at the top of the heap is Heat Lightning, a snappy pre-Code starring Aline MacMahon, Preston Foster, and featuring a who’s who of Warner Bros. contract players like Lyle Talbot, Glenda Farrell, Ruth Donnelly, and Frank McHugh.
When Ann Dvorak was an uncredited chorus girl at MGM, she spent most of her off-time soaking up the sun at the beach. This love affair with the Pacific Ocean would last her entire life, and she ultimately resided in both Malibu and Honolulu.
One sunny day in 1931, MGM photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull accompanied Ann and an0ther contract player to the sandy shores and snapped some publicity shots. Seven decades later one of these photos, provocatively showing the women with their tops pulled down and backs facing the camera was published on a mass produced postcard. While Ann was correctly credited on the postcard, the other gal in the photo was erroneously listed as Raquel Torres. In fact, the other bathing beauty was Marjorie King.