“Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel” Reviewed by Laura Wagner in “Classic Images” (Yes, That Laura Wagner)
First off, sorry for being absent the last month or so and missing out on some Dvorak TCM screenings. With the hubby getting staffed as a writer on a network show and the kidlet starting Kindergarten, there’s been some major upheaval and adjustment in the homestead. Rest assured, the Divine Ms. D is never too far from my thoughts!
Now, onto Ann. Even though the biography came out nearly two years ago, reviews still pop up every now and then. The September issue of Classic Images features a thoughtful, and thankfully positive review by resident reviewer Laura Wagner.
Those of you who are regular readers of Classic Images are no doubt familiar with Laura’s reviews and have probably figured out that she is very knowledgeable about Hollywood cinema and has very strong opinions about the books she reviews, be it positive or negative. This has earned her a reputation among both authors and readers who themselves have developed equally strong positive or negative opinions about Laura.
I have known Laura for well over a decade now, and consider myself very lucky to call her a friend. We were introduced back when she was working on her Dvorak chapter for Killer Tomatoes. I was so far away from finishing the biography, that I shared everything I had found up to that point with Laura. We ended up forging a bond over how seemingly impossible a subject Ann Dvorak was to research.
When her book came out in 2004, she included a lovely note about me in the acknowledgments. I was happy to return that courtesy in my book. Because Laura was thanked in the Dvorak biography, I ended up receiving three of four pieces of “hate mail” (not sure what else to call them) that arrived at my place of employment via snail mail. People actually took the time to write nasty notes and mail them to my work because of someone I thanked in my book (people actually read the acknowledgements?)! These notes said horrible things about Laura, and one person proclaimed they were going to recommend my book to their friend who was a writer for a local publication, but decided not to. This was not based on the merit of the text, but rather because I thanked Laura (I ended up being interviewed for that publication anyway). I have to admit, I was taken aback by this strong reaction and really didn’t appreciate receiving these letters, though in the past I have joked with Laura that much like Spiderman, being friends with her might make me a target by her enemies.
Whatever issues people may have with Laura and her reviews, my acknowledgement in the book is based solely on my personal interactions with her over many, many years rather than other people’s perceptions of her. As I slogged through the Dvorak book, she was probably my biggest cheerleader. Any scrap of info on Ann she came across was passed onto me, and any industry person she came in contact with was asked about Ann. She listened to me bitch about my comedic love life and was genuinely happy for me when I finally met my husband. When I found out I was pregnant, Laura was just as excited for me as any member of my family, and she was there for me when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. When I showed a passing interest in Miriam Hopkins and Virginia Field, original film stills started showing up in the mail from Laura’s personal collection. When I was getting ready to publish Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, Laura fact-checked every last mention of everything movie related, along with the spelling of every studio, film title, and actor, all while caring for her ailing mother. Laura received that acknowledgment because she genuinely is my friend and is one of the most caring and generous people I know.
No, this side of Laura doesn’t necessarily come through in her book reviews. What does come through is her passion for film and a personal integrity that has gotten her into hot water at times with people who take exception to her negative reviews. Was I nervous to have her review my book? Hell yes! Being her friend did not guarantee a positive review and if she honestly thought the Ann Dvorak book was less than stellar, she would have said so. You know what? I would have taken it like an adult, moved on, and would still be her friend. For her, it’s business not personal.
Admittedly with Ann the bio, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, but I am not immune to bad reviews. The past year and a half, I have been writing issues of the My Little Pony comic books. There are people out there who are just as passionate about MLP as some of us are about classic films, and while many readers do enjoy my issues, others have absolutely trashed them and gleefully proclaim they hate everything I write. Does it hurt to have something I’ve worked really hard on get torn apart? Absolutely! One bad review will easily negate five good ones in my headspace and it’s really easy to dwell on a negative reaction, get angry, and secretly damn the reviewer to hell (which I’ve done). However, I would never actually write a nasty response to the reviewer or the editor of the publication/website who ran the bad review, let alone harass the reviewer’s friends. If you’re going to put yourself out there as a writer, then negative feedback is part of the equation. Sure, it’s a rotten and unwelcome part of the equation, but it’s there and I personally don’t see how launching into personal battles with people who don’t like my work will amount to much of anything other than stress and grief, and probably more so on my end, then their’s. Plus, that would just detract me from doing what I really want to be doing – writing.
As I have detailed before on this site, Ann Dvorak has brought some wonderful people into my life and Laura Wagner is certainly one of them. Having her write a good review in Classic Images is a nice fringe benefit, but wasn’t necessary and was completely unexpected. For those who have not seen the side I Laura I have, that’s a shame, but there’s nothing anyone can say that will change my opinion of her or negate the friendship I have shared with her for dozen years. In other words, please don’t send me hate mail!
And don’t forget to read Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. 😀