In November of 2002, I was in graduate school, earning my MLIS to become a librarian while working a full time job as an Executive Secretary at the Ralphs Grocery Co. main office in Compton. I had been collecting on Ann Dvorak for around five years and had proclaimed myself to be her biographer even though I had no idea how to research and write a book. What I had done at some point was purchase the domain “anndvorak.com.” Even though I knew as much about website design as I did biography writing, I was determined to launch the world’s first website devoted to Ann Dvorak.
My computer had Microsoft FrontPage on it, so I stumbled around and managed to design a semi-coherent site devoted to the Divine Ms. Dvorak. Was it elegant? No. But I loved the Thistle-colored background and Georgia font. I amazed myself by getting the site launched in November 2002. What was even more amazing is that I was so damn proud of the site that I overcame my severe social anxiety in order to promote it. I found that I believed so strongly in Ann and wanted people to know about her, that I could promote the website to anyone, even if they were a complete stranger. And you know what? Most people were actually interested in hearing about her and my little site. Because of her, I found my voice. I even printed out AnnDvorak.com business cards and handed them out.
Fast forward a handful of years and the site, while still a treasure trove of Ann, was pretty dated. When I first met my husband in 2006, I eagerly asked him what he thought of my site. “It’s looks like a website designed in Microsoft FrontPage circa 2002,” was the reply. Fair enough. A year later he helped me migrate the site onto WordPress where I could actually post updates on a regular basis via the blog feature. This ended up being key to promoting my Ann Dvorak biography via the “Year of Ann Dvorak,” where I did a fairly in-depth post for 365 days straight in 2013. Not my smartest idea!
After the book came out, other writing projects sprung up, along with parenting, so there was less time to post updates. So, in 2017 I decided the site needed a fresh look with less emphasis on the posts, so that’s where we are with the current design. Even though I don’t post like I used to, I’m still mad about Ann and continue to collect on her. It’s rather stunning that the site has been up for a full two decades and even though how it’s personally functioned for me over the years has changed, it will always serve its primary function – to celebrate the fabulous Ann Dvorak!
Anyone who has been acquainted with me for any length of time knows that there are two places I love above all others – the defunct (and sadly now demolished) Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, and “Ann Land,” which is my nickname for the parcel of property in Encino that Ann Dvorak and husband Leslie Fenton developed and lived on from 1934-1945.
I’ve written about it many times on this site, but just to recap, it was originally a 35ish-acre walnut ranch, subdivided into three parcels and sold after Ann and Fenton separated in the mid-1940s. The heart of the property, which included structures and landscaping, was sold to crooner Andy Russell and his wife Della. The rest of the land would ultimately be developed into a multi-residence neighborhood. By the time I first set foot on the property, in 2006, it had changed ownership two more times: first to Al Teeter, a music editor at Disney, and later to Dr. Arnold Scheibel who had owned the property for 47 year when I first met him. Though suffering from deferred maintenance, the property was still stunning and looked very much like it did when Ann lived there. A year later, my husband and I would have our wedding on Ann Land.
When Arne retired from his position at UCLA in 2011 and got ready to relocate to the Bay Area, my husband and I tried to figure out a way to purchase it, but two acres in Encino and the amount of repair work needed was well beyond our means. The property never went on the market but was instead sold to a neighborhood couple who Arne trusted would do their best to restore it. In 2014, Glen and Penny generously invited me to tour the acreage with them. However, they were in the midst of the renovation, so the house was stripped down to the studs and much of the garden incomplete. It was the wrong time for me to visit, and I am ashamed to admit that I burst out crying in front of them. Not a few tears, mind you, but full-blown ugly sobbing. As I tearfully departed, I felt confident that I would never return. Not only was I embarrassed by my inability to contain such a visceral reaction, but I thought returning to a place that had been so irrevocably altered would be too painful. Glen was kind enough to inform me when Arne passed away in 2017, but otherwise I thought my time with Ann Land was complete.
A couple of months back, Penny got in touch because Ventura Blvd Magazine was going to be doing a feature on the gardens, and she hoped I would be willing to speak with the reporter about Ann. I don’t have to be asked twice to talk anyone about the Divine Miz Dvorak! I was also invited to come and visit the property which I was less enthusiastic about. However, my daughter, who is almost 12 and only visited Ann Land when she was a baby, was eager to see the place she has heard so much about. I relented, and what I thought would be an hour visit, turned into a five hour one! While I still can’t say I am thrilled with some of the changes that were made to the house, the gardens are impeccable and it’s evident how much love and care they have put into the land and Ann’s memory. And ultimately, the gardens, which were so carefully curated by Ann, are the soul of the property. Arne could not have chosen better people to be the custodians of this special place, and I like to think that Ann has brought yet two more wonderful friends into my life. I especially love that the gates at street level are replicas of the original property gates. What a wonderful touch!
The issue of Ventura Blvd. hit the newsstands a couple of weeks ago featuring a breathtaking image of Ann’s greenhouse on the cover. As you can see, the photos capture the majesty of the place and the article pays such a lovely tribute Ann. It’s wonderful that her legacy lives on in so many difference ways and through so many different people.
Read the full article here: venturablvd.goldenstate.is/a-historic-estate-in-encino-gets-a-loving-makeover/
My photo of Ann Land are compiled on this page: www.anndvorak.com/cms/galleries/ann-at-home/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Last month I participated in a women in comics panel at local library, and was introduced to the parents of a fellow panelist. The dad mentioned he was a neuroscientist, and I immediately responded with my only frame of reference; Ann Dvorak’s 1934 ranch house was later purchased by a UCLA professor of neurology who allowed my husband and me to have our wedding there. When I followed up that the owner of the house was Arnold Scheibel, the man got wide-eyed and said, “Wow. He’s a big deal in the field.”
Knowing next to nothing about neuroscience, I’ll have to take his word for it, but I can certainly speak for myself in affirming that Arne was indeed a big deal. He was someone who opened up his home to me on multiple occasions, and later extended the invitation for all my friends and family. He preserved part of Ann’s legacy by making sure her home stayed intact for the 50 years he inhabited it, and also contributed to her story by corresponding with Ann directly in the 1960s and then handing those letters over to me for the Ann Dvorak biography.
Dr. Arnold Scheibel passed away this week at the age of 94.
During my quest to document Ann Dvorak’s life, I came across many people who I otherwise would have never encountered. Arne was certainly one of them, and I will forever be grateful that Ann brought such an intelligent, kind, and gracious man into my life. I will treasure the time we spent chatting while sitting in front of the picture window looking out over the grounds Ann built, or discussing her during the many walks we took around the property. He didn’t need to let a complete stranger into his life, but he did so without hesitation.
Arne was truly a great man and had a hell of life. Thank you Ann Dvorak for making it possible for me to call this man my friend.
Ford & Fisher take a break from filming the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. (AP/George Brich)
The duel deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds last week were such a blow that I popped a blood vessel in my eye from crying so much. For some, it might be hard to understand how the deaths of people we didnâ€™t know personally can affect us on such a personal level, but sometimes they just do.
Carrie, in the form of Princess Leia, was my first hero (you can read my tribute to her over at my author website). When I later realized that Leia was in fact a character portrayed by a real person, my first cinefile passion project was launched as I tried to see every film she had made. I even watched Shampoo in its entirety, even though I was nine didnâ€™t know what the hell was going on. Carrie went on to have many struggles and so publicly shared her personal insecurities, but she was still this heroic mythical being to me.
When her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist came out in November, I was aware that it would include mention of the 3-month affair Fisher had with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars. I wasnâ€™t surprised by this revelation. Even as a kid I could read her face as she gazed at him during public appearances. What I wasnâ€™t expecting was that the diary entries reproduced in the book are almost exclusively centered on the relationship, which sounds like it was purely physical for Ford while very emotional for Fisher. Here she was, only 19-years-old and in her first starring film role, finally establishing herself independent of her famous mother, yet she was completely consumed with was having fallen for this emotionally (and legally, he was married) unavailable man.
I found the book very hard to read because the raw emotions presented were all too familiar. I was 19-20 when I first fell hard for a guy, and Fisherâ€™s book brought all of those long suppressed memories. Sure, I had had crushes along the way, but this was the real deal. Unfortunately, (or in retrospect, fortunately) the feelings were not reciprocated, though he did keep me around long enough to boost his ego and have me write a few of his college assignments for him. Yes, I once read an entire book on Bolivia in the name of love (or something). There would be other loves and additional heartbreak, but nothing that matched that period when I was wallowing in the all consuming depths of first rejection while listening to The White Album, which for some reason reflected my mood. What I took away from The Princess Diarist was; our movie gods are all too human, and 19-20 is a terrible age to fall in love.
Which brings us to Ann Dvorak.
Ann was 20 when she fell in love for the first time, and to say it was all-consuming might be an understatement. Leslie Fenton became her sun, moon, stars, and earth and arguably is the reason her career stalled and then slowly fizzled for two decades. I think she experienced the most extreme emotional highs of her life during her marriage to Fenton. However, long after the dissolution of the relationship and in looking back on her life, she did express regret at sacrificing her career for love when she was so young and Hollywood was promising so much.
I have sometimes thought about what I would have done had I been in Annâ€™s shoes in 1932 when Leslie Fenton convinced her to breach her Warner Bros. contract and traipse around Europe. Had I been 25 or 30 (or older), hell no. I would have had my eye on the career prize. But at 20? I would have been on that boat so quick Jack Warnerâ€™s head would have flown off from spinning so fast.
All in all, I made out ok with my first encounter with uncontrollable love, lust, or whatever it was. Other than wounded pride and bitter cynicism about romantic relationships that lasted a few years I was able to move on, marry an amazing man, and havenâ€™t seen that other guy in 20 years. Fisher on the other hand, spent the last 40 years being tied to Ford through Star Wars, and Ann, well â€“ we know how Ann and Leslie Fentonâ€™s story ultimately played out.
This week, I raise a glass to Ms. Fisher and Ms. Dvorak. My two movie heroes who turned out to be human after all.
After years of avoiding the annual TCM Film Fest, I took the plunge last year and fear I am forever hooked. It’s a whirlwind weekend of classic films, classic film stars, and classic film fans which is a paradise for someone like me who has been enamored with Golden Age cinema since I was a kid, but didn’t find people to connect with until I was an adult.
This year ended up being relatively light compared to last year’s inaugural visit. The nice thing about living ten minutes away from Hollywood is that I don’t have to travel or spend money on accommodations. On the flip side, my day-to-day responsibilities are not too far away and being so close to home ends up making me less immersed and connected to the activities than a lot of the other participants. Still, I once again had a fantastic time.
First off, there’s the films. One of my main goals with TCMFF is to see movies I have never seen before and I was 100% successful this year. I only managed to catch six films this year, but I was pleased with my choices which were:
Of course, TCMFF is as much about the people as it is the films. The great thing about the folks who attend the festival is that they are the type of film fans who just genuinely love film and want to wax ecstatic about it, rather than snootily demonstrating their vast knowledge to anyone who will listen. Many of the people who attend the festival are part of the robust online community of classic film fans, so it was great to briefly connect or reconnect with Jessica, Angela, Danny, Laura, Kristina, KC, Karen, Emily, Beth Ann, Raquel, Kellee, Jill, and many others.
We’re at a movie at 9 in the morning!
Probably the biggest highlight of TCMFF is spending a few days being total movie geeks with my dear friend Darin. Once upon a time, we were an inseparable Will & Grace, and while we both relish in the lives we’ve created for ourselves separately, it’s still great to spend a a few days talking about Ann Dvorak and Norma Shearer ad nauseam (well, maybe for those around us. We never get tired of Ann and Norma).
I can’t really think of a good Ann Dvorak connection for this year’s festival so this is a decidedly un-Dvorak post. All I have to say to that is – Hey TCM! Show an Ann Dvorak film next year!
My daughter started elementary school this year, which has been fine for her, but overwhelming for me with PTA this and that (and I barely do anything with the PTA), along with my stupid, yet enjoyable decision to be a Girl Scout troop co-leader. In other words, it feels like we are constantly on the go and seldom slow down. So, when my daughter sent me the above email after three nights of not being tucked in by mom, I threw in the TCMFF towel and instead stayed home for Cuddlefest all day on Sunday.
It was worth it.
WhenÂ Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was first published, I was warned by fellow authors that people would start coming out of the woodwork with great stories and info about Ann. Now that we’re over two years removed from the publication date, I am happy to report this has not happened. Well, it hadn’t happened until recently.
Those of you Dvorak devotees who still check in here have probably noticed that the posts have slowed down to a trickle. It’s not that my love of Ann has waned, far from it, though now that we’re two years removed from the release ofÂ Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, she’s not quite as much of a focus. Plus, I have taken on weird responsibilities in my life like Girl Scout Troop Co-Leader, so my time is getting spread increasingly thinner.
Also, I have decided to undertake a new biography project. I am not quite ready to announce anything yet, but I am getting into the thick of it enough that it is certainly cutting into my time to post here. Before I drop completely off the face of this website (well, not completely – I’ll be sure to post any major Ann news), I thought I would write a post I have been meaning to do for awhile.
Now that I have gone through the process of writing and publishing a Hollywood biography, I’ll occasionally be contacted by people who are thinking of doing the same and want to know what may be in store for them. Since I work at a research institution and oversee a photo archive, I have gained some additional perspective into the process. I am sure every writer’s experience is unique, so this is just some insight into my personal experience that hopefully can be some useful food for thought for anyone considering undertaking a similar project.
As noble and important as film scholarship is, a major thing to be aware of is that writing a full-length biography is going to cost money. Most likelyÂ it will be the author who shoulders this cost, unless you’re one of those lucky souls who can land a publisher who still pays advances (I was not one of those lucky souls). This business of writing a biography is what I wanted to focus on with this post.
We are currently living in a golden age for researchers, which becomes bigger and better everyday. Institutions, corporations, government entities, and individuals are digitizing materials at an astounding rate and access to content from around the world is at our fingertips. I started researching Ann Dvorak right on the cusp of the digital revolution, so much of the material I had to access through “traditional” time consuming methods is now available in mere minutes. However, despite the leaps and strides that the online realm makes on a regular basis, not everything is available online, far from it. More than likely, trips to libraries, archives, and government agencies are going to be necessary to create a complete picture of a person’s life.
For Ann Dvorak, my chapters about her time at MGM and Warner Bros. would be anemic had I not spent an extensive amount of time utilizing their primary source archives at USC. It’s been fifteen years since my first visit to USC, and these materials are still not available online. Court documents provided valuable insight into Ann’s legal case against Warner Bros, as well as her very troubled marriage to Nick Wade. Real estate records also revealed a great deal about Ann’s time inÂ Los Angeles and Hawaiian probate records helped flesh out Ann’s final years. The New York Public Library had clippings and photos relating to Ann’s parents that were vital to telling their story. I could go on and on, but you probably get the point.
This vital research costs money in the form of time off of work, photocopying expenses, travel expenses, and probably a few other areas. Sometimes, things that have been digitized still cost money to access. I am fortunate that the library I work at subscribes to some historic newspapers databases, but there are many we don’t have. I have certainly paid money to access digitized materials over the years. For Ann Dvorak, I made multiple trips to Hawaii and New York and one visit to London for my research, so yes, it was an expensive endeavor. For those of you that are not able to travel, libraries maintain lists of researchers for hire. Utilizing their services may be cheaper than traveling somewhere, but be prepared to pay them a fair rate which they certainly deserve.
What you should not expect from librarians is that they do the research for you. Some institutions, like the New York Public Library offer fee-based research services, but generally libraries are understaffed and are not able to undertake massive research projects for out-of-town authors. For the library I work at, we can handle basic reference questions and our job is to be able to help you locate the materials you are looking for. We cannot compile all that research for you which is very, very time consuming. Not that this stops people from begging or yelling at us, but please realize that if you are not prepared to travel in the name of research, then be prepared to hire a researcher.
If you’re like me, the first thing you do when cracking open a new biography is thumb through and look at the photos. People love photos, and why shouldn’t they? Images truly help tell a full story and every biography should have a great selection of photos. However, photos can end up being a HUGE expense. Not only do institutions and commercial enterprises charge reproduction fees, but they will also charge additional fees based on how the image is being used and this can add up fast.
Fortunately, images of film stars are plentiful and depending on the time period, probably out of copyright (University Press of Kentucky has a great guide toÂ this on page 11). This makes buying original photos on eBay an option that may be cheaper than going through a photo archive. This does not mean the photos won’t end up costing a lot. I only acquired a handful of images of Ann Dvorak from institutions, soÂ most of the photos in the book are from my personal collection. Even so, I probably spent between $2,600 – $3,000 for the images used, not including travel expenses as some of the photos were purchased on trips to New York and Hawaii. That cost was less painful for me, since it was spread out over 15 years, but it’s still a chunk of change.
If you are starting research for a biography, and money is a big issue, I strongly recommend setting aside a few bucks a week into a photo fund. Researching someone’s life doesn’t need to take 15 years, but it should take a least a year or two. Setting aside a bit here and there will result in some sort of photo budget when the time comes. As a photo archivist, I strongly suggest your photo plan NOT be to yell at and browbeat the employee at the photo archive. My assistant and I have been subjected to so much abuse from people not wanting to pay fees, that we’re both hollow and desensitized to any amount of begging or yelling. I can’t speak for other institutions, but the fees we collect directly support our ability to preserve and digitize the photos in the collection, which is something I take seriously.Â I would not waive these fees for my own my mother (not that she would even ask, because she knows better).
Another option is to seek out other collectors who have photos in their personal collections. Over the years, I have been contacted by biographers writing about Ann’s co-stars and am more than happy to provide publishable scans in exchange for credit in the book.
While the cost of photos is a harsh reality, it’s really necessary. There was a biographyÂ that came out on a couple of years back on a Los Angeles figure. The author regarded it as his life’s work, but didn’t want to pay money for images. The book came to be known as “that one without any photos,” and discussions about it never made it past a conversation about the importance of photos.
Pony up, it’s worth it.
I did a whole post on indexes a while back which you can read here. I am a strong advocate of a strong index and was actually surprised that this was not a service provided by my publisher. Yes, I was lucky that a close friend of mine has a background in cataloging, which made indexing easy for her. Plus, she indexed my book at no charge. Had she not been available, I would have probably paid someone, which can run in the $2,000 rage. I do not recommend using an indexing software which produces a final product that is superficial and unhelpful. If you’re going through the time an expense to research and write a book, you want it so be useful for years to come and a well crafted indexÂ is key to that.
While the publisher did not provide me with an index, they did give me a copy editor, layout designer, and graphic designer to work with. TheÂ Ann Dvorak book looks fantastic because of them. If you’re going the self-publishing route, you are going to need to pay someone for these services. Even if you think you can do this on your own, if you don’t have a background in one of these areas, forget it. These people are paid professionals for a reason. They trained to do these jobs, and will do them infinitely better than you and I ever could. Here at the library, we frequently have authors wanting to get their self-published books into the collection. While some are certainly worthwhile additions, more often then not these books have huge quality control issues which will eliminate them from consideration. I sometimesÂ get asked if would self-publish and the answer is an emphatic no. The editorial and production services my publisher provided far outweighed any benefits from self-publishing, though again, that’s just my personal experience.
Well that’s all the wisdom I have to offer at this point, which I hope is helpful. If you’re thinking of writing a biography of a film personality, I fully encourage it, but just be aware that there may be a bit more to it that you think.
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 Â Classic ImagesÂ Â 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 readÂ Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.Â 😀