Dvorak Biography Progress Report #1

So, for the past few years I have been working on an Ann Dvorak biography. In 1997, I started collecting memorabilia from Ann’s films and at the time thought I should probably write a book.  I did not really get serious about the project until 2002 which is when I launched the previous version of this website and started researching Ann’s life and career in ernest.

Late last year, I finally started writing the book itself which has proven to be a fairly grueling experience. Surrounded by stacks of notes, photocopies, books, magazines, and other assorted documents, I am sometimes reminded of my last semester of grad school when I was holed up in my tiny apartment with only Thelma Kitty and the sound of  Betty Hutton recordings to keep me company as I frantically wrote two lengthy research papers on the fate of the library profession. I do admit that I am not exactly on a deadline and writing about Ann Dvorak is far more interesting than composing twenty pages on library security, but it still requires a certain amount of discipline that I have yet to master. In my defense, I do have a full time job and a husband who wants nothing more than to cuddle up after work and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but at this point I really want to be done with the book.

Over the years, a number of people have contacted me through this website to ask how the book is coming, and I usually feel a bit guilty by my lack of progress. As a motivating factor, I figured I would start posting progress reports which hopefully will shame me into picking up the pace. Without further ado here is the first progress report on the Ann Dvorak biography.

Progress Report #1

At this time, I have written a little over 9,000 words. The first chapter focuses on Ann’s parents who were both vaudvillians and were involved with the early film industry. Since this is probably the only time anyone is going to really explore the careers of Edwin McKim and Anna Lehr, I feel strongly about discussing them in some detail. However, writing about stage performances from a hundred years ago and lost silent films has proven to be challenging and I think I relied too heavily on quoting newspaper reviews, which can quickly become boring. I really struggled with this chapter and will definitely need to go back and rewrite parts of  it.

Ann officially enters the picture in Chapter Two which talks about her early childhood, including the three films she appeared in, and her time spent in New York schools. The next chapter finds Ann living in Southern California with her mom and step dad, attending a private school, and her attempts at launching a journalism career after graduating.

I am now in the middle of the fourth Chapter where Ann has been hired as a chorine by M-G-M, and The Hollywood Revue of 1929 has premiered.  This chapter will continue with her stint as a dancer on the Metro lot and some discussion of her more notable films there, as well as her inability to get the studio to cast her in more substantial roles.

Well, that’s the end of the first progress report. Hard to believe I have been officially writing for a few months, and am only up to 1929. Now that Ann is entering adulthood and I am getting to the part of her life and career that I am familiar with, I should be able to crank her story out a bit faster. Thanks to all of you who have been patiently waiting to read Ann’s story, and for all the encouragement you have given me over the years.

Progress Report #2 to come soon!


  1. Cliff Aliperti June 11, 2009

    This is very interesting, best of luck with it going forward. I’ll be watching closely as I have a similar goal in mind (way down the line!) for Warren William.

    I’m curious, have you contacted anyone who worked with or knew Dvorak? Have you found this blog to be a good way to organize some of the basic ideas that will eventually go into the book–that’s what I’m hoping to use mine for as it develops further.

    Thanks for sharing this, as I said I’ll be reading with great interest!

  2. admin June 12, 2009

    Hi Cliff – Thanks for the encouragement!

    I have had very little luck finding anyone who knew Ann. The handful of actors I have spoken with did not spend much time working with her, and the films she was in were usually unmemorable. I found two guys in Hawaii who knew her later on and one gentleman here in L.A. who took her and her mother out to dinner in the late 1960s, which is a great story. My inability to find acquaintances has almost become comical, except I am paranoid people are going to think my biography is terrible from a lack of quotes from people who knew her. Also, Ann had no close family which is another big stumbling block. It looks like you may have similar difficulties with Warren William, though readers may cut you some slack since he passed away so long ago.

    I do not update the blog as much as I would like, but it has definitely gotten me used to writing on a regular basis and has helped me to think ahead about aspects of Ann’s life and career I want to cover in the biography. Over the years, the website has been a great way to connect with other fans, who have swapped films and info with me. I also had someone contact me through the site who gave me correspondence written by Ann’s mom which is an amazing resource, so running a tribute site can payoff in a number of different ways.

    Best of luck with the Warren William project. It is always great to see lesser known actors get some attention. I work at the Los Angeles Public Library, so if you ever hit any research snags, please let me know. Thanks for including my blog posts in your Twitter feeds!


  3. Cliff Aliperti June 22, 2009

    Hi Christina,

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, the family issue (William and his wife had no children) seems to be a big stumbling block, and I feel part of why these stars aren’t as well remembered as they might be.

    No problem, re: Twitter, as long as I have time to go through my reader I’m more than willing to share interesting movie items from the 30’s and 40’s.

    You never know, I might take you up on that Library offer one of these days. Still finding some items here and there online and in online archives though. Thanks!


  4. Cliff Aliperti July 3, 2009

    Hi Christina,

    Just wanted to say what a pleasant surprise it was and to congratulate you on the coverage you received in the July 2009 issue of Classic Images magazine.

    It’s funny, I’d just connected with “Book Points” column author Laura Wagner on LinkedIn and she sent me a couple of sample issues because I hadn’t seen one in awhile–then I was paging through today and I jumped off my couch saying, “Wait, that’s anndvorak.com she’s talking about!”

    Anyway, lots of helpful points from you in that interview as well to add to what you’ve shared here. Thanks so much and congrats on the press again —


  5. admin July 3, 2009

    Thanks Cliff! Laura is the single most knowledgeable classic film fan I have ever met and has been my biggest cheerleader for years.

    After I submitted the piece, I realized that I had not really emphasized how important the collecting has been to the overall process. With someone like Ann who left behind no personal papers, being able to find letters, film contracts, candid photos, etc on the collectibles market has really helped me piece her life together.

    Thanks again for the encouragement!

  6. Christina July 7, 2009

    Thanks for the progress reports… we’re all anxiously waiting for the book… 🙂

  7. Carrie July 27, 2009

    Would you consider making the section on the careers of Ann’s parents an appendix, rather than having it as the first chapter? Speaking personally, this reader would enjoy getting straight down to the story of Ann; and then, having read that, learn about the couple who preceded her on stage and film.

    Whatever you decide, I know you’re going to do a marvelous job with the biography. I’ve just read your BOOK TALK article in the July issue of “Classic Images”, and found it both interesting and–better still–enjoyable. Never did I pause to count the number of paragraphs yet to be read, as I sometimes do with other writers. You’ll make the cut–and how!


  8. admin July 27, 2009

    Hi Carrie – Thanks for reading the Classic Images piece. Since Ann’s parents clearly influenced her decision to become an actress and her work in film as a child coincides with their careers, I feel Edwin McKim, and especially Anna Lehr deserve more than just being a footnote in the back of the book. I won’t be offended if you skip the first chapter though! Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *