It’s been nine years since my book, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was published, which means it’s been almost a full decade of not having the self inflicted pressure of finishing the biography hanging over me. I had first conceived of writing a book on Ann in late 1997, so I spent fifteen years as a self-proclaimed Ann Dvorak biographer while never being fully confident that I would complete the task. Not having Ann looming over me for almost a decade has been a weird adjustment, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t an ever-present part of my life. My house is FILLED with Ann and I still continue to acquire new items for the collection. I am amazed at how often I am still contacted by people who have discovered Ann and the book (thank you!) and this year I gave my presentation about Ann’s Encino ranch THREE TIMES.
This year also included a fabulous new Ann discovery. Some of you may be aware that I oversee the historic photo collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. This year, we were able to acquire an incredible collection of 35mm slides taken by Jon Verzi, a postal worker who in his spare time took photos of celebrities from the early 1960s thru the mid 1990s. The collection, which has somewhere like 12,000 slides has most people you could think of: Marilyn, Elvis, RFK, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Harrison Ford (shirtless during his carpenter days), Gloria Swanson, Aretha Franklin, Brad Pitt, etc, etc, ETC. Amazingly, he also captured Ann.
The above photo is from 1971 in Hawaii. I have a snapshot of Ann (included in the biography) with that same fence in the background, so this means that Verzi knocked on her door and she let him in. Judging from the expressions in these photos, he seems to have been someone people responded positively to. I love this photo. Ann was just shy of 60 when it was taken, and while it’s not the Ann Dvorak of the 1930s/40s that we’re used to, it’s undeniably her with those Dvorak eyes and the mole on the left side of her upper lip. When I look at this Ann, I see the hard-earned wisdom of her six decades, but also a great deal of dignity. I have to admit that the way she is posed and looking at the camera reminds me of my Grandma Mary who was of that era, so I do have affection for these rare photos of Ann in her later tears.
Today marks forty-three years since Ann left us, so it’s a great day to watch one of her films and remember this marvelous woman and actress.
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!
Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 111th birthday. This year also marks my 25th year of collecting on and researching Ann. I could have never imagined back then that this woman who I never met could have such a profound impact on the course of my life, but she has and I am grateful for it. Happy Birthday to the Divine Miss D!
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 marks 41 years since the divine Ann Dvorak left this world. It also marks two years since I’ve posted on this site. I didn’t mean to take such long a hiatus, but you know…life and all that. Besides my library job and raising a kid who turned 10(!) this year, I have also been fairly consumed with finishing up my Jane Russell biography which is due out next June from University Press of Kentucky. My family also recently launched a podcast called Little Miss Movies. We’d love for you to take a listen!
Just because I haven’t been posting doesn’t mean I’ve been neglecting this website. In fact, I FINALLY finished updating all of the film pages, something I had started with the redesign three years ago. I’ve also started updating and adding gallery pages including dedicated ones to Ann at home and her honeymoon with Leslie Fenton in 1932/33. The one thing that remains is updating the page on Anna Lehr, but after that, the redesign will pretty much be finished!
Christmas came early this year as Adam Roche over at the Attaboy Clarence podcast invited me on to talk about “Queen Ann.” It’s been seven years since the book came out, so it was exhilarating to have a conversation about my favorite topic once again. Don’t be deceived by my silence here, I remain as dedicated to Ann as I have always been and hope this site will continue to be the ultimate Ann Dvorak resource.
Wishing all you Dvorak devotees a sane holiday season as we stare down this end of this lousy year. Stay safe and watch an Ann Dvorak flick for me!
Today marks 39 years since our beloved Ann Dvorak passed away in Honolulu at the age of 68. I know my life has been much more interesting and fulfilling because of her.
Please enjoy this wonderful Ann slideshow, courtesy of PTA Blues!
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.
When Ann Dvorak: Hollywoodâ€™s Forgotten Rebel was released in November 2013, I was often asked, â€œwho are you going to write a book on next?â€ At the time, my answer was an emphatic â€œNo one!â€ It had taken me 15 years to research and write the book on Ann and I simply could not conceive of tackling a similar project on someone else. Instead, I went the opposite route and started writing issues of the My Little Pony comic book series.
After a spell, Patrick McGilligan over at the University Press of Kenucky asked me if I had considered writing a follow-up book. By that time, I had thawed on the idea of never writing another biography and was open to it. I told him I found Aline MacMahon fascinating, to while he replied, â€œWeâ€™d like to see you write about someone less obscure than Ann Dvorak. How about Jane Russell?â€
How about Jane Russell? I have to admit that I had never given much thought to Jane Russell. Sure, I LOVED her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and was vaguely familiar with all the hoopla surrounding Howard Hughes and The Outlaw, but otherwise I knew nothing about Jane. Ok, I did remember those Playtex bra commercials from when I was a kid. I found the suggestion intriguing and started exploring the life and career of Jane Russell.
What did I discover? Jane Russell is fascinating! Despite being discovered by Howard Hughes in 1940, Jane only had 3 movies released the entire decade, but managed to hold the publicâ€™s attention all that time, largely by being one of the favorite pin-ups of servicemen. While the marketing of Jane Russell was some of the most overtly sexual in Hollywood history, offscreen Jane was extremely spiritual and an avid student of the Bible. Jane worked with some of the eraâ€™s most notable directorâ€™s and actors, but considered her work as an adoption advocate to be her greatest accomplishment. It didnâ€™t take long for me to get hooked on Jane and commit to another book.
I am please to present the official website for Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. Please check it out! If youâ€™re a Jane Russell fan, I hope this is exciting news. If youâ€™re not that familiar with Jane, I hope this book will make you a fan.
What does the mean for Ann Dvorak? Ann has been a major part of my life for over 20 years and that is not going to change. I’ll be obsessed with that glorious dame for the rest of my days!
A few weeks back, someone emailed me to say they spotted Ann in the MGM John Gilbert feature The Phantom of Paris. Sure enough, she was there! This got me thinking that I should probably go back and really scrutinize MGM’s titles from 1929-1931, when Ann was under contract as a dancer and extra. I had explored the short-features of the time and uncovered quite a few of those titles Ann had appeared in, but had largely depended on existing filmographies for her feature appearances.
This weekend, I started taking a closer look at the MGM flicks, and lo and behold – I found the above image from The Great Meadow (1931) starring Johnny Mack Brown and Eleanor Boardman. Who do you think is standing behind the two stars? That’s right, our own Ann-D!
To top off this exciting discovery (well, exciting for me at least), the Warner Archive is releasing The Great Meadow later this month!
I’ve placed my pre-order and will report back and verify that Ann actually has screen time in the final release. Fingers crossed that as I continue to go over the MGM titles with a fine-toothed-comb, I’ll dig up more Ann!
Bad news! It’s at 9:45pm (sorry, I’m not the night owl I used to be).
Good news! John Carpenter is introducing it!
This will only be the 4th TCM Film Festival I have attended, but I am fairly certain this is Ann Dvorak’s 1st. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Scarface on the big screen so many times I’ve lost count. However, seeing Ann on the big screen is something I cannot pass up, so you know where you can find me this Saturday in the waning hours of the day. Please don’t mind when I make a loud fuss the first time she shows up.
Viva Ann Dvorak!