ANN DVORAK: HOLLYWOOD’S FORGOTTEN REBEL

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           A warm welcome to Christina Rice,the author of a soon to be released biography of ANN DVORAK called ‘ANN DVORAK, HOLLYWOOD’S FORGOTTEN REBEL”.
For all things Ann Dvorak, check out Christina’s blog at http://www.anndvorak.com
Christina tells us about her interest in Ann and how she came to write the book:
For anyone not too familiar with Ann’s career,could you give a brief overview of her career in films.
“Ann actually started out in silent films and has three credits as a child. When she was a teenager she became a chorus girl at MGM where she worked for almost 3 years. Amazingly, she went from uncredited chorine/extra to second-billed opposite Paul Muni in 1932’s Scarface.
 Unfortunately, the high profile parts were not long lasting and she spent most of the 1930s in rather bland leading lady roles. By the time she stopped making movies in 1951, she was mainly playing supporting characters.”
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What made you become so interested in Ann’s life and career?
“Initially I became interested in Ann because after seeing her in movies like Three on a Match, Scarface, and G Men. I was baffled as to why she wasn’t more well known. Once I realized I could afford to collect vintage memorabilia from her films, I really started focusing on her. When I discovered that her life and career was pretty much unchartered research territory, I really took the plunge! Now fifteen years later, Ann’s story is finally committed to paper.”
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Ann was under contract to Warners in the 30s. She did comedies, dramas and musicals. Why wasn’t she a bigger star?
“There are many factors that led to Ann’s stalled career at Warner Bros., which I discuss in the book. The short answer is that she walked out on her studio contract in 1932 to honeymoon with Leslie Fenton whom she had only known a matter of weeks before marrying. Even though Warner Bros. seemed on the surface to be very forgiving once she returned, they didn’t give her many starring opportunities after that.”
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       with George Raft
I know you have a large collection of Ann Dvorak memorabilia. Has it been difficult,frustrating or fun finding things, and what are your favorites? Are there things you still seek?
“Collecting on Ann Dvorak the last 15 or so years has been difficult, frustrating, and fun! When I first started, there were quite a few memorabilia shops around Los Angeles who all had items from Ann’s movies for reasonable prices, so I was in collector’s heaven. I even worked at one of the stores at one point and regular customers would dig up Ann items in their own collections for me.
There was also a memorabilia show at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Studio City every three months where I always scored big. Anytime I would travel to a big city, there was always at least one shop with memorabilia both in the U.S. and abroad. I used to place ads in a publication called Movie Collector’s World and would get multiple responses from dealers via snail mail with Ann items.
eBay and other online auctions have come to dominate the hobby which has been both good and bad. On the bright side, it makes items from all around the world available, and in many cases at a lower price that what a dealer might set. At the same time, being able to go and dig at a physical location was always a thrill and I was able to interact with a lot of other collectors, many who have become friends. For me, the hobby is not as much fun as it used to be. Although part of that may be that I have cleaned out everyone of their Ann pieces!
After 15 years, I have A LOT of Ann Dvorak items, though the one title that has eluded me is The Strange Love of Molly Louvain. I have many photos from it, but have never seen a lobby card, which I would love to have.”
Ann with Bette Davis,Joan Blondell

Ann with Bette Davis,Joan Blondell

Does it help living in Los Angeles and being a librarian and archivist?
I do think being in Los Angeles made the research easier since so much of Ann’s life was spent here. I had easy access to her Warner Bros. files at USC along with local real estate, court, and vital records which were all helpful in uncovering Ann’s story. Plus, with so many memorabilia dealers in the beginning, they were always on the lookout for me.
Once I became a librarian and really started understanding how to approach resources, the research really took off. Having a career based around information retrieval was definitely a plus. I am also fortunate enough to work in a major Los Angeles research library so I was always able to act on the slightest lead immediately”
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Have you see all of Ann’s films. How many did she make. Did she do any stage,radio or TV work?
“Ann has 53 feature film credits as Ann Dvorak, and a couple of shorts. I have seen all of them except two, Squadron Leader X and Escape to Danger which were made in England during World War II, but no known copies exist. She made two features and one short as a child, but unfortunately those are also “lost.” Plus there are around 30 or so features and shorts when she was an uncredited chorus girl at MGM and I have seen most of those.
Ann did some stage work, though it was rather limited. She toured on a camp show in England and Ireland during the War and stepped in to star in a Red Cross production after the nurse in the lead role took ill. Her one Broadway run was in 1948 in Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Respectful Prostitute. She attempted to follow this up in a drama called People Like Us which had previews in Canada, but it fell apart before it got to New York and soured Ann on doing anything else on stage.
Her radio and TV work was also very limited. She did a radio drama opposite Tyrone Power in 1937 which I have not been able to find and three performances for a show called Your Movietown Radio Theater which are still around. She also had her own “audience participation” show called My Secret Desire, but the network folded shortly after the show began.
I would love to know what that one was all about! She did some TV anthology shows like The Silver Theater and Gruen Guild Theater, which still exist but are not particularly notable.
One of the more intriguing television projects she participated in was something called Broadway Television Theater which aired live performances of one show multiple nights in a row. Ann starred in “The Trial of Mary Dugan” which I would love to see her in, but since the whole point of the show was to broadcast live theater, I don’t think it was recorded in any form.  “ 
with Henry Fonda

with Henry Fonda

Ann had a lovely singing voice. did she ever make a record?
“I agree that Ann had a lovely voice, but she never made a record. Maybe if she had been under contract to one of the studios in the 1940s that would have happened. Curiously, some of her singing was dubbed in the 1935 Fox film Thanks a Million as well as in the mid 1940s in The Bachelor’s Daughters. Her vocal talents are highlighted in Flame of Barbary Coast and Abilene Town, and my personal favorite Dvorak scene is in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain when she plays the piano and sings a scat version of “Penthouse Serenade.”
with Patsy Kelly, Dick Powell

with Patsy Kelly, Dick Powell

If you could only keep 5 of Ann’s films, which ones would you save and why.
“Oh geeze, that’s a tough one and I apologize in advance for omitting anyone’s favorites!
Scarface – This is arguably Ann’s most important and enduring film and the one that launched her career as an actress. I have watched this film countless times and never tire of it.
Three on a Match – This was my introduction to Ann and the film that got me started on this crazy journey. It’s a fantastic example of pre-Code cinema and Ann simply shines in it.
Heat Lightning – This is another great pre-Code. Even though Ann’s role is supporting, it’s a departure from the largely bland leading lady characters Warner Bros. usually cast her in and her scenes with Aline MacMahon are wonderful.
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain – This is another pre-Code and not as good as the previous two, but it’s one of the few times Ann was allowed to carry a film. Plus it was the only time she acted opposite her first husband Leslie Fenton. They fell in love while shooting this one, and I think it comes across in their scenes together.
Private Affairs of Bel Ami – Since the first four are all pre-Code, I figure we should have something from Ann’s post-War period. I have grown to really love this film which stars George Sanders sleeping his way up through 19th century Parisian society. Ann displays a maturity and sophistication that is markedly different from those 1930s films and her costumes are fabulous!
with Richard Arlen

with  Chester Morris, ‘Blind Alley’

Ann worked with many stars. Who do you think worked best with her.
“As far as I can tell, Ann was always completely professional and others actors seemed to enjoy working with her. She made two films with James Cagney, and I think their scenes together are great, esp his breakdown in The Crowd Roars and her death in G Men. I think it’s interesting to watch Ann and Paul Muni in Scarface and Dr. Socrates just because the characters and interactions are so different. Ann and Joe E. Brown are very believable as husband and wife in Bright Lights. Unfortunately, Ann’s screen time with Joan Blondell is so limited in Three on a Match and the The Crowd Roars that we are left wanting much more. Same goes with Bette Davis inThree on a Match and Housewife. As I mentioned earlier, she’s wonderful opposite Aline MacMahon in Heat Lightning as well as with Wynne Gibson in Cafe Hostess.”
You have written a biography of Ann. Could you tell us about it and details of publication.
“After a ridiculously long time the book is finally out on November 4th from the University Press of Kentucky, and I could not be happier with the results. Details can be found at http://www.kentuckypress.com/live/title_detail.php?titleid=3366.
For those in the Los Angeles area, we’ll be having an official book launch party on November 12th. http://www.lapl.org/whats-on/events/ann-dvorak-hollywoods-forgotten-rebel-official-book-launch-party

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7 responses »

  1. What a fantastic post! To tell you the truth, my sister and I are HUGE film buffs but if someone was to come up to me and ask me to name an Ann Dvorak film I would have drawn a blank. Terrible I know!….especially since she has such a beautiful and recognizable face. Thanks for a very informative interview and now I’ll be hunting the bookstore for a copy of the book. ( Great cover design by the way ). Also…I happen to be a movie photo dealer so Ms.Rice just got one more person keeping an eye out for that Molly Louvain lobby card!

  2. if only she hadn’t just walked out on her contract. she would have been a serious star, in the league of bette davis and joan crawford. very beautiful and personable woman.

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