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Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009 12:00 am

There are two excellent BearManor Media (PO Box 71426, Albany, GA 31708 or books this month worthy of note.

Charles Tranberg continues his run of good books with The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails ($24.95 BearManor softcover), the first in BearManor’s new series dealing with specific golden age movie series. Tranberg has previously written the books I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead, Not So Dumb: The Life and Career of Marie Wilson, and Fred MacMurray: A Biography (all published by BearManor Media). All these books reveal him to be a diligent researcher, skillful writer and one who shows a genuine appreciation for film.

Murder Over Cocktails is no different. Everything you want to know about this fun, sophisticated MGM series is contained in these over 300-plus pages. I love how the author lays the story out, how he organizes the information so that the reader can fully comprehend how this series was created and how it stayed popular with audiences. First, we get introductory chapters on William Powell and Myrna Loy, Nick and Nora Charles themselves, which details their lives and whole career. Wisely, these chapters do not focus just on the Thin Man, or even the other multiple screen teamings of the two, but on their individual lives and careers. And it isn’t merely a credit-heavy, IMDb-inspired rundown. Nor do we get worthless publicity junk. Unlike a previous BearManor book I reviewed on The Fly (1958), this book presents good, solid facts, while also explaining to the reader what made Powell and Loy appealing and enduring as individual actors and as a team. This seems to have become something rare in film writing, so I really appreciate it when a writer comes along with the enthusiasm, the knowledge and the talents to present something extra for movie fans. In the same vein, within the separate film chapters, the main supporting players (Nat Pendleton, Sam Levene, Donna Reed, Maureen O’Sullivan, Virginia Grey, Gloria DeHaven, Harry Davenport, Porter Hall, Tom Neal, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Otto Kruger, Minna Gombell, Edward Ellis, Cesar Romero, Keenan Wynn, Gloria Grahame, Dean Stockwell, Barry Nelson, Leon Ames, Dorothy McNulty [Penny Singleton], George Zucco, Paul Fix, etc.) are given good-sized profiles, as are directors “Woody” Van Dyke, Richard Thorpe and Edward Buzzell; cameramen James Wong Howe and Karl Freund; producers Hunt Stromberg and Nat Perrin; and writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Harry Kurnitz, Irving Brecher, and Robert Riskin. And, again, these are real write-ups; the author actually made an effort.

The movies themselves are handled expertly: The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and Song of the Thin Man (1947). We all know the famously witty repartee between the married Charleses. It’s one thing to watch the films; in the expert comedic hands of the couple, the lines were a delight, urbane and clever. But how does that translate to the pages of a book? I’ve read enough books in my time as a reviewer where the writer simply killed the joke, over explaining a situation until it’s no longer funny. Thankfully, the Thin Man is in the hands of an author who knows how to transpose humor to the page. Not only does he liberally quote from the films, giving us an excellent flavor of the characters and the series, he keeps it light, and, most importantly, keeps it all funny.

Every film is given a sizable treatment. Credits/crew, production details, the story (without the plot resolutions), reviews, and biographies on the supporting players or other notables working on the film. It’s very complete, very satisfying. There’s even an outstanding discussion about the original story of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, even comparing the book to the first movie.

The photos in the book are terrific, although they are the source for my only quibble with the book. First of all, most of the photos for the movies are stuck in “photo galleries” at the end of each movie chapter. They should have been sprinkled throughout the chapter. Secondly, all the supporting players should have had photos right next to their individual profiles. There are twenty random photos of the actors stuck in another photo gallery in the very back of the book (after the bibliography, no less).

As it is, however, this is a terrific first volume in a series that will be a welcome addition to any film lover’s library. The book is a fitting tribute to a classic movie series. I just fear that this book is so good; it will be difficult for future volumes to top its authoritative stance.

Sandra Grabman (profiled last month in “Book Talk”) and actor Wright King have written a breezy, unorthodox television memoir called No Retakes!: Actors & Actresses Remember the Era of Live Television ($14.95, BearManor softcover). Studio One, Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Television Theatre, Captain Video, etc., they’re all chronicled here. The layout, too, is eye-catching, very different, and user-friendly.

This is simply an entertaining book. Wright (probably best known for Johnny Jupiter), who appeared in many live productions, gives us an insider’s look at breaking into the medium, staying there and all the problems that arise. His passages are told in bold-face type, and give the book a tone that is distinctively of the time. Sandra, who proficiently organizes these reminisces of Wright’s, adds valuable facts and figures from these early years, while also interviewing other performers and gathering quotes from other sources. The story quoted from director Kenneth Whelan about a baby that looked “like a well-basted turkey” was very amusing, as is an animal story by Alan Young. I must admit I’ve always been partial to reading about on-set flubs and disasters, and this book has a fair share of these. I’m a sucker for a good on-the-air problem!

This nostalgic book was so enjoyable, so readable, I regretted when it finished. If anything, this book is just too short. But, then, that could well be the beauty of it. The writers leave us wanting more. If you buy any anecdotal book, this should be the one. There’s not a boring part in here, no need to skim through passages that are of no interest. Rare, behind-the-scenes photos are great. Give this one a try.

The University Press of Mississippi (3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, MS 39211-6492 or should be commended for their film book series, “Hollywood Legends.” It’s a good series, with good intentions, even though they do so little to promote it. If UPM authors are their shining lights, the press seems to believe that these lights should be kept under a basket. Perhaps their brightest light-under-a-basket is Ruth Prigozy who wrote the series entry The Life of Dick Haymes: No Little White Lies. This book is well researched, and brilliantly written. Other actors covered by the series have been Alice Faye, Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell, Carole Landis, Joan Blondell, and Van Johnson. Ronald L. Davis, author of the Johnson book, has written the (fairly) new Zachary Scott: Hollywood’s Sophisticated Cad ($30 hardcover).

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing: Zachary Scott! It’s unbelievable that someone wrote a book about this much underrated actor. I was in movie buff heaven when I opened this book—it couldn’t have been more welcome if I had given birth to it. I’ve always enjoyed Zach’s smooth performances. I especially relish that terrific scene in Colt .45 (1950) where that terrific actress, Ruth Roman, taunts him until he snaps back at her. (Whenever I think of Scott, I think of this scene. Both actors handle the reversal so well. She’s his captive, yet she gets into his head, and he’s the one who snaps. It’s funny.)

If you are interested in Zachary Scott as a person, this book is your best resource. Far from the cad portrayed in movies such as Mildred Pierce, The Mask of Dimitrios, and Danger Signal, we find in Hollywood’s Sophisticated Cad that Scott was a conflicted, pampered son of a doctor. The way Ronald L. Davis unravels Scott’s complex personality is fascinating. Some reviewers have complained that he did not directly address Zach’s “dubious” sexuality, but what they really wanted Davis to do was, without proof, to make wildly exaggerated statements about possible homosexuality. What Davis does is more honest, and more respectful of the actor’s memory. With the information he had, Davis was able to paint Scott as a man conflicted with demons he tried hard to control. Because of his upbringing, Zach always had issues that were ultimately (because he died so young) unresolved. The author does discuss Zach’s sexuality, but doesn’t let this dominate the text. Why should it? Thankfully, Ron Davis is not one of those ridiculous “film historians” of today who turn their biographies into sexual fantasies with all sorts of phony stories spun out of thin air. Instead, we have here a complex look at a very complex man. I can’t imagine delving into Scott’s psyche as well as the author does here. He has a Herculean task on his hands, which he successfully weaves into his story.

And that story is helped immeasurably by Scott’s own papers, which includes letters to his parents. We get a vivid look at the actor through these letters. To see him on screen, with his debonair, glossy approach, “silver-tongued in his cunning,” as he deceives and romances various women, creates the wrong impression. In fact, the real Zachary Scott was a “coddled” rich boy, his family’s “prince.” His affluent parents pampered him most of his life. Davis covers these early years of Zach’s life brilliantly. These were the actor’s developing years, important ones that set the stage for his later behavior. “Duty and propriety were credos in the Masterson and Scott households, and Zach had internalized the responsibility of upholding those values early,” Davis writes. “As pampered and privileged as he was, he had no reason to doubt that he was his parents’ fair-haired son and destined to live in luxury. But there were well-defined perimeters to manners, discretion, and decorum that the boy knew he dare not cross. Actor that he was, Zach filled the role of family name-bearer masterfully. Yet a rebellious fire burned within him, a will to be his own person—free, uninhibited, possibly a little dangerous. That would be the tension in his adult life, and he played dual parts with balanced skill. Much of his urge toward rebellion he kept suppressed, sheltering it as a secret desire. Yet there were times when the emotional strain became wrenching.” Ultimately, though, Zach relies on his family’s wealth too much, as he continually asks for money, living in style, especially in the beginning and during the last ten years of his life. His letters to his family are interesting; as he asks for money, telling them of hoped-for projects, lack of work, and his socializing. The dual personality of Zachary Scott is very clear in these pages.

I read another review claiming that Davis shows Zach unsympathetically, and that the reader can not identify with the actor because he comes off badly. I disagree. I was fascinated by how Zach was portrayed, a captive of his own conflicted personality. Reading the book, I could feel the subject’s inner turmoil, which rarely happens for me. I felt a strong sympathy for Zachary, too, but more importantly, I felt that he came alive in these pages as a real person. Through his interviews with co-workers, family (his widow, actress Ruth Ford, ignored a request to be interviewed, though), and personal papers, Davis able to resurrect an actor who has been dead since 1965.

I was less enamored by Davis’ approach to the films. This was a problem I had with Davis’ Van Johnson book, MGM’s Golden Boy, an otherwise good biography. Davis’ objective to show that Scott was more of an actor than Hollywood gave him credit for is very laudable. Scott’s performance in The Southerner (1945) is one of those excellent performances that, unfortunately, did not gain notice until many years later. He was typecast as a villain, because that is what Hollywood expected him to be. Be that as it may, then why does Davis himself dismiss movies that deviated from that? Movies such as Flaxy Martin (1949), South of St. Louis (1949), One Last Fling (1949), Guilty Bystander (1950), Pretty Baby (1950), Stronghold (1952), Man in the Shadow (1957), or some of his ‘50s Westerns might be minor efforts, but they did show another side of him and should have been played up to encourage some of his newer fans (because of TCM) to seek these out. Some of these movies get very little consideration. Not that he only concentrates on Zach’s villainy; he gives very little attention to a movie that, I think, contains one of Scott’s vilest performances, The Secret of Convict Lake (1951). And I mean that in a good way—Scott is bad to the bone in that one.

However, I did enjoy Davis’ write-up on Mildred Pierce and The Mask of Dimitrios. He also does a great job explaining why Zach Scott’s career went the direction it did. Yes, he was typecast, which damaged his career, but, also, “Studio bosses and production heads . . . often found Scott difficult, since he frequently missed work, repeatedly asked for salary advances, complained about the quality of the pictures assigned to him, and took frequent suspensions rather than play inferior roles.” He was, after all, under contract to Warner Bros., a difficult studio for anyone back then. His drinking, too, caused serious problems. In addition, it is suggested that he had a violent temper.

I strongly recommend this book. Although Ronald L. Davis is not a passionate writer, he’s insightful and he writes in an uncluttered, uncomplicated style that makes his intricate subject understandable. Finally, Zachary Scott gets the attention and appreciation he has deserved all these years. It’s about time.

I do have a problem with the author’s comments on Danger Signal (1945), a Warner Bros. film starring Zach and Faye Emerson. This passage reminds me of one of my pet peeves. In all too many movie books, too many fine movies not considered classics, are too routinely dismissed and their finer points overlooked. After a while, other writers begin parroting the same attitudes and pretty soon the reputation of a perfectly fine movie has been ruined and viewers come to disdain it.

Zach’s Danger Signal happens to be one of my favorite Warners movies of the 1940s, and, incidentally, one of Faye Emerson’s best chances to show what she was capable of as an actress. Warners typically starred her in B films (with Lady Gangster being the best), while featuring her in A films (The Very Thought of You, The Desert Song, Between Two Worlds, etc.). They never gave her a fair shake and despite a sensational supporting performance as a treacherous nightclub singer in John Garfield’s Nobody Lives Forever (1946), she never became an important film performer. Instead, Faye had to go into television to become a major star in the ‘50s. So, Danger Signal, which is a nice showcase for her, is dear to my heart.

In Hollywood’s Sophisticated Cad, Davis calls Scott’s role in Danger Signal “almost identical to the one he had” in Mildred Pierce, which is misleading because he portrays a killer in Danger Signal. I sense that Davis’ attitude has been colored by Zach’s disdain for the role’s “moronic lines,” and the director’s dislike of the assignment. Davis gives the film some backhanded compliments, calling it “taut,” “suspenseful,” with a “murky atmosphere,” all of which it has (in spades), but then he turns around and labels it a “second-rate production” because of its budget. He also unfavorably compares the movie to Shadow of a Doubt (1943), saying the Danger Signal screenwriters “switched the basic ingredients” of that “highly successful picture” to “an urban setting,” but that Danger Signal “had little of its predecessor’s suspense and pace.”

In McFarland’s dismal, error-filled Film Noir: A Comprehensive, Illustrated Reference to Movies, Terms and Persons (first published in 1995), Michael L. Stephens also compares Danger Signal to Shadow of a Doubt: “Danger Signal is vaguely similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, however, it fails in comparison to Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Its plot is overly complicated, and Florey’s direction is typically extravagant. A minor noir, Danger Signal is still an interesting, worthy film.” But one that Stephens has not seen. And why do I say that? Because the plot recap before this Shadow of a Doubt reference is wrong. If he had seen the movie, he would have known that Bruce Bennett’s character was not married to the murdered woman at the beginning of the film; John Ridgely’s was. Also, he claims that Mona Freeman plays Emerson’s daughter; she is her younger sister. The movie was not overly complicated, as both Davis and Stephens assert; in fact, it was very easy to understand, very understated, not extravagant at all. Ironically, the original Los Angeles Times review claimed it was “superior to Mildred Pierce” because the “story line was simpler.” What the Times didn’t like was the film’s abrupt ending, which was, frankly, the film’s weak point, but one that was required for Code approval.

You would have to go a long way to convince me that this film should be compared at all with Shadow of a Doubt. The main male characters are killers; that’s about it. There have been other movies that featured killers of women (Night Must Fall, for one), so do we have to compare all of them to Shadow of a Doubt?

It is unfair to compare an A production with a medium-budget film. If these writers could only show more initiative and imagination they might actually get out of their rut and write something insightful. It’s a waste of time to keep pointing out that a cheaper movie is inferior to an expensive one, and that directors like Florey are inferior to Hitchcock.

Most likely, these two writers got this Shadow of a Doubt reference to Danger Signal from the book Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style, edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, from 1979. In Robert Porfirio’s Danger Signal entry in that book, we read: “Danger Signal is an attempt to transpose the essential ingredients of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt to an urban setting. Regrettably, Danger Signal contains little of its predecessor’s suspense and develops . . . slowly . . .” (Sound familiar?) Porfirio, too, for some reason, gets plot points for the film mixed up. How can you critique a movie and not know the plot? How can you compare it to an established classic when you are obviously not paying attention to it? And does he have any proof that the people who made Danger Signal actually were attempting to “transpose the essential ingredients” of Doubt to their film? I Doubt it. It boggles my mind when these writers feel they have to knock “lesser” movies. Hitchcock and Shadow of a Doubt don’t need to be built up; they are rightly praised, but comparisons like this teach us nothing except disrespect for fine films that lack status.

The parroting of opinions and ideas greatly annoys me. Have an original take on a subject, for cryin’ out loud. Actually, Danger Signal was adapted from a 1939 novel by Phyllis Bottome (The Mortal Storm), and if you are going to compare the film to anything, you should compare it to the novel. The novel was substantially different, having a psychologically-driven narrative, but the heroine’s mental conflict is the same—should she kill the man who wronged her? Anyone who reads this book and watches this film should greatly appreciate the work that C. Graham Baker and Adele Comandini put into their adaptation, and how they shaped an unpromising book into an intriguing noir. They should also value the performances of Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson, Rosemary DeCamp, Mona Freeman and Bruce Bennett. The scene where Zach and Faye square off about her poisoning his food is marvelous, containing some of the best acting either of them ever did. Danger Signal is a movie that gets shoved under the rug too often, by too many highbrow critics, but, given the chance, it’s an entertaining thriller.


This month’s Book Talk is with librarian Christina Rice, who is working on a biography on the sorely underrated actress Ann Dvorak. I first met Christina when I was writing a chapter about the brilliant Dvorak for my McFarland book, Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames (written with Ray Hagen; There has been very little information out there about Dvorak through the years and without Christina’s help my chapter would have been very skimpy indeed. I have witnessed her trials and tribulations researching Dvorak, and this has been truly a labor of love for her. But, as I told her, it is a “magnificent obsession.” Without film fans like Christina Rice, our overall knowledge of Hollywood would be limited to Monroe, Dietrich, Garbo, Dean, and the like. Researchers like Christina should be encouraged to go on with their work.

And, now, meet Christina, in her own words . . .

When I first discovered Ann Dvorak, there was no reason to think she would be different than any other actor or actress I had become interested in over the years. From the time I was six years old, when my mom made me watch Gone with the Wind (1939) on broadcast television, I was enamored with classic films and would sit still if an old movie happened to be airing, especially if it starred Vivien Leigh or Marilyn Monroe.

In college, I developed a ritual of sorts which began whenever a performer piqued my interest. I would rent every film I could find on that person, read every book I could get my hands on, and when I had a few extra bucks in the bank, would drive to Hollywood from the suburbs to visit a now-defunct shop called Cinema Collectors, which specialized in reproduction 8x10 photos that cost three dollars a piece. Considering the types of people I briefly became obsessed with had names like Davis, Cagney, Harlow, Cooper, and Hayworth, I never had any trouble finding films, books, and photos to satiate my interest. Locating information on these cinema legends was so easy that I naively thought all actors had a book written about them. I would quickly discover this was not the case when I crossed paths with Ann Dvorak.

I first encountered Ann in the mid-1990s at my local library, which had a decent selection of classic films. I checked out Three on a Match (1932), starring Dvorak, who I had never heard of, but the film also had Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in the cast, which appealed to me, along with the “Forbidden Hollywood” label on the VHS box. Unable to pass up the promise of a lurid pre-Code story, I brought Three on a Match home, never imagining it would change the course of my life.

For those who have not seen it, Three on a Match is a gem of a film with adultery, kidnapping, drug-abuse, gangsters, and a riveting performance by Ann Dvorak. Her role as the bored society wife-turned-drug addict so affected me that I watched the film twice, back-to-back. A short time later, I watched the 1932 Scarface, unaware Ann was in it, and was again impressed with her strong and tragic performance. When I ran into her a third time, in ‘G’ Men (1935) with James Cagney, I was officially baffled that I had not heard of her earlier and decided she was worthy of the ritual.

The Glendora Public Library proved fruitless in my quest for more Dvorak films, as did visits to my local video stores. Much to my surprise, there were no books written about Ann, and barely anything appeared in film history texts. I made the journey out to Cinema Collectors, who did not have a single photo of Ann and the clerk working there gave me a blank stare when I said her name. A shop around the corner did have gorgeous photos of Ann, but they were “original photographer-stamped” (which meant nothing to me then), and were twenty dollars apiece, a horrifying price for a college student on a grocery clerk’s wage in those days. I am embarrassed to admit that as much as I wanted to know more about Ann Dvorak, I gave up collecting on her pretty quickly, but she was always in the back of my mind.

A couple of years later, I was finishing up college and interning at a below-the-line talent agency in Beverly Hills. I worked closely with Darin, the assistant at the agency, who was the first bona-fide movie buff I had ever encountered. Darin was the type of film fan who actually knew the names of character actors and could watch a movie for five seconds and tell you which studio made it. If this wasn’t impressive enough, Darin also collected vintage movie posters, especially anything with MGM queen Norma Shearer, who I was only vaguely familiar with. I had declared myself an old movie fan when I interviewed for the internship, and this statement is why Darin hired me on the spot. While my knowledge of classic cinema may have impressed my colleagues at the Ralph’s grocery store in Glendora, I was a rank amateur compared to Darin and could feel his disappointment in me growing daily. I had to do something to redeem my good name as an old movie fan, and in a moment of pure desperation blurted out, “You know who I really like, but just can’t find anything on? Ann Dvorak.” Darin paused at the sound of Ann’s name, and I knew I had stumped him. “Ann Dvorak? Yeah, I think I have heard of her,” was all he said and I knew I had not only impressed him, but gained a friend for life.

Looking back, it almost seems as if the stars were in alignment and Ann and I were meant to cross paths. The next day, Darin walked into the office with an original photo of Ann and Warren William in Three on a Match which he had found in a stack of stills at his place. My Ann Dvorak collection was officially started. Less than a month later, Turner Classic Movies actually ran a tribute to Ann (something they have not done since) and aired a bunch of her movies. Darin always had a blank tape ready to go in the VCR and recorded all the films which he labeled “Ann Dvorak Theater” and brought into the office. We would order take-out for lunch so we could start the films and stay after work to finish them. We marveled at her tragically brilliant but abbreviated performance in A Life of Her Own (1950), became indignant when she was forced to go blonde in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932), and fell off our seats laughing at the ridiculous evening gown she wears in Midnight Court (1937) which looks like someone skinned a fish and put a zipper on it. Not all the films we watched were great, but Ann always gave sincere performances with her striking large eyes and distinct voice standing out over weak scripts.

Darin started taking me to the various memorabilia shops that were still around in those days and I discovered that I could actually afford to collect on Ann, even though I was a starving college student. I was finding beautiful original photos for five to ten dollars and could buy lobby cards for a few dollars more. I have always been a compulsive collector and Ann Dvorak was a perfect outlet for this facet of my personality. Darin also took me to the Motion Picture Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library which not only had photo files on Ann, but also had clipping files and I finally began to learn more about her as a person. She had been born in New York, but mainly raised in Los Angeles. She had been married three times, the first when she was only twenty. She had thrown away a potentially phenomenal career at Warner Bros. by walking out on her contract to go honeymooning in Europe. She had lived in the UK during WWII and supported the war effort by driving an ambulance, planting victory gardens and performing for the troops. She had put Hollywood behind her when she was only forty and lived out the last twenty years of her life in Hawaii. I found her fascinating onscreen and off, and decided if no one else was going to write a book on Ann Dvorak, then I was going to be the one to do it.

As it turns out, proclaiming oneself as Ann Dvorak’s biographer is a lot easier than actually executing the task. Once I decided I was going to write her life story, I invested in a spiral notebook which I envisioned would one day be filled with valuable info about Ann. My first stop was the Glendora Public Library where I consulted the tried-and-true Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. I was sure the green-bound books would reveal a treasure trove of articles about this great actress and was crushed when all I could find was a piece from a mid-1940s issue of Better Homes and Gardens titled, “Ann Dvorak Lives Simply.” While I had probably spent more time at the library than your average 23-year-old, I had to admit that I did not know the first thing about researching the life of an incredibly obscure actress.

My first five years as Ann Dvorak’s biographer mainly consisted of me spending a lot of money on eBay and at the memorabilia shops around Hollywood. I even worked at one of the shops where regular customers would sift through their personal collections and bring me photos and posters of Ann. One regular who was also a dealer sold me a folder full of contracts and correspondence from a talent agency that once represented her.

Around 2002, a few things occurred that turned me into a serious Ann Dvorak researcher. By this time the Internet had enabled a golden age for researchers with books, periodicals, and images being digitized and archives listing their holdings online. I also entered graduate school to get a Master’s in Library & Information Science where I learned to effectively use these new resources as well as how to do old-school research. In November of 2002, I launched, which has enabled me to get in contact with other fans as well as individuals with information about Ann, including Laura Wagner, who I met while she was working on a Dvorak chapter for her book, Killer Tomatoes. These fellow fans would generously send me copies of the Dvorak films I had not seen. After graduating from library school, I became employed in the History & Genealogy Department of the Los Angeles Public Library where for the first six months I spent every lunch break at the microfilm readers looking through past issues of Los Angeles newspapers.

During the past five years I have discovered more information on Ann Dvorak than I ever thought possible. In addition to the materials available at the library where I work, I have made several more trips to the Margaret Herrick Library, which has indexed some of the fan magazines and has a large Special Collections department that includes, among other things, the files for the Production Code Administration (PCA). The University of Southern California has the legal files from Warner Bros., where Ann was employed for almost five years, and the New York Public Library has an exceptional collection of clippings and photos from the silent film era, which has been essential for finding information on Ann’s parents who both worked in early cinema, as well as unearthing articles from Ann’s brief stint as a child actress. As a librarian who works with a genealogy collection, I have learned to access vital records, property records, court records, census records, and passenger lists which have all helped to piece together the life of Ann Dvorak. I have traveled to England to find out more about her war years and have made a couple of trips to Hawaii to learn if her final years were as bad as the National Enquirer claimed.

The biggest challenge in researching Ann Dvorak is finding anyone who actually knew her. She retired from the movies in 1951, so most everyone who worked with her is no longer around. I have managed to speak with some of her co-stars, such as Jane Wyatt, Virginia Mayo, and Hugh O’Brian, but since the movies they made together were somewhat unmemorable, no one has had much to say other than Ann was “very professional.” Not everyone has been responsive to interview requests: Angela Lansbury and Turhan Bey never responded to my letters. And even though I accosted Ann Blyth’s daughter last year at a screening of Mildred Pierce, and begged her to pass my info onto her mom, nothing ever came of it. Ann Dvorak did not have children or siblings, so there is no close family to speak to. I recently became so desperate that I contacted the daughter of a Chinese couple who worked on Ann’s ranch in the 1930s, but that proved to be another dead end. I have tried running classified ads to find anyone who knew her, but that only resulted in a bunch of telephone calls from county jail inmates. Basically, if anyone reading this ever encountered Ann Dvorak, even if it was just walking past her on the street, please contact me!

Ann Dvorak has become a bigger part of my life than I ever envisioned. My memorabilia collection has now swelled to over 900 original photos and nearly 200 posters and lobby cards. I recently received a double-page spread in Los Angeles Magazine, which focused on my interest in Ann, and my husband and I held our wedding and reception on an estate she built in the San Fernando Valley. After nearly twelve years of collecting and researching, I am finally in the thick of writing her life story. I only hope that I can succeed in effectively presenting the life and career of this fascinating woman who I have come to know so well.

And, remember, tell them you heard about it in Classic Images!