Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel
Publication Year: 2013
Possessing a unique beauty and refined acting skills, Ann Dvorak (1911--1979) found success in Hollywood at a time when many actors were still struggling to adapt to the era of talkies. Seemingly destined for A-list fame, critics touted her as "Hollywood's New Cinderella" after film mogul Howard Hughes cast her as Cesca in the gangster film Scarface (1932). Dvorak's journey to superstardom was derailed when she walked out on her contractual obligations to Warner Bros. for an extended honeymoon. Later, she initiated a legal dispute over her contract, an action that was unprecedented at a time when studios exercised complete control over actors' careers.
As the first full-length biography of an often-overlooked actress, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel explores the life and career of one of the first individuals who dared to challenge the studio system that ruled Tinseltown. The actress reached her pinnacle during the early 1930s, when the film industry was relatively uncensored and free to produce movies with more daring storylines. She played several female leads in films including The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932), and Three on a Match (1932), and Heat Lightning (1934), but after her walk-out, Warner Bros retaliated by casting her in less significant roles.
Following the casting conflicts and illness, Dvorak filed a lawsuit against the Warner Bros. studio, setting a precedent for other stars who eventually rebelled against the established Hollywood system. In this insightful memoir, Christina Rice explores the spirited rebellion of a talented actress whose promising career fell victim to the studio empire.
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Series: Screen Classics
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
...Bette Davis. Instead, I was blindsided by Ann Dvorak’s performance as a society wife who throws away wealth, motherhood, and security for hot sex with Lyle Talbot and a lot of drugs. Her long slide to hell was mesmerizing and her ultimate demise shocking. I was so floored by this actress I had never heard of that when the film ended, I hit the rewind button and watched it again. Ann Dvorak was officially on my radar...
...April 4, 1936, was a typical sunny day in Southern California as Ann Dvorak made her way toward the all-too-familiar entrance of the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse. Here, over the past two months, she had endured pointed questions from Warner Bros.’ lawyers and watched as X-rays of her inner organs were put on display. The proceedings had not gone her way so far, and this last-ditch effort to get...
1. Vaudeville Days
...The actress known to movie audiences as Ann Dvorak was born as the less exotic-sounding Anna McKim. Unlike many aspiring starlets who journeyed to Hollywood from small towns and humble beginnings, Ann Dvorak was born amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. At the time of her birth in 1911, New York City was the country’s...
2. Child Actress
...Most sources give Ann Dvorak’s birth date as August 2, 1912. However, the New York City Birth Index confirms that Anna McKim was born on August 2, 1911. Throughout her career, Ann would claim 1912 as the year of her birth, though in later years she would begin listing 1911. Shaving off a few years has always been a common practice...
...Upon returning to New York in early 1922, Lehr did not obtain film work, though it is not clear if she was looking for such opportunities. She had always made her career her top priority since she was a teenager, and toward the end of her life she frequently expressed an interest in making a big comeback, so her sudden retirement remains a mystery. Perhaps she had finally become burned out after working nonstop...
4. Chorus Cutie
...With her writing ambitions unrealized, at least for the moment, Ann turned to the business she had been surrounded by her entire life. She was banking on her mother to help her break through the studio doors. Always one to put Lehr on a pedestal, Ann reflected, “I’m lucky that’s all, in having a mother who knows these people personally.” Lehr was unofficially retired, but still had enough connections...
...By 1931 the Hollywood film industry was getting over the growing pains brought on by sound films and had entered one of its most notorious periods, now known as the pre-Code era. As the country shifted from strict Victorian moral codes to the looser attitudes of the Jazz Age, the movies reflected these social changes and became increasingly...
6. Hollywood's New CInderella
...Warner Bros. had ushered in the era of talking pictures in 1927, and by 1932 had established itself as a studio to be reckoned with. The four Warner brothers had originally started out as film exhibitors and had moved into the distribution side of the business before deciding that creating their own movies was the way to go. They made a name...
7. Mrs. Leslie Fenton
...In the early hours of St. Patrick’s Day in 1932, Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton made their way to the United Airport in Burbank where they were scheduled to a catch a chartered flight to Yuma, Arizona, at 9:30 a.m. Arizona had become a popular place for Hollywood notables to elope, not only because it was far from the prying eyes of Tinseltown’s...
8. Sold Down the River
...If there was ever a crossroads in the career of Ann Dvorak, it was in early July 1932. She had been making films nonstop for more than six months, was a darling of the Hollywood press, and seemed positioned to have a long and fruitful career with Warner Bros., the studio that had just forked over $40,000 to Howard Hughes for her contract. The...
9. Happy Vagabonds
...When Ann Dvorak walked out on her contract in July 1932, she may have done irrevocable damage to her relationship with Warner Bros., but she also embarked on an incredible journey that exceeded even her wildest dreams. The couple was absent from Hollywood for over eight months and spent the majority of the time roaming around...
10. Prodigal Daughter
...Ann was not sent to see Jack Warner the next day because she did not show up at the studio. Rather than reporting for work, she consulted her agents, Myron Selznick and Frank Joyce. Even in the midst of her fairytale honeymoon, she had come to the realization that Charles Feldman had done a less than stellar job of handling Warner Bros. during...
11. Warner Workhorse
...for Ann Dvorak, though the movies often left a lot to be desired, particularly in regard to the size of her roles. The main part Ann seemed to be playing in the mid-1930s was that of a Warner Bros. workhorse. No studio could churn out films quite like Warner Bros., and generally no one under contract was immune from appearing in his or her fair...
12. Life Off Camera
...If the mid-1930s were the most productive and stable years of Ann’s career, then the same could arguably be said of her personal life as well. During this time, Ann and Leslie Fenton seemed to have found a harmony between work and home life, which still included traveling and other personal hobbies. Many in the film community would question...
13. Suspended Contract Player
...It appears that Jack Warner never fully got over Ann’s walkout and harsh statements to the press, though he was never outwardly nasty to her, nor did he speak ill of her publicly. In fact, he seemed to be quite fond of her, yet he possessed the type of personality and ego that did not allow him to completely let go of any perceived slight. Ann had been working...
14. Legal Eagle
...The year 1936 would prove to be a litigious one for Warner Bros. James Cagney made good on his numerous threats of legal action and filed a lawsuit against the studio in early March. The actor claimed Warner Bros. had breached his contract by assigning him to more than four pictures a year and by failing to give him top billing in one of those films. The...
15. Freelance Artist
...After nearly eight years of working under the control of MGM, the Caddo Company, and Warner Bros., Ann Dvorak finally had the career freedom that her husband had been enjoying all along. Leslie Fenton had found steady work as a freelancer throughout the 1930s, with his acting career culminating in 1938 with a role in the much-heralded...
...War had officially broken out in September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, and England was quickly drawn into the conflict. To many English actors residing in Hollywood, this would prove to be a call home to enlist in the service or to be near loved ones. Others remained in the United States, choosing to participate remotely through war-bond tours or by appearing in morale-boosting films. For Ann Dvorak, the wife of a Britishborn...
17. Ann of All Trades
...In the spring of 1941, Leslie Fenton received the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). One year later he was commanding a ship in the now-legendary raid on St. Nazaire, known as Operation Chariot. St. Nazaire was a port town in German-occupied France that provided the Nazis with a dry dock for repairing their ships...
18. Shell Shocked
...After nearly three years of being submerged in the day-to-day trials of war, Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton were finally back in the United States. The experience of being on soil untouched by bombs was initially surreal for Ann; after arriving in New York, she “walked around just looking and wondering for four days. I was astonished to discover how...
19. Career Girl
...Without a marriage to concentrate on, Ann finally turned her attention to her film career. Now that she had some perspective over what had transpired during her Warner Bros. years, Ann’s outlook was much different than it had been in 1932 when, she admitted, “I was Mrs. Fenton first and Ann Dvorak second. When he wanted to take a trip around the world...
20. Broadway Bound
...program costarring Jeff Chandler as a down-on-his-luck boxer who finds himself being trained by a hard-nosed dame (Ann) who ultimately falls for him. Not earth-shattering storytelling by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still nice to hear Ann’s clear and distinct voice being put to good use. The program also featured Ann’s childhood hero Herbert Rawlinson, who had continued working over the years...
21. Seasoned Professional
...supporting player. With television becoming more and more prominent in American homes, Ann would also begin testing these waters as another avenue of employment. Ann Dvorak seemed to be in a good position to advance her career in supporting roles and perhaps establish herself as a TV commodity. However, only a couple of years into the new decade...
22. Enter Nick Wade
...Working under the professional name Nicholas H. Weiss, he launched a career as an architect, briefly working with Thomas W. Lamb, one of New York’s most prolific theater designers. Together with Donald Deskey, they designed the International Casino, a mammoth three-story nightclub that opened in September 1937...
23. Hawaiian Hopeful
...Under the guidance of Nicholas Wade, Ann’s finances had been seriously depleted, but the couple apparently had enough left over from the sale of the Malibu property to consider moving far away from Southern California. Whatever difficulties their marriage had been facing in the mid-1950s seem to have been resolved, at least temporarily, and...
24. The End of Everything
...notorious tabloid magazine, ran a scathing article about her final days. The magazine depicted a desperate, paranoid, impoverished woman living in squalor, a moment away from landing on the streets. For those who had never heard of Ann Dvorak, this article was a sad introduction to her. For those who did recall Ann from her days as a film actress, the piece...
...After her retirement in 1952, Ann Dvorak was worried her contribution to cinema would be quickly forgotten. To a certain degree this did happen in the ensuing years as she fell into the ranks of actors whose names would elicit a blank stare or only the vaguest hint of recollection. Part of the reason...
...When I first conceived of writing a biography on Ann Dvorak in 1997, I was a naive college senior who had no clue what I was getting myself into. Other than her body of film work, Ann left very little of herself behind, and unearthing her story was an incredible challenge. Since first undertaking this seemingly impossibly task, I finished college and graduate...
About the Series, Other Works in the Series
...Screen Classics is a series of critical biographies, film histories, and analytical studies focusing on neglected filmmakers and important screen artists and subjects, from the era of silent cinema to the golden age of Hollywood to the international generation of today. Books in the Screen Classics series are intended for scholars and general readers alike. The contributing authors...