Ann Dvorak, Paul Muni, Dr. Socrates
Ann Dvorak played opposite most big names at Warner Bros. in the 1930s. In addition to the aforementioned Joan Blondell and Bette Davis, there were Warren William, Paul Muni, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., James Cagney, Dick Powell, Pat O’Brien, and Richard Barthelmess, among others. How did she get along with her leading men? Was she easy to work with?
As far as I can tell, Ann was very easy to work with. I got the chance to speak with both Jane Wyatt and Hugh O’Brian, who made movies with Ann, and while neither one had much to say, the phrase they both used to describe her was "very professional." According to Warners’ production logs, she was always on time and for the most part did not miss work. Despite the headaches she caused the execs at the Burbank studio, she was extremely reliable once the cameras started rolling.
Of the Ann Dvorak films I’ve seen, the one in which she most impressed me was Three on a Match. Could you tell us a little about that film, and about Dvorak’s relationship with director Mervyn LeRoy, and fellow players Joan Blondell and Bette Davis?
Three on a Match is a compact and gritty pre-Code gem. At sixty-three minutes running time, I cannot think of another feature that packs so much into such little time. Bette Davis always dismissed the movie, though she probably would have felt different if she had been cast in Dvorak’s role as the drug-addicted negligent mother, rather than the thankless secretary she portrayed. Davis later said that she was always impressed with Ann’s work and thought she was a "smashingly nice person."
This was the second and, unfortunately, last time Ann made a movie with Joan Blondell. They had done The Crowd Roars a couple of months before this one was shot and had great on-screen chemistry. Out of the three actresses, it was Blondell who Mervyn LeRoy figured would be the breakout star and that Dvorak had potential, but he thought little of Davis. I agree that this is one of Ann’s more impressive performances and her other picture with LeRoy, Heat Lightning, is also one of Dvorak’s better films and roles.
After Ann Dvorak’s film (and by then TV) career petered out in the early 1950s, what did she do?
Dvorak was finished with movies in 1951 and her television/radio career was over the following year. Ann and her third husband, Nicholas Wade, started their own production company with the hopes of creating TV shows and documentaries. When that venture failed, they relocated to Hawaii in 1959 and ran a chemical company for a while. In the 1960s, she continued traveling, and undertook a massive writing project, which I will talk about in my book.
While her marriage to Wade lasted almost twenty-five years, until his death in 1975, it does not appear to have been a particularly happy relationship and she tried to leave him on at least two occasions. After Ann’s death in 1979, the National Enquirer printed a horrible article that depicted Ann as living in complete squalor and practically out of her mind. While I think much of the piece was exaggerated, it is true that Wade squandered Ann’s money and she did have a drinking problem. Her final years were far from ideal, but I do not think her situation was quite as extreme as portrayed in the Enquirer. Still, it was a rather sad ending to a fascinating life.