The name Ann Dvorak wouldn't ring even a faint bell for most people around at the beginning of the 21st century. Most people, I said – but definitely not everyone.
A while back, author James Robert Parish heard a loud gong when I told him during lunch at a West Hollywood restaurant that I had been working on a q&a with collector-turned-biographer Christina Rice (right), who has been writing Ann Dvorak's life story.
“I love Ann Dvorak! I still remember her in I Was an American Spy, when the Japanese villains stick a hose down her throat. I never forgot that!"
I haven't watched I Was an American Spy (it will be on TCM at 11 p.m. tonight), but I remember being impressed by Ann Dvorak's work in Mervyn LeRoy's hard-hitting 1932 melodrama Three on a Match, in which she plays a beautiful woman whose life is destroyed by ambition, selfishness, rotten friends, and hardcore drug use. (Three on a Match offers some solid moral advice: If you're going to be ambitious, selfish, have gangster friends, and do heavy-duty drugs, never, ever use the same match to light three cigarettes. Dvorak's fellow smokers, by the way, were Joan Blondell and a surprisingly bland Bette Davis.)
From MGM chorus girl (she can be easily spotted in The Hollywood Revue of 1929) to Howard Hughes contract player (Scarface) to Warner Bros. star-in-the-making, Dvorak seemed destined to become a major Hollywood name. That never happened. Poor career choices – including a defiant honeymoon trip and a lawsuit against Warners – left the star-in-the-making stuck in leading-lady roles, mostly in programmers and B fare.
During her Warners stint, however, there were a few A (or at least “A-”) productions as well, among them Alfred E. Green's 1934 melo Housewife, in which Dvorak and Bette Davis vie for George Brent (as in Three on a Match, Dvorak has a more interesting role than Davis); the gangster drama Dr. Socrates (1935), in which she was cast opposite Paul Muni; and William Keighley's G Men (1935), starring James Cagney. At 20th Century Fox, she co-starred with Dick Powell in Roy Del Ruth's wisecracking musical Thanks a Million (1935).
After her Warners contract expired in the mid-1930s, Dvorak freelanced around Hollywood. Though her roles tended to grow smaller, she continued working until 1951. Following a starring role in I Was an American Spy at the minor Allied Artists and a supporting one in the Glenn Ford-Gene Tierney Western drama The Secret of Convict Lake at Fox, her acting career came to an abrupt halt.
Back in August 2008, Christina Rice agreed to answer a few questions (via e-mail) about Ann Dvorak, whom Rice refers to as “Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel.” Please follow the link below – and make sure to check out Rice's website dedicated to Ann Dvorak. [Note: A version of this post and the follow-up interview were initially published in August '08.]
Photos: Courtesy of the Christina Rice Collection