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Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak
Ann Dvorak

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.)

Christina RiceFrom 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

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Continue Reading: Ann Dvorak Q&A with Biographer Christina Rice Pt.1

Previous Post: Ann Dvorak Movies: 'Scarface,' 'I Was an American Spy'

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14 Comments to Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

  1. Hi Ramona,

    I would love to speak with you about Ann and the Wades for my book, though my deadline is coming up soon! Contact info can be found on my website.


    Looking forward to speaking with you.

    - Christina

  2. ramona wade

    Ann Dvorak was my stepgrandma. I visited her in her malibu home as a baby. My grandpa was Nicholas Wade. My maiden name is Wade. I was named after Ann's first silent screen role, Ramona. My father, Richard, was not a very good person, just as Nicholas Wade wasn't. My mother met Ann and can remember some conversations in their Malibu home.

  3. Andre

    Please take a look at Part 4 of the Christina Rice q&a:
    Christina talks about the “National Enquirer” article.

  4. Tim Driscoll

    Some time after Ann Dvorak's death, I read in the National Enquirer that she was leading a very miserable existence in her last years….lonely, forgotten, alone in a run-down apartment complex, nearly destitute, etc.

    When I watched her films the other night on TCM I thought back on that article and was wondering if she was as bad off as the Enquirer made her out to be?



  6. Ted Kierscey

    I'm an aging Disney animator (65 and counting) and felt compelled to write this as a matter for all time. In my opinion, the two most beautiful film women who steal the show forever are Ava Gardner and Ann Dvorak. Seeing Ann Dvorak in Scarface made breathing difficult. Most men, even my age, know nothing of her. What a shame. She is, and will always be, one of the two most beautiful and exciting women I've ever seen, with the exception of one girl that I briefly I knew in high school, who also made breathing difficult for me. Ted K

  7. Tim

    I enjoyed your site alot, however, I recently seen Ann in the film The Flame of the Barbary Coast and wondered why you did not mention it. I have only seen Ann in this film, I am a John Wayne fan. But Ann stole the movie in this one. I was hooked. Was that Ann's real voice singing in Flame of the Barbary Coast? And when will your book in on sale?

  8. Vaughn B. Van Vleck

    I have seen a few movies with Ann Dvorak over the years and always thought what a great actress she was. Turner Classic Movies aired the “Housewife” a few days ago giving me the opportunity to see Ann again. She stole the movie. She was so under rated and should have been up there with the best of Hollywood. She was absolutely a beautiful woman and a great actress.


  9. steve

    i saw ann in abelene town with randolph scott as dad watched his westerns .i thought she was fantastic in it .i will keep an eye out for some other movies of hers .

  10. Andre

    Your info has been sent to Christina.

  11. Joe Mack

    I very much want to buy Sweet Music.
    Is it on a dvd?


  12. diane

    I just loved that article. I have loved Ann
    since I first saw “Three on a Match” as well
    but I saw it about 40 years ago (when TV played
    those films all the time!!!) The article was quite
    a revelation - it is criminal how unknown she is.
    I always thought she was so much better in
    “Housewife” than Bette Davis but whenever you
    read about the film it is always as a “Bette Davis movie - no mention of Ann at all. Unless it is something like “the housewife was played by Ann
    Dvorak” - that gets me mad!!!I always thought as well that Bette Davis with her drive and ambition took the roles that maybe were due to Ann but reading your article it sounds like Ann was too fiesty for the Warner Brothers bigwigs!!!

  13. Marcus Tucker

    I am surprised to learn than Ann was championed by Joan Crawford, not because Crawford wasn't generous (as a professional) but Ann was so much more natural than Joan and could have easily inherited many of her roles. I was thinking about THE WOMEN because of the impending release of the remake and couldn't help but think after reading this and knowing Ann's work that she would have made a superb “Crystal.”

  14. Joao Soares

    What a fascinating read! I've just finished watching “Three on a Match” and “Scarface”, and it's great to read on Ms. Dvorak's life, career and endeavors. I've found her mesmerising in “Scarface”, her eyes totally dominated the screen in every scene (and found her weaker on “Three on a Match”, but perhaps I was too enthralled by an early performance of Ms. Bette Davis to be fair).