Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel

by Tony Pinizzotto

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 4, 2013

Films of the 1930s: The guys were dreamily handsome, the dolls had "moxie." Perhaps one of the earliest examples of that "moxie" belongs to pre-code 1930s Hollywood actress Ann Dvorak. With her debut book "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel," biographer Christina Rice recounts Dvorak's never before heard saga of life, love, and battling the Hollywood hierarchy of the 1930s.

The product of a loving, but sometimes overbearing, show business mother, and a vacant father, actress Ann Dvorak started her life in the limelight at a very early age. She was a child that had the determination to succeed. After appearing in over a dozen films as a chorus girl, Dvorak rose to stardom on what would seem like a sure path to success, fueled by her unabated will and chutzpah. Even though her career touts over eighty films, Dvorak is probably most known for her roles in Howard Hughes' "Scarface," and "Three On A Match," opposite Bette Davis and funny-gal Joan Blondell.

During the 1930s Ann Dvorak challenged the subjective practices of the Hollywood system by single-handedly taking on its vanguard, Jack Warner and Warner Bros. Studios. She was, at one time, deemed "Hollywood's new Cinderella," but soon was perceived more as "Hollywood's Impudent Stepsister." Dvorak paved the way for others, ultimately ceasing the control studios would hold on its artists, while in a roundabout way pulling the plug on her own career.

By far one of the most fulfilling aspects of author Christina Rice's work is that so much of it is told in Ann Dvorak's own voice. Outside of being a darn good actress, Dvorak hankered to be a writer, dabbling in some poetry as a youth, as well as journalistic writing during pre- and post-WWII periods. Most importantly, she documented much of her life in journals for herself, interviews with the press, and correspondences to loved ones. In much of the book the reader has the rare opportunity to hear Dvorak's plight as if they're having a one-on-one with the actress, getting to take the journey with her. Rice spares no detail when it comes to telling Dvorak's story. With her no-stone-unturned amount of research, Rice artfully actualizes the highs and lows of Dvorak's life.

There is a wonderful sense of humor throughout "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel" which had this reader giggling when hearing stories of Dvorak repeatedly sneaking back into the audition line after being dismissed; befriending actress Joan Crawford, who helped Ann learn fashion and grooming tips (while turning her into sort-of a "mini-Joan"); Ann's strange study of bacteriology; and Dvorak herself, sometimes fabricating a few historical facts about her past. Dvorak fought many battles in her life; contractual labor obligations, illness and fatigue, long-distance marriage strains due to war; animal rights; and later, bodily and emotional spousal abuse, alcohol addiction, and perceived poverty.

She was, at one time, deemed "Hollywood's new Cinderella"; but soon was perceived more as "Hollywood's Impudent Stepsister."

However, the biggest battle Dvorak seemed to fight was the one with herself. She held steadfast that she would refuse to be defined solely by the roles she played in film, yet seemed to share the sentiment of the public when completing every project with the question "What's Next?" and "Will it be good enough?" Rice dutifully delivers Dvorak's pathos. I found myself rooting for Dvorak as if I were rooting for one of her characters in a pre-code '30s Hollywood movie. Rice also brings to the table some stunning and rare photos for the book, which are largely from her own personal collection. Rice's account allows us to see how the proverbial "Hollywood sausage" was made in the 1930s and 1940s, when studios viewed the actors of their time more as properties to be bought, sold, and contracted into entertainment slavery.

Biting the hand that fed her, Dvorak never fully bounced back from her foibles. After her career was bruised by her studio lawsuits, Hollywood never completely took her seriously. Dvorak's courageous story as Hollywood's first suffragette paved the way for other stars like Bette Davis and James Cagney, who, while also throwing down the gauntlet with the Kings of Warner Bros., somehow managed to rise up and become household names. Rice's articulate and compelling writing sets the story straight about an almost Hollywood icon's story that needs to be, yet hasn't yet been, told to the world. There is an immense responsibility that a biographical author has to their subject. Cinephiles like Rice, in particular, inherently know and respect it.

The story behind the creation of "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel" is just as intriguing as Dvorak's life itself. After seeing the actress many years ago, Rice became enamored with Dvorak and set about to ascertain all she could about the forgotten star. With "Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel," author Christina Rice realizes over 15 years of data mining Ann Dvorak research and memorabilia. A librarian and photo archivist at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles, Rice has managed to uncover a tome of unexplored information on Dvorak and launched (The quest of research even provided Rice the opportunity to have her wedding at the location of one of Dvorak's homes in Southern California.) With what surpasses a Doctorate-level amount in years of study on her subject, Rice establishes herself as the leading expert and authority on the life of Ann Dvorak. Just as Show Business seemed to choose Ann Dvorak, it's almost as if Dvorak chose Rice to tell her story (not the other way around).

This book can be enjoyed by scholars and general readers alike, as part of the University of Kentucky's "Screen Classics" Series. It stands out as a high point offering of film histories and analytical studies focusing on neglected filmmakers and screen artists of the golden age of Hollywood cinema.

"Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel"
University Press of Kentucky
Hardback/ePub/WebPDF $40.00