Showing posts with label Ann Dvorak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ann Dvorak. Show all posts

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel by Christina Rice

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel
by Christina Rice
Hardcover - 370 pages
University Press of Kentucky
October 2013

Barnes and Noble

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel by Christina Rice is one of the finest books I have ever read. It's taken me a long time to sit down and write this review because frankly I've been intimidated by it. As a biography of an obscure figure from film history’s past, it’s a simply a masterpiece. From the brief preface you can already tell that the author has a passion for all things Ann Dvorak. Author Christina Rice’s reputation precedes her though and she is known among many classic film enthusiasts as the leading expert on Ann Dvorak. She runs and in 2013 she did daily posts on Dvorak that lasted the entire year. Such an elusive and poorly known figure as Ann Dvorak was required someone with determination and passion to tell her story. There's no one else who could do it justice.

Author Christina Rice puts together the puzzle of Dvorak's life so we can see the bigger picture, even though there are plenty of pieces missing. In other words, the author does a lot with a little. Children usually carry on the legacy of their parents. For those with fame and recognition, their name is held up by future generations who appreciate their work. Dvorak was childless and a forgotten figure of film history by the time she died in 1979. She was lost to us until the home video era and a resurgence in interest in Pre-Code films. Dvorak was rediscovered when so many of us fell in love with her via Three on a Match (1932) and Scarface (1932) among other films.

Ann Dvorak
Photo Source

Dvorak never became a big star but it wasn't for lack of charm or talent. She was rebellious against a studio system that often punished her with suspensions and lackluster roles. Even before Bette Davis and James Cagney, Dvorak stood up against Warner Bros. and the notorious Jack Warner. Dvorak went from child actress to dancer to supporting actress to lead actress, demonstrating along the way her capability to adapt and transform. But true stardom was not meant to be.

Another reason for Dvorak's star's limited rise was because she always prioritized her romantic relationships over her acting career. She was especially invested her her first marriage to actor Leslie Fenton. Their honeymoon took her away from Hollywood for a year but she relished her time abroad. Fenton's influence can be seen in Dvorak's penchant for traveling, reading and even esoteric hobbies such as bacteriology. Dvorak was married three times and her last marriage to Nicholas Wade brought her to Hawaii where she would live out the rest of her days in relative obscurity.

Rice's biography of Ann Dvorak is a wonderfully thorough look at the actress' life and career. Much time is spent on Dvorak's complicated relationship with her mother, who was also an actress and an intriguing figure in Dvorak's life. There are plenty of photos throughout the book and lots of detail about Dvorak's films as well as her TV and theater work. The book starts with a fascinating introduction which serves as a snapshot of Dvorak's life but also demonstrates the author's passion and tenacity for the project.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. Classic film fans and Ann Dvorak admirers will appreciate it as a primary source. I also think readers who appreciate well-written biographies about interesting women of the past will find a lot to enjoy in this book.

A big thank you to the University Press of Kentucky for sending me this book to review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday - College Coach (1933)

Title card for College Coach 1933

College Coach (1933) is a film that combines two of my favorite themes in early films: sports and collegiate culture. Calvert College is in trouble. They just put some money into their science department and now they are on the brink of bankruptcy. They get the idea to hire Coach Gore (Pat O'Brien), a college football coach whose success in developing teams that draw crowds and win championships is well-known. The board of the college figure that a healthy and attractive football program will bring enough revenue to help the college recover from it's financial crisis.

Coach Gore hires athletes to be fake college students so they can play on the college's football team and bring the success that the college is looking for. Two of his hired players Buck Weaver (Lyle Talbot) and Phil Sargeant (Dick Powell) don't see eye to eye.

And not only that Weaver has an eye for Gore's wife (Ann Dvorak). Things become complicated as Gore continues to neglect his wife, as Weaver causes more problems and as Sargeant figures out he really wants to study chemistry and the chemistry department is dependent on the football team's success in order to continue.

I love the dilemma between academics and sports. We all know that talented athletes are highly sought after my colleges and universities. And even today there is still debate about how much a school should invest in it's academics versus it's sports. Sports definitely bring more public recognition to a school than academics (unless we are talking about Harvard or MIT or something). ESPN will not be covering students doing a particularly tough chemistry experiment but will cover their basketball game. In College Coach (1933), the college's academics is the poorer cousin to the much more handsome prospect of a robust football program. There is contention between them both with the hired players passing classes without having to do any studying.

College Coach is a fun movie with a good cast. It's not particularly collegiate. Some of the early scenes show students at games, together in dorms expressing their college spirit. The focus of this film is definitely the business behind college football and how the manipulation of Gore and his hired players causes problems for the school and for personal relationships.

Technically it's a pre-code but it's pretty tame. There is one scene in which Weaver (Lyle Talbot) hangs up a picture of a swell looking dame on a shelf much to the dismay of Sargeant. Weaver points to the picture and proclaims: "How would you like to stick your finger in..."

OH MY GOODNESS! I was so scandalized until he finished

How would you like to stick your finger in her coffee?

Phew! Also, who sticks their fingers in girls' coffees? Is this a thing? Is it to break the bubble of personal space?

Fun fact: A very young John Wayne has a bit part as a college student.

John Wayne in a bit part in College Coach 1933 with Dick Powell

College Coach (1933) is available from the Warner Archive and at various online retailers.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix, watched on TCM or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

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