vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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Dvorak's cinematic symphony

Over the years, we've made no effort to disguise our disdain for "Fools For Scandal," a rather lackluster film that managed to derail Carole Lombard's career momentum in the spring of 1938, when she was arguably the hottest actress in the industry. It was the only film Carole ever made for Warner Brothers, and one might infer from that observation that Lombard should never have worked for Warners.

And one would be wrong.

Had Lombard somehow been loaned out to Warners in the pre-Code era (1931 to mid-1934), the match probably would have been one made in heaven. Whereas the Warners of the late 1930s never quite acclimated itself to the "screwball" style of the time, early '30s Warners had a breezy, flashy, urban feel that would have played to Carole's strengths -- including a few she may not have been aware of yet.

At the time, Warners tried to acquire Lombard via loanout, most notably for "Taxi!" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/65901.html) and possibly also for "Hard To Handle" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/74359.html), both with James Cagney. It should be noted that one of Carole's best pre-Codes, "Virtue," made for Columbia in 1932, has a Warners pre-Code sensibility, right down to getting Warners' Pat O'Brien on loanout as the male lead.

We bring this up because Tuesday, Turner Classic Movies' "Summer Under The Stars" features an actress who often thrived at pre-Code Warners, including some roles Lombard might have been eyed for had she spent some time there. We're referring to someone whose name recognition might not reach to casual movie buffs...Ann Dvorak.

To those of you saying "who?", consider this analogy: Suppose Lucille Ball, whose recent centenary was largely a reflection of her status as a television icon, hadn't gone into TV but instead followed the usual career path for a second-tier film actress who turns 40 (which Ball was in 1951). Chances are she would be remembered chiefly by serious movie fans and few else, an out-of-left-field honoree for events such as "SUTS." With no "I Love Lucy" on her resume, Ball is, for all intents and purposes, Ann Dvorak, who like Lucy was winsome and leggy.

Dvorak (pronounced vor-shak) was no relation to the noted composer of the same name; heck, it wasn't even her birth name. She was born Annabelle McKim in New York on Aug. 2, 1911, an early instance of a second-generation film personality (her father, Edwin McKim, was a director, her mother, Anna Lehr, an actress). Ann had a bit part in a 1916 version of "Ramona," and when her parents divorced, she and her mother went to Los Angeles. By the late 1920s, Ann was a choreographer's assistant at MGM, but couldn't get any notable film work despite help from friend Joan Crawford.

Howard Hawks changed all that. After seeing her dance seductively at a party in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade George Raft to dance with her, Hawks decided to cast her as the key character Casca in his upcoming film "Scarface," acquiring her contract from MGM.

There were many things to like about "Scarface," perhaps the most uncompromising of the early '30s gangster pics, and Dvorak's solid performance as the brother of Tony Amonte (Paul Muni), a relationship where incest is at least in the subtext, was one of them. It put Ann on the map as an actress, and led to her contract being purchased by Warners. It promptly assigned her to "Three On A Match," where she proved the equal of co-stars Joan Blondell and Bette Davis; she again worked with Blondell on the Cagney vehicle "The Crowd Roars."

Things seemed to be going well for Dvorak, who had married British actor/director Leslie Fenton, whom she'd met on her next film, "The Strange Love Of Molly Louvain" -- but trouble was on the way. Miffed over learning her weekly "star" salary was not the equal of her "Match" co-stars, but of the child actor playing her son, Dvorak left on her honeymoon without telling Warners, and blasted the studio to the European press.

When she returned in 1933, Warners gave her a new contract, but refused to consider her for top-tier roles. Instead of potentially becoming "queen of the lot," a status that went to Davis, Dvorak was left to serve out the rest of her contract, then freelanced without much clout.

Dvorak and Fenton eventually moved to England; he become a British PT boat commander during World War II, she became an ambulance driver. They returned stateside in 1944, divorcing not much later, and Ann returned to acting, usually in second-level productions. One of them, 1951's "I Was An American Spy," was supposedly her favorite film, and will air at 2 a.m. (ET). She married twice more, did some television, then moved to Hawaii, where she resided until dying of stomach cancer in December 1979.

Sixteen of Dvorak's films, including 1935's "Sweet Music," in which she's shown above, will be presented by TCM. Prime-time play goes to her two best-known movies, "Scarface" at 8 p.m. (ET) and "Three On A Match" (which also features Warren William and Humphrey Bogart) at 9:45. For the entire schedule, go to http://www.tcm.com/schedule/index.html?tz=est&sdate=2011-08-09.

Dvorak is increasingly gaining recognition for her considerable talent -- and even though her dispute with Warners prevented her from reaching her full potential (a mistake later conceded by Jack Warner), she nevertheless had many fine moments on screen. (To learn more about Ann, go to the fine site http://www.anndvorak.com.) Here's her image, captured in an attractive portrait by George Hurrell:

This week's header keeps Carole on the telephone line -- but with more clothes on than last week, not to mention an older phone. It's a screenshot from 1932's "No Man Of Her Own."

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