Interview with Christina Rice – Author of “Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel”

April 23 and 24, the Northwest Chicago Film Society and the Park Ridge Classic Film Series present two classic films starring Ann Dvorak, with Dvorak’s biographer Christina Rice on hand to discuss her new book, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. On April 23 at the Patio Theater (6008 W. Irving Park Rd.), the Northwest Chicago Film Society present a 35mm print of Michael Curtiz’s 1932 pre-code crime drama THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN <http://cine-file.info/list-archive/2014/APR-14-3.html> , and April 24, the Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, IL) will show Howard Hawks’ 1932 classic SCARFACE.

We spoke with Christina Rice about her book, her continued fascination with Ann Dvorak, and what could’ve been for the forgotten rebel had she played it safe.

Kathleen Sachs: Over the past year I’ve written about HEAT LIGHTNING and MASSACRE for Cine-File, and I was also very taken with Ann Dvorak. In your book, you mentioned how and why you got into her. Would you care to go more in-depth as to what it was about Ann in particular that made you fall in love with her?

Christina Rice: The first film I ever saw of hers…this was gosh, maybe 1995…was THREE ON A MATCH. I checked it out from my local library hoping to spend an hour watching a fun film, and that would be it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so blindsided by a performance the way I was with Ann. I subsequently watched her in SCARFACE and G MEN with James Cagney not realizing she was in those, but there she was. I kept running into this actress who was just beautiful and her acting seemed more contemporary and I was curious as to why she wasn’t a bigger star. At the time I very naively assumed every film actor had a book written about them because anytime I wanted to read about Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Errol Flynn, they all had books about them. When I went to find a book about Ann, there wasn’t anything. So eventually, I decided if nobody’s going to research this actress, then I should be the one to do it. Never guessing it would take me 15 years to actually accomplish that, but it did.

KS: What is your favorite role of Ann’s, and if not the same as the role you think is her best, which would you think is her best and why?

CR: My personal favorite is THREE ON A MATCH because that was the role that introduced me to her. That’s usually the one I recommend for people. I think that’s probably my personal favorite. As far as her best….I think Cesca Camonte in SCARFACE. That’s actually a really strong role. And Mary Ashlon in a 1950 MGM film, A LIFE OF HER OWN. She’s in it for about 10 minutes and she really walks away with that movie. I honestly think that’s the one film she should have gotten an Oscar nomination for.

KS: Per your book and your blog, you have an impressive collection of Ann Dvorak memorabilia. What has it been like amassing a collection of memorabilia for an actress who, as your book title suggests, has unfortunately been largely forgotten by film history?

CR: That was actually how I really got started. I was interested in Ann, but I also realized that I could afford to collect on her. I couldn’t afford to collect on the Marx Brothers, but I could afford to collect on Ann because nobody else was. It didn’t matter how low-budget the movie was, there was still a ton of memorabilia that was produced- lobby cards, photos, posters. For me to amass the collection that I have really wasn’t that difficult because I never had much competition. At this point it’s pretty substantial. I have over 1500 pictures of her, hundreds of posters and lobby cards. I don’t find stuff as much as I used to, but even though the book’s done, I’m still buying stuff whenever I find it.

KS: I went through your blog and saw that even after the book was published, you were showing some photos you found after the fact, so it seems like there’s still so much out there. And also about Ann’s mother, Anna Lehr, it seems like every so often there’s a new discovery with her. [Ann’s mother, Anna Lehr, was also an actress who notably appeared in Will Rogers’ first film, LAUGHING BILL HYDE.)

CR: It’s not as often as I’d like, being a collector. Being a collector is kind of a weird, defensive thing. It’s almost like being a junkie, I guess. I’m dying to find new things, and I don’t find as much as I used to, but yeah, I also do what I call my fringe collecting by buying thing related to Anna Lehr, her mom.

KS: As detailed in your book, Ann certainly had a very interesting life and even if she sometimes sacrificed her career to live it, it makes her different than most other starlets in that her professional life wasn’t so glamorous, but her personal life was lived to the fullest. It’s not a question persay, but I’d like to get your input on what it was like for an up-and-coming starlet to lose out on fame and fortune because she instead chose to have a fulfilling personal life. [This question mostly references Ann’s first marriage to actor Leslie Fenton, who starred with her in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN. During their 13-year marriage, Ann walked out on her contract with Warner Bros. to take an extended honeymoon in Europe and later joined Fenton overseas when he enlisted in the British Royal Navy during World War 2.]

CR: Ann started off as a chorus girl at MGM, and she did that for about two and a half years and grew very frustrated with it and wanted to move up and have better roles. MGM didn’t give her anything, but the first big role she did end up getting was SCARFACE. But I think she’s different from a lot of those starlets in that she had this kind of A-list spotlight role right out of the gate. And even though she worked her tail off as a chorus girl for a couple of years, I don’t know if maybe fame and some legitimacy as an actress made it seem a little bit too easy for her, which is why she didn’t have a problem turning her back on it. If I could ever ask Ann a question, that’s one I’d ask: was it worth it? Was it worth cashing in your professional career to have this offscreen life? That was something I never thought I would have the opportunity to have answered, but in that same collection of items I bought that included the honeymoon scrapbook, there was a journal from 1977, which was about two years before Ann died, and there was only one entry in this journal, but in it she is looking back at her life and actually expresses a great deal of regret at not having the career she should have had. It was definitely a tradeoff. I don’t know if it was a great tradeoff, I don’t know if she thought it was a great tradeoff, but it was the trade off that she made. It made for very good storytelling as well. At least there was that. Ann wasn’t boring, that’s for sure.

Visit Christina Rice’s blog (http://www.anndvorak.com/) on Ann Dvorak.

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