Ann Dvorak

“I don’t want to go back to Hollywood if I can help it. I want to go back to the stage. The trouble with Hollywood is everybody is crazy for money. The producers are trying to make pictures cheaper and faster. They do not realize the public is becoming more critical, and can see the cheapness.” –Ann Dvorak

Ann Dvorak was an actress of the stage and screen who flourished during the pre-Code Hollywood Era and the early years of the Hays Code. Born Anna McKim in New York City on August 2, 1911, to actor and director Edwin McKim and actress Anna Lehr, she attended St. Catherine’s Convent in Manhattan. Her parents divorced when Dvorak was young. Dvorak would not reunite with her father until 1934, when she made a plea to the press to help her locate him. Six men claimed to be her father before her actual father–living in Philadelphia with no idea that she was in films–materialized.

Dvorak and her mother moved to California, where she would attend the Page School for Girls in Hollywood. By 1916, she would make her film debut in Ramona (1916), billed as Baby Anna Lehr. As the years went on, Dvorak fulfilled roles as a child in The Man Hater (1917) and Five Dollar Plate (1920) before stepping away from the screen to focus on her studies.

Soon, a teenage Dvorak worked as a dance instructor while also employed at MGM as a chorus girl. She was introduced to Howard Hughes, who helped Dvorak finesse her talents as a dramatic actress. One of her most pivotal roles would be in the pre-Code film Scarface (1932) as Cesca. By this time, she was working under the stage name of Ann Dvorak, a name drawn from her mother’s side of the family and intended to be pronounced “vor-shack.” Additional notable roles for Dvorak would include appearances in Three on a Match (1932), The Crowd Roars (1932), and Sky Devils (1932).

Dvorak gained a reputation for her style and talent as a Warner Brothers star. Primarily working in dramas and romances, she found herself at odds with her studio on a number of occasions. When she eloped with actor Leslie Fenton, her co-star from The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932), she went on her honeymoon despite contractual obligations. As a result, she found herself in a number of pay disputes, eventually completing her contract on permanent suspension, followed by work as a freelancer.

Though she broke from her contract and found work, the quality of the roles she received was noticeably worse. Nonetheless, she soon found herself focusing on contributing tot he war effort. She and Fenton traveled to England, where Fenton served and Dvorak worked as an ambulance driver in addition to securing roles in various British films. She served in the Mechanised Transport Corps, a female civilian organization. She was also part of the Women’s Land Army, a civilian organization with members working in fields to harvest crops during wartime.

Dvorak and Fenton would divorce in 1946. By 1947, she had married again to Russian dancer Igor Dega, though the marriage would come to an end two years later.

In 1948, Dvorak would give her sole Broadway performance in a play called The Respectful Prostitute.

Retired from the screen in 1951, Dvorak would meet and marry her final husband, Nicholas Wade. They relocated to Hawaii, one of her favorite places to visit, and remained there for the rest of their lives. There, she continued to cultivate her large collection of first edition books. The couple remained together until his passing in 1975.

Dvorak passed away in Honolulu on December 10, 1979, from stomach cancer. She was 68 years old and her ashes were scattered off the coast of Waikiki Beach.

Today, not many tributes to Dvorak remain, though some of her former residences stand.

The home–a former ranch–she shared with Fenton remains at 16231 Morrison St. in Encino and is privately owned.

Following their divorce, she resided at 12319 19th Helena Dr. in Brentwood, which is also privately owned.

In Hawaii, she would live in an apartment building located at 2144 Lauula St., located in Honolulu.

Back in California, Dvorak was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her star is located at 6321 Hollywood Boulevard.

Today, Dvorak is celebrated through her filmography as well as author Christina Rice’s biography, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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