Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Excerpt

April 4, 1936, was a typical sunny day in Southern California as Ann Dvorak made her way toward the all-too-familiar entrance of the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse. Here, over the past two months, she had endured pointed questions from Warner Bros.’ lawyers and watched as X-rays of her inner organs were put on display. The proceedings had not gone her way so far, and this last-ditch effort to get the judge to void her contract would probably fail. Still, maybe this time she would at least find out how long her servitude to Warner Bros, would continue. If nothing else, she was no longer the lone rebel lashing out against the serfdom known as the Hollywood studio system. Her fellow Warner costar, James Cagney, had followed her lead by filing his own lawsuit in late February, and rumor had it Bette Davis was also becoming increasingly unhappy. The three actors may have had their own reasons for being discontented, but the underlying motive was the same: to gain control over their own careers. The contracts they had signed early on gave Warner Bros, a stranglehold on their professional livelihood, dictating what roles they would play, loaning them out to other studios without their consent—and in Ann’s case, suspending them indefinitely (without cause, as far as she was concerned) and tacking the unpaid suspension time onto the end of contract, which could extend the termination date by months. These contracts were no different than the ones most actors in Hollywood signed, but Warner Bros, seemed to be the worst offender when it came to overworking its talent, and frequently in mediocre films.

Ever since Ann had walked out on the studio in 1932 to go to Europe with her husband, Leslie Fenton, she had been punished with a string of unmemorable supporting roles. Not that Warner Bros, would ever admit to this, but to Ann it seemed clear. The drab leading-lady roles they subjected her to were bad enough, but many times the studio went so far as to relegate her to small supporting parts. When Ann had costarred in Scarface in 1932, she never dreamed it would be the best film she would make, that her subsequent roles would be less and less significant. Then . . .

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