Remembering Ann Dvorak on Her 107th Birthday

Here are 10 things you should know about actress Ann Dvorak, born 107 years ago today. She never became, perhaps, quite the star she might have been, but she delivered many a memorable turn, particularly during the Precode Era, and remains a favorite among discerning movie buffs.

Our thanks go out to Christina Rice, author of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel and the woman behind the terrific website AnnDvorak.com, for sharing an image with us.

Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Mary Carlisle

There are precious few stars of the 1930s who are still with us today, and it is with sadness that we share the news that Mary Carlisle, born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston, Massachusetts, has passed at the age of 104.

The last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, an annual promotional campaign sponsored from 1922-1934 by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers that honored 13 young actresses (the number was 15 in 1932, the year Carlisle was honored) whose careers showed great promise, Carlisle was discovered in 1928 by studio executive Carl Laemmle, Jr. while dining at the Universal Studios commissary. She was just 14.

Mary Carlisle

In 1930, Carlisle signed a one-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, appearing mostly as a dancer in musical shorts, but it was with Paramount Pictures that she would achieve her greatest success. She appeared opposite Bing Crosby in three films—College Humor (1933), Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938)—and would go on to appear in more than sixty pictures in the course of her 14-year career, most of them “B” pictures with titles reminiscent of the early scene in Preston SturgesSullivan’s Travels, in which successful but artistically frustrated director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is reminded of some of his greatest successes: Ants in Your Plants of 1939, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and So Long, Sarong.

Some of Carlisle’s pictures could’ve been plugged right into John L. Sullivan’s filmography, titles like Hotel Haywire (1937), Ship A Hooey! (1932), and Handy Andy (1934), and we’d pay good money and line up early to see that triple feature tonight, if only some bijou were screening it.

Carlisle was wed to actor James Edward Blakeley (he would go on to become an executive producer at 20th Century-Fox) in 1942 and retired from motion pictures soon thereafter. But more than five dozen pictures is nothing to sneeze at, nor is living (and staying vital) to 104 years of age. What a rich, full life Ms. Carlisle enjoyed.

Rest in peace, Ms. Carlisle, and thank you.

This story originally appeared in a slightly different form on February 3, 2016.

Precode Movies 101: TCM Offers a Primer for Beginners


We’ve acknowledged that the precode era is one of our favorite era in movie history. For those that might not know, precode movies are those made after the ascent of sound but before the Hayes code, which greatly restricted the plot, language, and attitudes that Hollywood pictures were allowed to portray, began to be strictly enforced by the Breen office in 1934.

That quaint, wholesome quality you may associate with old movies? The pictures of the 1930s and ’40s that might convince you, if you don’t already know better, that life was simple, pure and uncomplicated back in the good old days? Those came after the code kicked in. Precode movies are another thing altogether.

Some pictures that typify the precode era are playfully bawdy; others are downright gritty, sometimes even a bit shocking today (though rarely very graphic, by our standards). Tomorrow (Tuesday, July 31st), TCM is giving precode neophytes the chance to do some serious catching up, as they’ll be airing precode favorites all day long, from 6am till 8pm. If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss was all about, here’s your chance to educate yourself.

If it’s gritty you’re looking for, we’d recommend Safe in Hell (1931) and Three on a Match (1932); if you’re just looking for a little salty fun, give Jewel Robbery (1932) and Blonde Crazy (1931) a look. But honestly, we recommend loading up your DVR with every one of these entertaining pictures; they all have something to recommend them.

Here’s the line-up (all times Eastern):
6:00 am — Downstairs (1932)
7:30 am — Loose Ankles (1930)
8:45 am — She Had to Say Yes (1933)
10:00 am — Faithless (1932)
11:30 am — Hell’s Highway (1932)
12:45 pm — Safe in Hell (1931)
2:00 pm — Jewel Robbery (1932)
3:15 pm — Three on a Match (1932)
4:30 pm — Footlight Parade (1933)
6:30 pm — Blonde Crazy (1931)

Can You Hear Me Now?

There are tropes and plot twists that are eternal in movies, but there are other familiar devices that have somehow faded away.

When was the last time, for example, that you saw a character in a movie of recent vintage place a handkerchief over the mouthpiece of a phone to disguise his or her voice?

If you’re young enough and aren’t an avid movie buff, you may never have seen such a scene.

But as any fan of pictures from the Golden Age of Hollywood can attest, it’s a device that was used over and over, in thriller after film noir after mystery picture.

And yet, we’ve never heard anyone question the validity of this practice. Since we were just a kid, we scratched our head over it, but we have wondered if we were alone.

What mystical property could a pocket handkerchief possess that allows it to magically alter a voice until it is unrecognizeable?

For those who really don’t have a recollection of seeing such a scene, we’re offering a snippet of a nice 1953 film noir, The Blue Gardenia. In the picture, Anne Baxter is the subject of a police dragnet on suspicion of murder (though they’ve not yet identified who she is, exactly). In this scene, she calls a newspaper columnist (Richard Conte), who has made an offer via his column to help the “Blue Gardenia” (as the papers have dubbed the unidentified suspect) to tell her side of the story, to exonerate herself of the pending charges.

And when Baxter calls, she uses—you guessed it—a handkerchief to disguise her voice.

When we watched The Blue Gardenia recently (for what must have been our fifth or sixth viewing), we decided it was time to put the handkerchief method to the test, once and for all. And we’ve done just that below.

Without the handkerchief

With the handkerchief

The first audio file was recorded without a handkerchief. We simply spoke a few lines of dialogue (that you will likely recognize) directly into the phone as we always do when making a call. We have a VoiP line, not an old-fashioned land line, and our phone is a digital one, but we think neither of those factors is particularly important in undertaking this experiment.

The second audio file was recorded exactly the same way, only we placed a cotton men’s handkerchief over the mouthpiece of the phone. You can judge for yourself by listening to the two audio files, but for our money, we can’t hear a bit of difference.

All those old movies, all those handkerchief-over-the-mouthpiece scenes. All those lies!

This Cladrite Classic was first published on March 16, 2011.