Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wagon Train - "The Martha Barham Story" - 1959



The Wagon Train episode of “The Martha Barham Story” is one in a string of television appearances Ann Blyth made in a variety of shows and genres in the immediate years following her last film, The Helen Morgan Story (1957), which we’ll talk about down the road.  There was no expectation by Miss Blyth or anybody else at this time that this would be her last film, but circumstances conspired together such that good scripts were not forthcoming, the studio system was not there anymore to plug her into the old assembly line of roles, and what offers did appear were often filmed far away from Hollywood.  As she told syndicated columnist James Bacon,

“All the movie scripts offered wanted me to go to Europe and for such a long time…I just felt that I couldn’t be separated from my family that long…I think long separations, no matter how understanding the husband or wife, have broken up more Hollywood marriages than any other single factor.  No script is worth that.”

She was also the mother of three.  At 31 years old, she was not ready to completely abandon her career.  TV anthologies filmed in Hollywood allowed her to slip in and out of a variety of roles with minimal disruption to her family, and with steady frequency.  In October 1959, she appeared in a skit on the Ford Star Time Hour variety show with Art Linkletter in an episode called “The Secret World of Kids”.  She played a new mother caring for her infant and sang “An Irish Lullaby”.  Vincent Price was another guest.

The following month, she appeared on Wagon Train, and in December, a tense drama in The DuPont Show with June Allyson.  There was more TV in early 1960, and her star planted along with others on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  By the end of year, she gave birth to her fourth child, a baby son.  She had traded a film career in these years for a juggling act.

On Wagon Train, season 3, episode 6, broadcast November 9, 1959, she plays the haughty daughter of a frontier fort commander, played by Dayton Lummis.  She is a former love of show star Robert Horton, but displays disdain for him now when he rides through the stockade because she has a new fiancé, an officer on her father’s staff, played by Mike Road.  

Also, she regards Mr. Horton with frank disgust because he enters the fort with his best friend, a Sioux named Curly Horse, played by Read Morgan.  Miss Blyth’s character, high tempered and tempestuous, is bigoted toward Indians.  Her father may regard one tribe over another as allies or enemies, but she lumps them all in the same category as inferiors, which earns an even greater repugnance than an enemy.

Horton renews acquaintance with her, teases her, but bristles at being called a “renegade white” for his friendship with Curly Horse.  They might both be well rid of each other, except a truce with the Sioux is on shaky ground.  White hunters are shooting the buffalo, taking the hides only and leaving the meat to rot in the sun, which infuriates the Sioux because their people are starving.  Ann’s officer fiancé, in a frontier gesture at proving both his manliness and his devotion to her, shoots a buffalo and skins the hide to give to her as a wedding present.  This last buffalo carcass is the last straw for the Sioux, who capture the fiancé to make an example of him.

By the way, look for a young Warren Oates as an exhausted cavalryman reporting on the ambush.

Curly Horse is asked to act as mediary.  He is not happy about the job, and we see a man uncomfortably caught between two cultures, and torn.

Meanwhile, the Sioux’s enemy, the Cheyenne, have attacked the fort and killed pretty nearly everybody, including Ann’s father.  She has escaped, hidden the fort, where Robert Horton finds her, hysterical, terrorized and half out of her mind with hatred.  He saves her from a second-round attack, and when she faints, he carries her out of the garrison loft, down a ladder, through the fort and out to where he tied his horse.  I know she didn’t weigh a lot, but he must have been exhausted.

Strong-willed, shouting, sick with hatred, she resists going with him, but he puts her on his horse and off they get, as fast as they can, before the Cheyenne spot them.  In the wee hours of the night, she walks away from their camp, taking his horse, hoping to get to the next fort, but the Sioux catch her, and through her, catch Mr. Horton.  They are both taken prisoner, reunited with her fiancé, and Curly Horse, who has to pretend to hate them to save his neck.

Henry Brandon plays the angry, murderous son of the chief who wants to take Ann for his woman.  We last saw Henry in the same position in The Golden Horde (1951) discussed here, as the son of Genghis Khan, who wanted to take Ann for his woman.  Poor Henry’s in a rut.

The Sioux have are going to torture the men, and tie them to stakes, setting a ring of brush around them on fire. 

Curly Horse slyly crafts their method of escape, which requires Horton to wrap skins around his bare feet so he can walk on hot embers carrying the fiancé over his shoulder in the wee hours when the village is asleep.  Horton does a lot of heavy lifting in this episode.

They will take horses and ride to a distant spot, where Curly Horse will meet them, hopefully with Ann, whom he will to free by himself.

There is a long, dramatic scene of Horton carrying the injured fiancé out of the fire, but in a sense, it’s kind of a wasted moment.  He’s the star of the show, the regular who’ll be on next week.  We know he’ll be okay.  Ann and Read Morgan are the couple on whom the climax should focus.  Instead, they all show up at the meeting place at the right time, Ann is humbled and grateful to Curly Horse, and Horton brushes her off kindly when she begins to fall for him again.  She goes off with her fiancé, status quo.

What would have been more interesting is seeing the exchange between Ann and Read Morgan when he knocks out the fellow who’s been guarding her, and saves her.  Does she resist him as she resisted Horton, thinking he’s up to no good?  Does she scream, is she so frightened of her ultimate fate as Henry Brandon’s new woman that she clings to Curly Horse as her rescuer?  How do they interact with each other in the intimacy of escape?  At what point does she decide she’s been wrong about her bigotry and come to regard Curly Horse with gratitude?  It’s a big message in this episode, where we begin the 1960s with looming social issues of equality and brotherhood of man, and come to face our blatant prejudices as a nation.  Westerns are no longer about shooting the Indian.  There’s more going on in the West now, even if it’s just the back lot. 

Instead, the episode falls back on pure manly daring-do that is uncomplicated and untroubled by conscience.

But the episode ends with a shocking scene.  The Sioux discover that Curly Horse has betrayed them, and they beat him to death. 

We don’t know if Robert Horton will ever learn the fate of his friend, or if Ann, one day telling the adventure to her children and grandchildren on the prairie, will ever comprehend how much Curly Horse gave up to save her.  But we see it, and our inability to tell them what happened, and to watch them go off to resume their presumably happy lives, unknowing, is a powerful and ironic indictment of the ignorance and waste of bigotry.


Wagon Train season 3 is available on DVD.

Come back next Thursday for more TV, this time a double-header: a comic episode of Wagon Train where Ann plays a saloon gal who has to hide the fact from her visiting father; and a modern drama from The Dick Powell Show called “Savage Sunday” where she plays a sassy Washington correspondent at a New York newspaper.

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Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner, September 2, 1958, “Ann Blyth, Screen’s ‘Little Lady’ Now a Saloon Singer” by James Bacon, p. 3


****************************
As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

****************************
 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

***************************
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
 HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 

***************************

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Killer McCoy - 1947


Killer McCoy (1947) is an engaging hybrid of genres, a post-war noir with a 1930s innocence and parade-of-years element; a story where the slum-raised protagonist is actually a hero rather than anti-hero, as sentimental as he is cynical.  The racketeers are soulless, except for the one with the most to lose.  The romantic couple never even kiss, but they are bonded together from the moment they meet.  Most interestingly, it is an MGM movie and not Warner’s, where one might expect to find a gritty boxing picture.  It is a both a gift, and a challenge, from the studio—perhaps even a dare to test his box office value—to its prodigal son just back from service in the army, Mickey Rooney.


This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.

Ann Blyth, on loan out from Universal for the second time, plays a finishing school debutante,  the daughter of the successful racketeer.  Her father, played by Brian Donlevy in a tailor-made role, has kept his nefarious career a secret from her, but she learned about it when she was still a child and carries the shame inside her.  She doesn’t tell her pop she knows because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.  There’s a lot of protecting of parents by disillusioned young people in this movie, not excatly a forerunner of the 1950s and 1960s teen films of mom-and-dad-don’t-understand flicks.

These young adults are much more mature and compassionate than the malt-shop or beach bum gang of whiners that would follow.  They are not grappling with growing up; they grew up too soon.

Though this is a remake of the Robert Taylor vehicle, The Crowd Roars (1938), I won’t make any comparisons, partly because I haven’t seen that movie yet, and partly because Killer McCoy can stand on its own as a slice of the careers of its prodigiously talented leads.

Mickey Rooney creates a fascinating double-image of his screen persona.  We see flashes of Andy Hardy in his playful song-and-dance routine with the wonderful James Dunn, who plays his alcoholic shiftless father, and even in some of the rubbery pratfalls he takes in the boxing ring.  Mr. Rooney, though he is a natural athlete and is clearly in shape, muscular with good upper body development, is no boxer.  He doesn’t really have the technique down, but that is covered pretty well by director Roy Rowland’s judicious direction.

Rooney has famously, both in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, and in his television interview with Robert Osborne on TCM’s Private Screenings series, discussed his fights with Rowland on set, that he felt the director berated him and was out to get him.  You’d never know it by the image on screen, though, which is a wonderful blend of skillful cinematography and Mickey Rooney’s own masterful screen presence. In the scene where he first meets Donlevy, Mickey enters the room, casts an eye around, almost as if looking for the camera and for us, as if to say, "Yeah, it's me.  I'm back."

It is in the quieter moments of serious dialogue where Rooney really shines, where we see he has left Andy Hardy behind, in his beaten, cynical manner and in the lines on his face.  He confronts what he feels is Ann Blyth’s snobbery about boxers in a speech that displays his anger, his resentment for the fight game and himself a pawn in it, and yet also his compassion for all the washed-up boxers he’s ever met.  Despite his pride, we see his self-loathing later in a scene where crisis comes and he blurts out, "In a way, I had this coming to me."

Most especially preying on his mind is his friend and mentor, played by Mickey Knox, a boxer who trained him.  Knox left the game for wife and baby and chicken farm, but when the money was tight, he went back into the ring for a comeback.  He wasn’t in good condition, and his opponent—Mickey Rooney by luck of the draw—kills him in the ring. 

Mr. Rooney has a terrific scene with Knox’s wife, played by Eve March, where they, both embarrassed and in pain, try to make small talk in one of the worst places in the world to do that: a hospital waiting room in the wee hours of the night.  Miss March is excellent in this scene.  Her career comprised of a lot of bit parts, mostly uncredited, but the strength of her realistic performance as a careworn, lower class woman of dignity, so striking, makes us wonder why she wasn’t used more.  I love the quick flashes of a weak smile when she speaks proudly of her little son.  She tells Rooney the boy wants to grow up to be a boxer like his daddy.

Rooney’s expression hardens.  “Don’t you let him, Mrs. Martin.  Don’t you ever let him.”

“No.” she quietly agrees.

So many scenes, which could come off as cliché, ring true, such as when Rooney, betrayed and disgusted that his father would sell his contract to racketeer Donlevy for gambling and drinking money—only one in a string of disappointments in his washed-up actor father. 

Dunn plays his role with relish, a helpless big-talker who lives for the next stroke of luck, but who can’t settle down to an honest day’s work, as pitiable as he is repugnant.  Rooney has supported his parents and been the man of the family since boyhood.  But there is no hearts and flowers sentimentality to his sacrifice; on the contrary, he is more resentful than a truckload of George Baileys.  Rooney does not apologize for his father, indeed, lets him have it in strong words and a slap on the face, but with the extraordinary compassion (one keeps coming back to that noble word) of his character, he also looks out for him.

“You’re a ham and I’m a pug.  Maybe that’s all we’ll ever be, but at least we’ll have each other.  At least we can go on hoping.”

Another good, genuine scene with Rooney is when the gold-digging waitress at the dinner chats him up for a big spender, and he, with self-depreciating humor, though too shrewd to be taken in, is still generous to her.

The scene where Ann introduces Mickey to her father, unaware they already know each other and are working together in a racket.  Her eagerness for them to like each other, their uncomfortable and embarrassed pretending for her sake.

The scene where when he takes Ann Blyth to a nightclub and she, with youthful importance, orders a drink, and he orders tomato juice.

“Don’t you drink?” she says, startled, expecting more of the big-time boxer in a night on the town.

“No,” he says with wonderfully unconcerned nonchalance, showing the maturity and self-confidence of the young man who doesn’t give it a second thought.  He’s got his own code of honor.  
And it’s torturing him.

Though it’s Rooney’s movie, Ann Blyth is a particularly good choice for the role of the girl.  This is her first time at MGM, the studio that will in a few years give her a chance at a big musical, The Great Caruso (1951), which we discussed here, and would be her own home studio when she left Universal in the 1950s. 

Her own maturity, her empathy not only for her character, but for Rooney, makes her an intriguing and quietly powerful companion for Mickey.  Noting the difference in their social spheres, he tries to stop seeing her many times, but she won’t let him, yet she is not clinging, she is even sickened by her first sight of a boxing match, watching him getting punched, the blood lust of the crowd enjoying it.  Their worlds collide because their souls are drawn to each other. 

One particularly affecting scene takes place in a sailboat, where she confesses to him that she has known since she was a child that her father was a gangster, and so she had never really fit in with her private school classmates, his criminal activity like a long shadow over her.

From a technical aspect, the scene is magical, a still and quiet world away from the noise of the boxing arena and its savage fans.  The boat lifts and falls in a lapping of a gentle wave on an otherwise deserted lake.  The rear-screen projection is used very skillfully here.  The scene is exquisitely gentle.  There is power in Mickey’s restraint as he confesses his dream to leave boxing, and in the consoling way he listens to her and tries to advise her.  There is power in the waver of Ann’s voice and tearing eyes as she tries to carefully unburden herself with fragile dignity.

“I’m all he has,” she says helplessly of her father, who lives a double life.

Ironically, the strongest aspect of their relationship is that, as mentioned above, they do not kiss.  They don’t embrace, there are no confessions of love between them.  They just need each other, and are both too wary, too burdened by others, too fearful to risk loving one more person.  They are taking their time. Only at the magnificent end, when his last terrible boxing match is over, after Rooney screams hoarsely and out of breath into the radio microphone that he’s quitting, do they share a single, sweaty, bloody clinch.  It’s perfect.




Only one scene doesn’t work for me, when Miss Blyth first meets Mr. Rooney, and he is playing Franz Liszt’s “Lebestraum” on the piano.  How a guy who never went beyond seventh grade in school and scrambled to sell papers to feed his parents and spent every free moment hustling chumps in pool halls ever found the time or money to learn how to play classical pieces on the piano, I don’t know.  We need to have a scene of him learning to play the piano as a child to believe it.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the war, though the movie covers a time span of about five years.  The montage of headlines flashes only news of boxing, nothing else.

I won’t go play-by-play on the plot, except to note another scene were Dunn, in an attempt to save both himself and Ann from mobsters, finally displays mettle and resolve in a crisis instead of indulgent self-pity.

Donlevy’s devoted father-panic when he rages at Mickey for hanging around his daughter:

“You’re a pug.  You come from the slums.  You’ve fought your way through back alleys.  You’ve killed a man.”

“Sheila knows that.”

"She’s just a child.  She’ll feel differently,” he says, when Rooney’s been rendered senseless by one too many punches.

The ending may remind you of Rocky (1976).  Concidence?

Another one of the joys of this movie is the parade of wonderful character actors:  Sam Levene as Mickey’s trainer and cut-man, Happy, who suffers from the corner every time he’s hit, and has some great wisecracks.

Tom Tully plays a rival racketeer, a great performance that runs a knife-edge of humor and frightening cruelty.  He tells a funny story about having indigestion, and he’s willing to kill for spite, let alone money.  Everybody in this movie has two sides.  Walter Sande his is partner.

Bob Steele, who’d been around since the days of the silents and made a name for himself in westerns, plays boxer Sailor Graves in a delightfully good-natured and even comic performance.

Watch for the extras, including Milburn Stone, Ray Teal, and blink-and-you-miss-her Shelley Winters in a non-speaking role as a boxing groupie who crashes training camp.  She’s driving the convertible.

Ann Blyth, we could also note, is photographed absolutely beautifully in this movie.  You can really see the MGM gloss in how the movie handles her.  She conveys dignity, gravity, and decency, and her thoughtful expression darkens, cringes everytime someone speaks of gambling and mobsters. She was coming out of one of the worse periods of her personal life—her spine injury and death of her mother—and slogged out these bad memories in her intense bad-girl role in Swell Guy (1946), which we discussed here, and popped up only briefly in Brute Force (1947), which we’ll discuss down the road.  In a way, this loan-out to MGM was, for her as much as Rooney, a kind of reboot to her career. 

She would head back to Universal and a couple more intense dramas and characters of dubious moral conduct: A Woman’s Vengeance (1948) which we discussed here, and Another Part of the Forest (1948) discussed here.  She was about to enter the busiest and most prolific period of her screen career.  Though she was still a young woman, just 19, and she would not yet be through playing teens, still, not since the early four films at Universal in 1944 had she really been locked into ingénue roles.  Instead, she could and would play women who, if not chronologically older, were certainly world-wise and knowing.  Her own personal maturity and empathy contributed to this ability.  A playfulness, even goofiness that was also part of her personality, would remain hidden and that would not come out until later films: Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) here; Once More, My Darling (1949) here; and Rose Marie (1954) discussed here.

A syndicated review in the Toledo Blade called the movie a…

Great comeback by Ann Blyth, who’s Mickey Rooney’s sweetheart in Killer McCoy.  She’s the Mildred Pierce Academy Award nominee who broke her back tobogganing.  It threatened to end her career!  Hollywood’s happy for her...

Mickey Rooney’s career would lose momentum, despite his splendid performance in this film, and would ride a variety of crests and valleys through the coming years, but endured with remarkable longevity, which itself was a tribute to this very talented man.


Killer McCoy is available on DVD from the Warner's Archive Collection.

Have a look at the other great bloggers posting this month as part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken& Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.

Come back next Thursday when we head back west on TV’s Wagon Train for another episode, “The Martha Barnham Story” where Ann Blyth plays an officer’s haughty daughter whose bigotry will alienate a former love and mean life or death for herself and others.




Posted by Jacqueline T. Lynch at Another Old Movie Blog.

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Private Screenings, Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne interview with Mickey Rooney.


Rooney, Mickey.  Life Is Too Short. (NY: Villard Books, 1991).


Toledo Blade, July 9, 1947, “Filmdom chatter box”.

****************************
As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

****************************
 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

***************************
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
 HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, The Dick Powell Show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 

***************************

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Remembrance



The blog goes dark today in remembrance of the victims of 9/11.

We'll resume posting in our Year of Ann Blyth series tomorrow with Killer McCoy (1947).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ann Blyth - Teen Years in Hollywood

Ann Blyth was a teenager from 1941 to 1948.  To spend most of one’s teen years during World War II was the defining experience of her generation.

To one blossoming in one’s career while at the same time coming of age, this era must have been an added adventure and source of excitement, and anxiety.  She did not know the tragedy of war firsthand, but she knew tragedy. 

Long post ahead.  Get cozy.

The war was pervasive.  Even in the enviably safe United States, the war reached everybody on some level.  For a young person, it must have seemed as if the war had always been, just as growing up in the Depression had been all they knew.  No one navigated the perils of these events alone; all society were touched in some way, some more than others, but the experience was universal.  To a child, with no long past to make comparisons, it must have all seemed...normal.  Perhaps this added to the resiliency of that generation.

Ann Blyth was certainly resilient.  She was a baby when the Great Depression began and a mere child of six when she got her first job on radio during its worst years.  She had just turned 11 when World War II began in 1939, and two years later, in 1941, she was chosen as part of the original cast of Watch on the Rhine on Broadway, which we discussed here in our intro post to this series.

According to a girls’ magazine article of a few years later, Calling All Girls, in a piece probably not a little built-up by the Universal publicity department:

She was lavishly praised in all the reviews.  A huge party was given in her honor at the Astor Theater, where the orchestra played her favorite selections.  Her room was heaped with flowers.  Congratulations arrived in a steady stream of telegrams.  This moment of triumph was the culmination of a long apprenticeship in radio acting and solid practice on her own.  Luck had little to do with it, though—just to be on the safe side—Ann had gone on the stage that opening night with a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover in her pocket and a horseshoe in her dressing room!

Times Square.  The Astor Hotel is middle right.  1938, NYC Archives

It sounds like a movie. 

She might not have understood much of the political intrigue, at 12 years old, of playwright Lillian Hellman’s story of one American family visited by fascism and the cost of fighting it in their own living room, but the play must have become somehow more real for her, certainly for the grownups, on December 7, 1941 when fighting fascism was no longer an ideal or a theory for Americans; it became necessity.  It was the news of the day. 


Word came over the radio during the matinee performance, unknown to the audience.  How much did the actors know?


That day, Ann was 13 years old, her teen years begun at the then height of her achievements as a child actress, while the world spiraled to its worst years of horror.  It was not the best of timing, perhaps, but the strange crisscrossed trajectory would lead her to fame as a movie star before she turned 20 years old in seven years’ time.

The Broadway run of Watch on the Rhine concluded in February 1942, and then she joined the national touring company only two days after the closing – it was on to Philadelphia.  In March, they played the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, as part of the New England tour.  Later it was out to the Midwest and the Cass Theatre in Detroit in April, and the Davidson Theater in Milwaukee by May, and the Grand Opera House in Chicago that month.  She traveled with the company, and with her mother, by train to big city theaters where the play enjoyed enormous success, including a command performance for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a visit to the White House. 

She was earning a living and supporting her mother and building a career, like a grownup, but she was still child and childhood was still an even bigger reality.  There were two boys in the cast as well, who played her brothers.  She recalled in an interview for the Easton, Pennsylvania Express-Times in 2000:

“You’d think it would be fun, not having to go to school, but it didn’t work that way.  We had to do our homework every day, and it was mailed back to our teachers.”

She turned 14 the summer of 1942.  When they played the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles, she was noticed by Universal director Henry Koster and producer Joe Pasternak.  They invited her for a screen test, and later signed her to a seven-year film contract, to take effect when the play’s run concluded.  By 1943, she and her mother said goodbye to home and family in the New York area and settled in an apartment at the Highland Towers near Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.  LA was a company town, booming in the 1940s, equally committed to the war effort and its own bottom line in fantasy-making and dream-spinning, and would be her whole world.  It was both a career and an education.

Ann responded in a radio interview in 1992 about whether she felt a seven-year contract was a  kind of bondage:

“I didn’t feel that way about it.  I know I’ve heard and read a lot of stories about people who felt that, indeed, it was a sort of bondage.  It was a wonderful place for me to be, maybe because of the temperament, but as I look back on it now, it was the best way for me to be at a studio.”

She recalled for syndicated columnist Vernon Scott in 1976:

“Universal was a second home to me,” she said, “I went to school there and made my movie debut with Donald O’Connor in Chip off the Old Block.

It was a beautiful place then, full of lawns, trees, and cottages.  I thought of it as a sort of college campus.”

We discussed her first two films, Chip off the Old Block, and The Merry Monahans in this previous post.  These movies, along with two others we’ll discuss down the road, were all released in 1944, pushed through quickly so the studio could use Donald O’Connor as much as possible before he was drafted into the army—another reality of the day for teens.

Ann played a patriotic teen in Chip off the Old Block who wants to throw away a show biz career in order to devote herself to war work.  Ann, in real life under the auspices of the studio, was able to do both, volunteering at the famed Stage Door Canteen in Hollywood, and performing in shows for servicemen at Camp Pendleton, California, where in July 1944 she was proclaimed Sweetheart of the Regiment of a Marine Corps unit just back from horrific fighting on Tarawa. She received award certificates for her volunteer activities from the Hollywood Canteen, the War Activities Committee, and the U.S. Army.  

She affirmed for the above-mentioned radio interview that working at a Hollywood studio did not mean an end to schooling:

“Even though you find yourself in Hollywood, you still have to go to school.  Oh, they’re very strict about that.  I know when I was very young, other young people would say, ‘Oh, that must be so easy.’  But, really not so easy.  Here you find yourself doing a very dramatic scene and 15 minutes later, you’re back in your dressing room doing algebra.  And, it was far from easy, but it was a wonderful education in a way, because there were very few of us in class.  When you weren’t doing a movie, you really attended a small, little schoolhouse on the lot, and it was a lovely experience.”


We discussed in a previous post her teacher Mrs. Gladys Hoene, who noted in a 1955 article that Donald O’Connor and Ann Blyth were among her favorite pupils.

Ann would turn 16 in the summer of 1944, when her first four films, all light teen musicals for Universal, were released.  She began to experience the dubious honor of capturing the notice of fan magazines for the first time and to deal with one of the most trying, yet necessary, aspects of a performing career—publicity. 

The above-mentioned article in Calling All Girls published July-August 1944 was one of the first of these forays into building up her stardom.

One quality of Ann’s which always astonishes the veteran picture people who work with her on the set is her unusual coolness in front of the camera.  Crises in production which send experienced players and staff personnel into tantrums leave her completely unruffled.  Charles Lamont, director of The Merry Monahans…says she is the most poised and composed young actress he has ever encountered…she has yet to forget or bungle a single line of dialogue in her cinema career.  She has never spoiled a scene by nervousness.

These early interviews, in deference to her still being a young teen, were light pieces on her favorite school subjects, the names of pets, her favorite actresses and actors (Merle Oberon, and Paul Lukas, who played her father in Watch on the Rhine.)  Later, when she began to date, the scrutiny would be more personal and presumptuous.  Of that period, Ann would comment:

“This is a phase of your life—even if you’re in pictures—that’s quite private and special.  Not that you’re unwilling to share a certain amount, but only so much.”

For now, despite the evidence of many unhappy childhoods experienced by studio contract players, for Ann Blyth, it was a marvelous adventure and a happy period.  She responded to The Hollywood Reporter interviewer Scott Feinberg in 2013:

“It was like finding gold all over again in California.  For me, it was a wonderful studio because it wasn’t a big studio…and you felt, the people that I met in publicity, others, certainly the gaffers, the grips, became friends.  It was like the same people were on all of the movies I did, and I felt cared about and cared for.”

For the Bay Area Reporter in 2006 she remarked,

“I felt very protected.  But it wasn’t good for everyone.”

She would need this support from her studio and her colleagues when two shocking events seriously threatened her.  As we discussed in the intro post, one was the spine fracture she suffered while tobogganing in April 1945.  What might have been a fatal accident soon became instead anybody’s guess as to whether she would walk again.

It was certainly speculated by many that her career was over.


A few days later, President Roosevelt died.  Having been in office four terms, he was the only president young people ever knew through the course of their lives.  Ann had met him at a dinner at the White House.  Time seemed to move too slowly in the Great Depression.  Now it was moving too fast.


Except for Ann Blyth.  Ann spent several months in a body cast, on which, when the first danger was over, she collected the autographs of friends.  She was bedridden for much of the rest of the year, celebrated her 17th birthday in this manner. 


It was the summer the war ended.  What was a tumultuous series of events for billions of people was perhaps more quietly noted in her hospital room when Germany surrendered, and later in her bedroom in the apartment she shared with her mother when Japan surrendered. 


Like most women of her generation, she would marry a veteran.  She would not meet him for another several years.  In the meantime, Dr. James McNulty was a medical officer in the U.S. Navy from 1941 through 1949.  He served as a battalion aid surgeon with the 26th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima.  He also served in Sasebo, Japan, and Peleliu, Palau, and with the Pioneer Regiment, 6th Marine Division in Tsingtao, China.

Ann managed to attend the premiere of Mildred Pierce, (which we discussed here) her breakout movie and what would be one of the most important films of her career.  According to an article in Modern Screen:

…she had to see that triumph lumpily in her cast with the biggest dress she owned—a corduroy jumper—squeezed over it.

When the body cast was removed, she was put into a removable back brace that extended from her neck to her lower back and wore that for several more months until the spring of 1946.

Oscar night: Joan Crawford at home, Ann, and director Michael Curtiz.

During this period, as noted in the intro post, she attended the Academy Awards in March 1946 wearing a gown the studio made specifically to cover her back brace.  She was a Best Supporting Actress nominee. The honor, and her own determination to recover, saved her career.

She also reached another personal triumph, the one most teens look forward to: her high school diploma.  Her teacher from Universal, Mrs. Hoene, came to her apartment three times a week to tutor her. Though studio minors were taught at the schoolhouse on the lot, they submitted to testing by the local Los Angeles school system, and took part in the formal graduation ceremony at University High School.  Ann graduated high school in a wheelchair.

Ann wrote in an article for Modern Screen in 1949:

…it was more difficult to study at home with only the aid of my teacher, Mrs. Hoene, and my mother, than it might have been in a classroom full of happy schoolmates, but the trials and tribulations of that year did help me mature.  I was lucky enough to be able to join my classmates at their graduation exercises.  Because I had been confined to my apartment for so long, that event meant far more to me...

Mrs. Hoene remained a good friend, and appeared as a guest on the This is Your Life episode that celebrated Ann Blyth in 1959, as we noted in this previous post.

The high school diploma, framed, would decorate a wall at home, along with autographed photos of movie stars.  Unlike most teens with similar bedroom decor, she knew these movie stars personally. She had worked with them.

The worst event came hard on the heels of her recovery from her back injury.  Ann’s mother died, as we discussed in the intro post, just before Ann’s 18th birthday. 

One does not recover from a loss such as this in a matter of weeks or months, particularly when she was so close to her mother, but she had a source of strength in the religious faith in which she had been brought up, and support from an aunt and uncle who moved out to California to share her life and make a home together.  Toward the end of the following year, 1947, Ann and her aunt and uncle moved to a new home in nearby Toluca Lake, the first house she had ever lived in.  She was nineteen, and her teen years would come to an end in a world very different—indeed, unrecognizable—from the one in which they began.


Another driving force getting her through the tough times was her career, to which she returned at Universal, and on loan-out to other studios in the next few very busy years.  She also enjoyed friendships with other young actors and actresses who made up a community of their own.

Joan Leslie and Jane Withers became important and life-long friends.  Jane Withers recalled in author Daniel Bubbeo’s The Women of Warner Brothers:

“There was a regular group of us, Ann (Blyth), Diana Lynn and Joan, who would get together and go to the movies…since I had a convertible, I would drive everyone.  We’d get some fast food and take it with us to the theater.  We’d usually call the manager ahead of time to let him know we were coming.  The balconies would be closed off for other people, and when we would get there, they’d open it up for us and we could eat by ourselves.  It was just a lot of fun.”

Years later, Jane Withers and Joan Leslie would be two of her bridesmaids.  Others were Marjorie Zimmer, Peggy Kelley, Betty Lynn, and Ann's stand-in, Alice Krasiva.  Her cousin, Betty Lynch, was her maid of honor.

Roddy McDowall’s home was a regular hangout for movie teens.  Jane Powell, another long-time friend, noted in her memoir, The Girl Next Door and How She Grew:

Every Sunday, Roddy’s house was a gathering place for all us Hollywood kids.  His mother, Wynn, liked and wanted her children – Roddy and Virginia – close to her, so she would invite all their friends, her friends, every Sunday – it was a big open house.  Everyone, it seemed, was there – Ricardo Montalban, Elizabeth Taylor, Darryl Hickman, Ann Blyth.  People came and went all afternoon; we’d swim, play badminton, dance to records, have dinner, go home about nine or ten o’clock.

Roddy McDowall and Ann became lifelong friends, and dated for a while during the period of time when fan magazines were chasing her every move.  For one, Screenland, Roddy, likely with the help of the publicity department, wrote an article about Ann and how he had come to know her as a guest at one of his Sunday parties.

She was at the house most of the day and I thought was one of the sweetest and nicest people I’d ever met.  I’d say that gentility was the right term to use to describe her.

He goes on to describe, or to attempt to describe, her personality for a readership, but more for the press that had since her coming of age regarded Ann as an enigma.

When you take her to a party, as I have on several occasions, she really can throw you.  To begin with, and not many know this about her, she is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.  She’s a tremendous story-teller and when she gets started on one of dialect stories you laugh so hard you almost fall on your face.  I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how quickly she changes when she’s being the comedienne.

Ann really loves parties—especially if charades is the game of the evening.

She also liked roller coasters.

When they met up for a date in New York City, she took him, with a New Yorker’s savvy and sense of humor, to the Automat for dinner.  

McDowall also notes, as others have:

She simply does not like to talk about herself.

That is perhaps her most unusual characteristic—her reserve.  She’s a great introvert.  It’s as though there was a wall around her.  Maybe you’d call it self-sufficiency, but I really don’t know.  It does seem, however, that she lives a good deal within herself.

Roddy McDowall, among his many accomplishments, was also an excellent photographer who published several volumes of his photographs.  In Double Exposure: Take Four, he includes a portrait photo he took of Ann Blyth.  It’s in black and white, taken in the early 1990s when Ann was in her early sixties and remarkably lovely, and the pose and facial expression—serene, enigmatic, with a touch of humor in her soft eyes—is strikingly similar to the cast head shot of her when she started in Watch on the Rhine in 1941, which you see in our intro post.  The photo is accompanied by a quote from Jane Withers, in part, “She radiates beauty from within in everything she ever does.” 

Despite her reputation for being reserved and enigmatic, in the contemplative setting in the pages of this book, she is clearly supported by the understanding of two loving friends who had known her since they were all teens together in a special place at a special time.

She made 12 films in her teen years, including her most important dramatic roles: Mildred Pierce, Swell Guy (discussed here), A Woman’s Vengeance (discussed here), and Another Part of the Forest (discussed here).  One-third of all the movies Ann Blyth made in her career were made when she was still a teenager.

Mark Hellinger, who produced Swell Guy, said of Ann, “Outside, she’s as untouched as a convent girl—and inside, she’s as wise as a woman of 50.”

On his blog Last One on the Bus, blogger Tom Gilfroy writes about growing up in the 1940s in the Sunland neighborhood of Los Angeles, where one day at Lancaster Lake a couple of scenes were shot for Mildred Pierce.  He was a boy when Ann noticed him and his friends watching.

I remember thinking how friendly she was when she made it a point to come over to tell us what a nice little town we lived in and how great it must be for kids to grow up in Sunland…In reality, taking the time to say “hello” to scruffy, barefoot, local kids was perfectly consistent with Ms. Blythe’s [sic] wholesome and friendly reputation.

In 2009, Ann and an assortment of former Hollywood teens got together at the annual Thalians Ball in Los Angeles. The Thalians, an organization of actors, have worked since the 1950s to raise money in support of children with mental health problems.  On this particular gala, the theme was a salute to the troops, in a little retro World War II USO setting.  Ann sang at the gala as one of several former USO performers.  A different honoree is chosen each year at these events and that year, the man of the hour was Mickey Rooney.  She had met Mickey Rooney early in her career, playing opposite him when she was 19 years old in Killer McCoy (1947).

Come back next Friday when we talk about Killer McCoy as part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken& Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.


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The Bay Area Reporter, “The Real Veda Pierce: a Serene Ann Blyth,” by Tavo Amador, July 20, 2006.

Bubbeo, Daniel.  The Women of Warner Brothers (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 2002), p. 146.

Calling All Girls, July-August 1944, “Blyth Actress” by Jean Brownlee, pp.7-8.

The Hollywood Reporter video interview by Scott Feinberg, April 2013.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajwQiKORcHg


Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2007, James Vincent McNulty obituary.

McDowall, Roddy.  Double Exposure, Take Four. (NY: William Morrow and Company, 1993).

The Milwaukee Journal January 27, 1976, syndicated article by Vernon Scott, green sheet p. 1.

Modern Screen, December 1949, article by Kirtley Baskette; October 1950,  “The Faith My Mother Taught Me” by Ann Blyth, p. 71; October 1955, article by Ida Zeitlin.

Powell, Jane.  The Girl Next Door and How She Grew (NY: William Morrow and Company, 1988) p.92.

Screenland, March 1951, “What I Know About Ann Blyth” by Roddy McDowall; February 1953, p. 66.

Victoria (Texas) Advocate, June 25, 1953, "Ann Blyth Weds Saturday; Cardinal to Perform Rites," p. 8.

WOR radio interview with Casper Citron, NYC, November 14, 1992. 


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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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 HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, The Dick Powell Show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 

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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.