Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Year of Ann Blyth - Finale

“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.” -- Roddy McDowall, Screenland, March 1951

Her longtime friend, Roddy McDowall, knew her from that bitter period after her mother’s death and photographed her so tenderly decades later when they were both in their sixties.  Presumably, he knew her better by then.

In those later years she once described herself in an interview as still “A work in progress.”

This is our final post in the Year of Ann Blyth series.

From our first post back in January:

…if you know Ann Blyth only through her frothy MGM musicals, you don't know Ann Blyth.  In dramas she has morphed into the epitome of hateful, sensual, heartbroken, and shamed.  If you know her only as the demon teen Veda in Mildred Pierce, you don't know Ann Blyth.  The same colossal greedy train wreck of a girl who spit invective at Joan Crawford and smacked her in the jaw also performed a night club act to enthusiastic crowds in Las Vegas, bringing them to tears with the sentimental "Auld Lang Syne" and sang at the California state fair.  If you only know her from The Helen Morgan Story or melodramas, you are missing her genuine gift for screwball comedy.  Sinking herself intellectually, just as much as emotionally into these roles, she swims against the powerful and unrelenting current of studio typecasting. 

After more than 50 posts and more than 150,000 words, I still don’t know Ann Blyth.  There is much about her that intrigues me yet, because it remains below the surface, only rising in sudden, instant epiphanies of delighted recognition.  That I don’t really know who she is—that’s okay with me.  With deference perhaps unusual, and usually undesired, in a biographer—though I never intended to be one—I am content to leave her personal life to her.  I don’t need to know her, because I know her characters.

I know Killer Connell and Rosemarie Lemaitre.  I know Gail McCauley and Regina Hubbard.  I know the enigmatic mermaid, Lenore.  I know Veda Pierce.  We know them.

Ann Blyth’s deft and emotionally transparent portrayals of these people demonstrate not just an extraordinary depth and versatility in her acting, but perceptive intellect and genuine empathy.

One factor in keeping this series to her professional life and not her personal life is my irritation on the irony that most biographies and autobiographies of films stars have a frustrating habit of actually giving short shrift to the movies they made.  Often we’ll slog through narratives of multiple marriages or liaisons, and the occasional bar fight to finally come upon the film we love…and the writer comments only:  “And then he did such and such a film.”  And then we move on to another anecdote about who he insulted or was insulted by at a party.

That’s it?  I waded through generations of his family tree, his childhood fear of cereal, and how his father never took him to the circus—which is why you hypothesize he has a problem with commitment (and other assorted jerry-rigged “dime store Freud”)—just so I could read about his movies, and you’re not going to talk about them?!  Why, I oughta…

Granted, if Ann Blyth had beaten up several people at Ciro’s, quite possibly that would have made an interesting chapter.  (Picturing a 5’2” drunken young Ann clubbing an equally drunken and combative Errol Flynn mercilessly on the skull with a belaying pin she has stolen from the set of The World in His Arms.  Hmm.  Yes, that has possibilities.)

Most film fans are interested in the private lives of their favorite stars, that is only human.  Because it is a natural and common interest, invading the privacy of celebrities has become a profitable industry. 

But for the most part, the gossip of scandals or the name-dropping in film star biographies bores me silly as something not merely gratuitous, but juvenile.  I readily accept that film stars are human beings, and so take for granted with the utmost compassionate understanding that most of them are probably sleeping with someone…just who is irrelevant to me.  We have all experienced or been exposed to divorce, infidelity, financial ruin, and rude remarks at parties, and maybe even thrown a punch or two, etc.  (Even if we never settled an argument with a belaying pin.)  But I don’t know anyone who took a bow on a Broadway stage with Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine at the age of 12.  I don’t know anyone who reported to the makeup department where Bud Westmore turned her into a mermaid.  This is what really interests me, the nuts and bolts of the job, because it is quite beyond my realm of experience. 

So this is where I’ve chosen to focus.

Her job as an actress included many years in radio, (another facet that most film biographers tend to ignore, and so I wanted to cover it here), along with her TV and stage work (which usually also rates little discussion, included usually only by authors who arrogantly and ignorantly dismiss the rigors of summer stock and the joy it brings to people who can’t possibly travel to Broadway as a fallen actor’s laboring in obscurity).  These venues show not only how Ann Blyth mined opportunities and surfed the currents of change in her decades-long career, but show what was happening to actors in the twentieth century, how entertainment became an “industry” and how the “entertainment industry” evolved—and how it left many behind.

To a great extent, the careers of performing artists are the sum total of their press.  This is why, in part, I’ve relied upon magazine and news articles of the day to illustrate her place as it evolved in the entertainment industry and the media.  I’ve tried to avoid using information I could not verify, for as all who’ve researched history from popular sources know, wrong facts are continually perpetuated either by the ignorant use of past writers' errors, or else frank laziness.  Instead, I’ve tried to use these sources more as a window on the world in which Ann Blyth forged her career and lived her life, and what her contemporary critics and audience thought of her. 

The old Hollywood studio system certainly knew the value of publicity and worked hard to create it, exploit it, and at times, manipulate it to their best advantage.  Occasionally, an actor-employee would come along who would not cooperate, or proved to be a particular challenge.

A young woman whose stunningly sensual appeal on screen, but whose private life was a hotbed of church activities was, amusingly, a conundrum for them, and perhaps as well for the audience.  It was hard to package a devout vixen, and the “nice girl” image sometimes worked against her professionally, even if it gave her a satisfying private life.

In the very first post of this series back in January, I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson:

 “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

In 1949, columnist Ida Jean Kain wrote of Ann:

She is poised and genuinely unaffected…and in a quiet, confident way, she knows where she is going, and she is neither deviating nor taking short cuts.

What fascinates me about that statement is it was made so early in her career, she was 20 years old at the time, and rang completely true, and would remain true.  She, with remarkable constancy, knew indeed where she was going or wanted to go…yet decades later, it would be asked, as it often is of actors….“Whatever happened to…?” 
What ever happened to Ann Blyth?

So, where did she go?

That many of her films are not available on DVD and because of the whole murky Universal “vault” legal quagmire, most are not being shown on TCM, much of her work has been forgotten by younger generations.  So, just what did happen between Mildred Pierce and The Helen Morgan Story? 

A lot, and beyond.  It is a story of variety and versatility, and constant new challenge. There is so much richness to discover in her films, so much that she attempted and mastered in her career, and I hope this series has been a launching pad for others to rediscover this marvelous actress.  I hope it will at least help put to rest the image of Ann Blyth only as the super-brat Veda Pierce and “that actress who was dubbed in The Helen Morgan Story and then retired.”  Here I quote from my discussion on my pal John Hayes’ blog Robert Frost’s Banjo a few months ago:

This woman had been the flavor of the month all through the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, on enough magazine covers to choke a horse, and as famous in her day as any young star could be.   Today, she is nowhere to be seen in that kitschy souvenir shop universe where classic film fans can easily snag T-shirts and coffee cups and posters of Clark Gable and The Three Stooges, Mae West and Betty Boop, and, of course, the ever-exploitable Marilyn Monroe.  

Where was Ann Blyth?  She never retired from performing.  She had, unlike most other stars of that era, performed in all media from radio to TV to stage, and was successful in all of them.    Far, far more talented than any other 1950s glamour girl, yet she is not as well known today among younger classic film fans.  I wanted to know why.

Paradoxically, among those older fans whom  I’ve heard from in the past year, Ann Blyth is remembered with deep and abiding love, with an admiration and wistful, sweet affection I have not heard expressed for other stars.  I wanted to know why.

This has been an extraordinary journey for me, both professionally and personally.  Last summer, 2013, when I first kicked around the idea of writing a series of blog posts on Ann Blyth’s movies, and then decided to stretch the series to cover not only her films, but also her stage, radio and TV work, and to have the series last the entire year of 2014—I did not expect this series, and this actress, would become so important to me, for quite personal reasons.  I’ve marveled how Ann has accepted sorrow and suffering and success with her hope, faith, and dignity intact, and remained a kindly and gentle person. 

I think sometimes for a writer (or artist, or photographer, etc.) your subject picks you.  This series came along at the right time for me.
Again quoting from my interview on John’s blog.

I think I am even more awed by how hard one must work to get anywhere in the business, and how much luck is involved, how much is due to the help and contribution of others from makeup, publicity, and anyone in the production end willing to go to bat for a performer, and how much is out of one’s hands.  Ann always appreciated her contract with Universal, but the studio did not always showcase her in the best movies.  On the one hand, she enjoyed a variety of genres and experiences.  On the other hand, there was no clear and strong trajectory to her path.  She controlled as much of her course as she could with admirable prudence.  What she could not control, she handled with quiet resolution.

What I admire most about Ann Blyth, above and apart from her skill as an actress and talent as a singer, is what appears to be an innate sense of the importance of balance and self-discipline, despite riding that mind-bending, gut-twisting pendulum of great highs and crushing lows in her profession.  And also, in a funny contrast to the picture of serenity she exudes, what I sense to be a fire-in-the-belly ambition and a gutsy spirit of adventure.

I have not touched upon her personal life too deeply in the series for another practical reason that, without interviewing her, or those closest to her, I am ill-equipped to discuss it.  Speculation is for fiction.  In non-fiction, it is the mark of a hack writer.

I have not addressed in-depth her religious faith, again, because I intended to focus on her career.  I’m also aware that any mention of religion is likely to raise the hackles of an audience who fears being preached to, and my intention is certainly not to proselytize.  Not everyone is able to discuss, or read about with a detached attitude another person’s religious faith.  On the contrary, it inevitably excites some strong emotion, positive or negative.  But not to have addressed her faith at all would have been ignoring the elephant in the room, so profound an influence it has had on her life, a motivating force since early childhood.

An actress lives many lives.  First, there are the scores of roles that overshadow her real self.  Then, as part of the business rather than the art, a necessary wearing of different hats: publicity, training in the craft, being the CEO of the image that has been created.  If actors are particularly fortunate, there is a private life, a family to nurture and to be nurtured by in turn.  But even apart from the family, there is another private chamber of the soul belonging to all of us.  For some, it is a rich haven of memory and experience, hope, dreams, and spirituality.  For some, it is, sadly, a black hole of emptiness to be desperately escaped in any way possible.

In the past few years, possibly as part of the Turner Classic Movies parade of movie star resurrections—but most especially because of its frequent airing of Mildred Pierce—interviewers of Ann Blyth inevitably want to know what it was like to slap Joan Crawford.  It is the question she gets asked most these days.  Had Christina Crawford's tell-all book Mommie Dearest never been written, I doubt it would occur to anyone to ask that--Ann had slapped and been slapped in other performances.  I sometimes wonder if Ann thinks to herself, bravely smiling at the interviewer, “I worked my ass off for eighty years, and this is all they remember?”

I would have had many questions for her about her work, and her impressions of her career journey, what she learned from colleagues and who inspired her.

But the last one, I think it would be this:

You once played the character Emily in Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town on stage.  There is a scene where Emily, in spirit, is allowed to revisit a scene from her childhood, to move around her loved ones without them noticing, so the she can look upon again all the miraculous minutiae of everyday life and discover how precious they are.  It is a joyous and bittersweet moment, painful in its simple honesty.

If you were allowed to have the power to re-visit a similar scene in your own childhood, perhaps the apartment where you lived in New York with your mother and older sister, during the Depression, before that tap on the shoulder by Herman Shumlin and Lillian Hellman that brought you to Watch on the Rhine on Broadway, what would you see there?  If you could speak to your child self, 11-year-old “Anne”, what might you say?

I conclude this series by giving Ann Blyth the last word.  This clip is from an interview, when Miss Blyth was 84 years old, with Scott Feinberg at The Hollywood Reporter on the occasion of her participation as a guest at the 2013 TCM Film Fest:


I never envisioned at the outset, collecting these blog posts into a book, though some of you very early on, with far more imagination than I, suggested this.  I think the first was Java’s Journey last summer before the series even started.  Java, if you are also able to predict winning lottery numbers, drop me a line.  I could use a million bucks right now.

The book will be published summer 2015, and will include more material that is not in these posts.  You may recall, as I do with a certain degree of embarrassment, my failed Kickstarter campaign this last August to raise funds to obtain the rights of copyrighted photos.  My sincere thanks, again, to those of you who were willing to donate if it came to that.  I know the sacrifice was not easy for all, and that makes your gesture all the more honored by me.

I’m grateful to many long-time fans of Ann Blyth.  I know that she answers fan mail, but some too shy to write to her have contacted me, wanting to share their own strong feelings about her.  I think that’s moved me more than anything.

One reason I wanted to do this series is to honor an actress who is still with us, that she may know how much her work is respected and loved.  Too often we wait for posthumous tributes to show our appreciation.

Some fifty-plus posts after this series began, I find myself still interested, and eager to work on the book.  But I need a bit of downtime from this blog to get some stuff done, so I’m taking several weeks off.  I’ll see you on Thursday, February 5th for another year of Another Old Movie Blog, and back to posting on a variety of movies and subjects.

Until then, I wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, and to everybody a very happy and healthy, and peaceful New Year.

Thank you for the pleasure of your company.

Miami News, July 16, 1949, column by Ida Jean Kain.

THANK 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 actor/singer/author Bill Hayes.  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.


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: 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 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. 


UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

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.


Rich said...

**long, loving standing ovation**

That's actually a good point about actor/director biopics giving short shrift to the movies their subjects made. Recent movies like MY WEEK WITH MARILYN and HITCHCOCK have bucked this trend a little, but I suspect audiences will always find the personal stuff more interesting - and to a degree, I can't blame them.

I thought you struck a good balance. I never felt like I was missing out on anything particularly juicy, but then, I never knew AB as anything other than the chick from MILDRED PIERCE. I will definitely pay more attention to her from now on.

Congratulations on making it all the way to the end. I'll be in line for the book when it comes out for sure!

Java Bean Rush said...


Thanks so much for the mention.

You're a great author and a deep thinker; it made sense that this year of Ann Blyth should become a book.

I'm still playing catch up with your project; I'll take the holidays to read more.

By the way, my cousin mentioned as a source of crowdfunding. She used it this year to fund a concert that she's running.

Unlike Kickstarter - which forces you to reach the goal before getting any revenue- whatever money you receive at Indie GO GO stays with the project starter even if the exact goal isn't reached. (I'm not paid by them to say that, by the way. I've never used them.) It might be something to look into next time.

Anyway, I'm excited about the book! Isn't it great when you come to the end of a project and you're still interested in the subject? There's still so much to say.

I'm happy for you. I wish you the best of success.


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"**long, loving standing ovation**"...go ahead, Rich, make me cry. Thanks for the kind words.

Java, the book all began with your suggestion worming its way into my fevered brain. Thank you, for this and for the kind words. Thanks for the advice on the Indie Go Go. I'm grateful to have made it to the end of the year, and that some of you have actually stuck with me. I leave this series a bit tuckered, but with a full heart.

Kevin Deany said...

A beautifully written coda to a marvelous series. As I've said in the past, I've always liked Ann Blyth, but what I learned about her the last year has increased my admiration for her enormously. I look forward to seeing some of the films mentioned I've never seen and look forward to revisiting some old favorites.

I've seen a lot of her movies, of course, but until reading about them here it never dawned on me how many of her films I've enjoyed over the years.

This series has been a revelation to me and I look forward to purchasing the book next summer. Good luck with it and hope you and your family have a very joyous and blessed holiday season.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Kevin, thank you so much, and thanks again for putting me in touch with our DVD genie in Illinois from whom I obtained a few missing movies. I'm glad your appreciation of Ann Blyth has increased, and I hope to read more of your opinions on your very fine blog Kevin's Movie Corner.

grandoldmovies said...

Congratulations on a great series, and thank you so much for your beautiful writing and perceptive insights on Ann Blyth and, even more, on her movies and on what they said about the Hollywood they came out of and the times they reflected - the real meat of the matter. Such an amazing accomplishment to cover the work of one performer in such depth for one year. Good luck on your 2015 book!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I really appreciate that, GOM, thank you. It was a joy to share and write about the work of this talented performer.

chatchien said...

When I read that you were going to do a year of posts on Ann Blyth, I thought, "Well, there are all kinds of people with all kinds of tastes." Silly me.

I've enjoyed The Year of Ann Blyth with you and wish you good luck and success with your book. I also wish that you could meet and interview her. Someone should tell her about this blog and maybe she would meet with you.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Anonymous said...

Great finale. I am so glad there will be a book in 2015. BUT, you make no mention of trying to contact Ann though you say she responds to fans. Is there a problem?

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Chatchien and Vienna -- thank you both for your kind comments. With regard to your questions about whether I have contacted Ann Blyth and the possibility of her participation on the book project -- I have both written to her and spoke on the phone with her representative, who also relayed my inquiry to her. He informs me that Ann "respectfully declines" to participate. I both understand and respect her decision not to be interviewed, and I hope her fans will also understand and respect her decision, and allow her a quiet and private retirement.

Anonymous said...

As long as Ann doesn't object to your writing the book, I am convinced she will be more than delighted when she reads it. I am sure it will be a terrific biography and I hope all the bloggers who have been following you this year will give it all the publicity it deserves when it comes out. I certainly will.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Vienna. Your kindness and support means a great deal to me.

Caftan Woman said...

The Year of Ann Blyth has passed all too quickly. There was much learned and much to appreciate anew, both about the subject and the author. I look forward to slowing down the experience of 2014 with the book in 2015.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, and especially for sticking with me. I've been celebrating by eating too much ribbon candy.

Java Bean Rush said...

Now, about promoting the book. In addition to however else it's promoted, don't forget to hit up the museums (like the Hollywood Museum in LA and any Ann Blyth/ Mildred Peirce/ Joan Crawford tourist trap).

I'm not exactly sure how it works. You probably give them an advance copy and they order however many based on how much they like it. But I've heard of a guy who gave a box of his books about pirates to a pirate museum for free and asked them to try to sell them.

The books sold well and they paid for more regularly. If not, they would have given away the books, which is advertisement for the author.

Just some thoughts.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Java. Those are some great ideas.

I don't know how many Ann Blyth/Mildred Pierce/Joan Crawford tourist traps there are out there, but I would to drive down Route 66 some day and see a "Mildred's" drive-in restaurant from the movie. Some restaurant entrepreneur who's a noir fan would clean up.

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