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Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby TopBilled » June 19th, 2015, 1:52 pm

Jacqueline,

Thanks for replying to my earlier post. I'm glad you enjoy the two films I mentioned. Perhaps at some point you will meet Ann Blyth at a TCM-related event.

Your comment to Moira about Ann playing a character in KILLER MCCOY that was no Polly Benedict is an interesting one and causes me to think. I bet if Ann had been brought up in the studio system at MGM, instead of Universal, she would have been given an early role in an Andy Hardy picture-- like the kind played by Lana Turner and Donna Reed. Again, I think she was better served at Universal because she was allowed to play roles that were more daring (at the home studio as well as on loan-out) They seemed to see her as more than just a typical ingenue.

ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST is possibly her greatest dramatic opportunity. Very little is ever said about Ann Blyth & Bette Davis playing the same character in two different films. I love comparing the two actresses' interpretations of crafty twisted Regina Hubbard/Giddens.

Of course, when Ann is working at MGM in the mid-50s, she does not get these kinds of dramatic roles. She is usually paired with Howard Keel or Edmund Purdom in light confections, where she almost seems to get lost in the gloss. The focus is more on the visuals and the music, instead of on the characters or stars in those pictures. At least that is the impression I get. And I don't think the MGM productions helped extend her film career.

Any thoughts about which studio served her better, or which productions and costars were more beneficial to her career..?

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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 19th, 2015, 1:56 pm

I'd enjoyed Berkeley Square with Leslie Howard, and I am so intrigued about I'l Never Forget You since you seem so impressed by how exquisite it is, so I'll need to seek it out.
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It seems that Ann Blythe's versatility and good sense of humor has seen her through a number of challenging roles. Not really saying a word the whole time she is on the screen with William Powell in Mr. Peabody and The Mermaid, plunging the depths of alcoholism in The Helen Morgan Story and the heights of a murderous nature as the gal everybody loves to hate in Mildred Pierce reveal what a diverse, well-prepared actress Blyth became.

What did you discover about the nature of those diverse talents during the research for your book, Jacqueline?
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 2:24 pm

TopBilled, the question of which studio served her better, Universal or MGM is an interesting debate. I think starting at Universal was good for her, because it gave her, as you say, a variety of roles. It was a smaller studio and was she less apt to be lost in the shuffle of the MGM "more stars than are in the heavens." Indeed, when she returned to Universal after being loaned out for Mildred Pierce, she was instantly one of the top stars on the lot, a genuine leading lady. Before Mildred, she was an "Andy Hardy" neighborhood kid type in four Universal teen musicals.

As regards the connection with Bette Davis and Ann playing the same role, a younger version of Regina, quite a few columnists in the entertainment media at that period were calling her another Bette Davis and lauding her for being one of the best dramatic actresses of the day. I think that got lost in the shuffle due to two things: first, she pursued a variety of roles, so comedy and musicals might have taken the shine off her being perceived as a "serious actress," but even more profound was the media writing her off as an innocent when they discovered that in private life she was quiet, well mannered, and quite religious. Not being able to tag her as some kind of rebellious spitfire, I suppose, they labeled her as a Good Girl, and soon the studios were hesitant to cast her in anymore edgy roles -- the kind she had performed in so splendidly when nobody knew anything about her private life.

I expect she was pleased that MGM gave her a shot at some big musicals, which she enjoyed, but her versatility was as much a conundrum for MGM as it was for Universal, and Ann bought out her contract to go back to more serious fare.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 2:35 pm

Christy, I seem to have lost my reply to your earlier Helen Morgan question, but I'll fix that in a minute.

As regards this: "It seems that Ann Blythe's versatility and good sense of humor has seen her through a number of challenging roles. Not really saying a word the whole time she is on the screen with William Powell in Mr. Peabody and The Mermaid, plunging the depths of alcoholism in The Helen Morgan Story and the heights of a murderous nature as the gal everybody loves to hate in Mildred Pierce reveal what a diverse, well-prepared actress Blyth became.

What did you discover about the nature of those diverse talents during the research for your book, Jacqueline?"......

Her work in Mr. Peabody is remarkable. She has no lines to speak, but is so endearing and touching in the role. There's one particular scene, as silly as it is heartbreaking, where William Powell is speaking to her and she puts her face up close to his, with an expression that is searching, wondering, absorbed in what he is saying to her. It reminds me of a child following the eyes of an adult, not quite comprehending what is being said, but trying because maybe there'll be a treat at the end of all the blah-blah-blah. When Powell gently scolds her for eating the expensive tropical fish, and trying to kiss him when he is trying to lecture her, her expression of wonder collapses in distress like a toddler being told no, and you have to laugh and go, "Awwww!" at the same time. We know throughout the movie exactly what she is thinking, her joy, her jealousy, her distress, and even though this is an exotic creature strange to us, we know her. She gives the emotions and the soul of the mermaid to us with open hands.

Her versatility was what struck me and launched my blog series and this book. The mermaid is nothing like Veda Pierce, who is nothing like Helen Morgan, who is nothing like Rose Marie. You can go on and on, and they all might have been played by a different actress.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 2:50 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:Thank you so much, Jacqueline!
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I also enjoyed The Helen Morgan Story, and felt that emotionally Ann Blyth seemed to immerse herself in the role.
What can you share with us about her preparation for that film?


Christy, I posted a reply to this earlier, but I must have done something wrong, because it's not there. So, I'll try again. Sorry.

Ann was both an intuitive actress who stated she relied heavily on her imagination, but she also took an intellectual approach to her roles and prepared for them meticulously. It was said by her theatre colleagues that she not only did she know her own lines, she memorized the entire script.

When preparing for Helen Morgan, she researched her life, including some material on file at Warners, clippings and such, because the property had been bought by Mark Hellinger years before in the early 1940s, right after Morgan died, but it took a long time to get a script and an actress right for the part.

Ann's gentle, tortured characterization of Helen Morgan was right on the mark. Helen was generous, kind, soft-spoken, and religious. But she also had a drinking problem. Unfortunately, the press of the day, recalling only that Morgan was an alcoholic, felt she should have been played as a hard-bitten dame, and played by an actress who did not have Ann's wholesome reputation (forgetting all about Mildred Pierce and all the other bad girls she played early in her film career).

Ann also studied recordings of Morgan's singing voice, since she was supposed to sing the role when she was hired. Also, unfortunately, as we know, a decision was made to have the pop singer Gogi Grant dub her voice. Grant sounded nothing like Helen Morgan, and frankly admitted in interviews that the studio told her not to imitate her, just to sing like herself. I heard a clip of Ann singing one of Helen's signature tunes "Can't Help Lovin That Man" on the Dinah Shore Show. She was splendid. No trace of operatic soprano here, just an emotional delivery by a wounded torch singer. She should have sung.

Ann did immerse herself in the role, you're right, and her portrayal I think should have got her nominated.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 3:13 pm

Since we have a quiet moment here, I'd like to publicly thank on these boards one of your own, Doug Trembearth, who goes by the name Fossy. As some of you probably know, last October, he went on the TCM Cruise, traveling a great distance all the way from Australia to do it. Fossy generously allowed me to interview him on his experience meeting Ann Blyth -- and meeting her was the reason for his taking the trip -- and his comments can be found in the last chapter of the book, the grand finale, so to speak of an actress with an enduring career and in indelible impression on longtime fans. The book is dedicated to her fans, some of whom have been very kind in sharing their memorabilia and memories with me. Though the book is a tribute as much to them as to Ann Blyth, my real hope is that it will spark an interest in younger generations who have had little access to her work these many decades.

Thanks again, Doug.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby TopBilled » June 19th, 2015, 3:41 pm

Jacqueline,

I have been looking at Ann Blyth's filmography and it occurred to me that there are several films (Universal films) I have never seen. As you have commented earlier, some of them are still not available on home video. I looked on the iOffer website and I can see that there are copies of them for sale (bootleg copies?) and I thought I would ask which ones are worth seeking out. Also, how can we campaign to have Universal release these titles or even present a boxed set of Ann's rarely seen films...?

- FREE FOR ALL...with Bob Cummings (looks like a lot of fun, about a guy who can turn water into gasoline)
- A WOMAN'S VENGANCE...Leonard Maltin gives it 3.5 stars. The cast includes Charles Boyer & Jessica Tandy
- KATIE DID IT...a rom-com with Mark Stevens & Cecil Kellaway. Maltin says Ann is perkier than usual in this one.
- THE GOLDEN HORDE...a Technicolor Arabian nights fantasy, with David Farrar
- SALLY AND SAINT ANNE...Ann's last film for Universal; with Edmund Gwenn & Hugh O'Brian

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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 4:11 pm

TopBilled,

I don't know who to contact to get Ann's Universal films released, but I would love to join such a campaign. All those films are discussed in detail in my book, and Katie Did It made it into the book in the nick of time. For the longest time, that was the one I couldn't obtain, until a longtime fan discovered it online, I'm not sure which site, and sent it to me. For many Ann Blyth collectors, that one is the holy grail.

Free for All is a cute movie, but I would say the weakest of her films. She plays the daughter of the patent office administrator to whom Bob Cummings goes to apply for a patent for his invention. It's a pleasant film, but the script could be better, and the part really isn't much of a challenge for Ann. Though, it is fun to see her and Bob Cummings strolling around the moments in Washington, D.C.

The Golden Horde is a Saturday-afternoon matinee with popcorn, a fun and lavish adventure, but again, not a demanding role for her. The other three films are good and all very different. In Sally and Saint Anne she has the biggest stretch as a 12-year old who grows into a young woman. It's a very silly family comedy. A Woman's Vengeance is a murder mystery, and she is the mistress of Charles Boyer, and becomes his wife, in role that has her develop from a bad girl to a sympathetic love-struck young wife in over her head in a sinister deception. In Katie Did It, she is a prim New England librarian who strips down to pose for a commercial artist to save her broke uncle, played by Cecil Kellaway, who owes a gambling debt. The last three movies are the stronger, but they're all worth seeing.

As for being bootleg, I suspect as much, but I really don't know if some might be in the public domain. The copy of Free for All that I found, for example, is quite faded and scratched. I don't know the status of these films. But, your discovery that you have not seen many of her Universal films was what I experienced when I started my blog project, and what spurred me on to find them.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby moira finnie » June 19th, 2015, 5:24 pm

Jacqueline, I realize that your book focused on Ann Blyth's career, but could you please fill in a bit about her off-screen life? How did she became an actress and do you know what led her to this unusual path?

Your description of Ann's hardworking Irish immigrant mother is intriguing. Was she a "stage mother" in any way?

After her marriage was Blyth's husband supportive of her career? Was being a mother of five one of the reasons she stepped back from films?

Thank you for your continued responses.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 19th, 2015, 5:42 pm

Top Billed and Jacqueline,
I think such a campaign would be a marvelous way to make Ann Blyth's lesser-known, seldom-seen films available.
And thanks again, for these wonderfully in-depth responses to our questions, Jacqueline.

My first exposure to Ann Blyth's acting abilities occurred, as I said before, with Rose Marie, and then The Student Prince, and The Great Caruso, and I didn't see her as Veda in Mildred Pierce until I was in college.

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Here is a photo of Ann Blyth when I met her in the lobby of Grauman's Chinese Theatre at the TCM Film Festival 2013....

Blyth's obviously youthful appearance in 2013 is stunning, and she is as gracious and talented as she is lovely. I couldn't help remembering the 1964 Twilight Zone episode in which she appeared, entitled "Queen of the Nile."

Submitted for your approval is the IMDB synopsis of the episode:

"A syndicated columnist, Jordan Herrick, gets an interview with the famous and beautiful actress Pamela Morris. She claims to be 38 years old but according to Jordan's information, that would have made her first film as an adult when she was only 10. He takes her word for it but her elderly mother, Viola Draper, has news for him: she's not Pamela's mother, she is her daughter. The more he looks into her background, the more convinced he becomes that Pamela hasn't aged for decades. Faced with the facts, Pamela shows the lengths she will go to in order to protect her great secret."

Character actress Celia Lovsky and was evocatively mysterious as Blyth's "mother" in the episode, and I couldn't help reminiscing about that episode after I had met Ann Blyth. She has an inner glow which lights up around other people, and she is thoroughly enchanted by questions from fans, so I'm hoping when I read the last chapter of your book including your interview with Fossy, that I will find similar praise.

I am interested in how you view the arc of her career in light of all the background information and research you have done.What might be her most endearing legacy in your opinion?
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 5:50 pm

Moira, the first two chapters cover her early childhood in Manhattan when she first started working at the age of six on the radio, garnered jobs, principally due to her singing voice, in children's roles with the Children's Opera Company of New York and the San Carlo Opera, and then was chosen to audition for Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine on Broadway when she was spotted in the cafeteria of the Children's Professional School by producer/director Herman Shumlin. The material in these chapters was not covered in great detail on my blog series last year, so it was a special joy to write about it.

It was a financial struggle in those days, particularly as she started her career in the worst years of the Great Depression, and her mother had to scramble to find work as laundress, seamstress, or hairdresser to support Ann and her elder sister. Ann always attributed her career to her mother's imagination, hard work, and emotional support, but she never felt she was a stage mother. Mrs. Blyth comes off as a woman of sense, faith, and good humor. Ann's very strong religious faith came from her mother, and I expect her astonishing--for a child--sense of self-discipline. Ann seems to have gotten a great sense of balance from her.

Ann always described her husband, Dr. James McNulty, as being extremely supportive of her career. I expect the needs of her family did contribute in large part to her stepping back from films, however, she still did occasional TV and stage roles. I think a huge part of her decision had to do with not getting very good roles after The Helen Morgan Story. The scripts weren't there, at least not worth leaving the children for in an era where many films were not being made in Hollywood anymore and she would be required to film on location for months.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Jacqueline T. Lynch » June 19th, 2015, 6:40 pm

Christy, that's a smashing photo. I wish I could have used that for the book.

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:She has an inner glow which lights up around other people, and she is thoroughly enchanted by questions from fans, so I'm hoping when I read the last chapter of your book including your interview with Fossy, that I will find similar praise.I am interested in how you view the arc of her career in light of all the background information and research you have done.What might be her most endearing legacy in your opinion?


The Twilight Zone episode looked like it was probably fun to do, a real over-the-top character.

I think you will be pleased with the ending. I interviewed another, much younger man who was on the cruise as well, and two other ladies who were at the TCM festival as you were during her appearance.

Her career has two facets that I think are peculiar to her and were most fascinating in their relationship to each other: one, her really exceptional versatility in being able to play pretty much any role; and two, how Hollywood failed to full exploit her talents, largely, I think, based on the entertainment media that seemed to dismiss her rather condescendingly as a good girl who couldn't possibly tackle gritty roles -- forgetting that those were the kinds of roles which brought her their regard when they knew nothing about her private life.

Funny, but I think the main aspect to what they viewed as her decency wasn't so much her church attendance -- she's not the only person in Hollywood to go to church -- but her discretion. I wonder if it miffed them. The entertainment press has only gotten worse in this regard -- if you can't fan the flames of controversy or gossip, you're no good to them as a guest.

Ann is ultimately a survivor, as her mother, another survivor, taught her to be. Surviving success can be just as important a thing to know as surviving failure and tragedy.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby TopBilled » June 19th, 2015, 8:47 pm

Jacqueline,

I'd like to ask a different sort of question-- one related to the writing of your book.

When you do not have the participation of a living subject, do you write it with her in mind as a possible reader/audience? Or do you just work on it and try not to think about what her reaction may be (whether it's positive or negative)?

Also, do you think there is a reason she never wrote an autobiography..?

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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 19th, 2015, 8:53 pm

TopBilled, that's an excellent question! I was wondering about that too, but you expressed it so well.

Jacqueline, if I'd known you might have wanted that photo for the book, you would have had carte blanche! I guess I'll just have to save it for my book about "Sue Sue at the TCM Film Festivals." :D

Thanks for your thoughtful response about Ann's career. I just feel she was so talented and versatile, and I'm happy to know you've spent so much time devoted to her career, and feel the same way.

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This is one of my favorite, but wacky "Classic Hollywood" photos. Glenn Strange, known more populalry as Sam Noonan, the Long Branch Bartender on Gunsmoke, carries Ann Blyth in her Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid costume during a mutual lunch break in 1948 while Strange was filming Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein.
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Re: Q & A with Jacqueline T. Lynch, Biographer of Ann Blyth

Postby moira finnie » June 19th, 2015, 8:56 pm

Hi Jacqueline,
Thanks for a full day of answers! I hope we didn't wear you out, though we look forward to your return on Saturday.
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