Scott O'Brien Q & A on Ann Harding

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Good questions Joe … Unfortunately, Ann and her daughter Jane never reconciled their differences. Jane’s friends in the Bay Area told me that Jane did not talk about her mother and was reluctant to say much when asked about what it was like growing up in Hollywood. I’m not sure what the problem was between mother and daughter, but the rift took place sometime in the 1960’s. When a writer contacted Jane and asked about Ann (c. 1963) Jane was only annoyed, and replied, “If you don’t know where my Mother is, what makes you think I do?” Ann had very little money at the time of her death. Apparently her adopted daughter, Grace Kaye Harding, received the bulk of it. Jane passed away on November 19, 2005.

It’s a real shame that Ann’s work in It’s a Big Country (1951) was deleted. Her director was the talented Anthony Mann (Winchester ’73, God’s Little Acre) and she was teamed with her former co-star from The Fountain, actor Jean Hersholt. The episode was titled “Load” and focused on an immigrant couple’s concerns when the police are searching for their 18-year-old son, who is suspected of robbery and murder. Word of mouth had it that it was some of the finest work of Hersholt’s career.
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Mr. O'Brien,

Welcome to the Oasis and I am glad you are having a good time here!

I only discovered Ann Harding a few years ago when TCM was able to bring Double Harness and the other Merien C. Cooper RKO films back into the fold. I loved Ms. Harding in Harness and I was wondering if you could suggest a few more films for the novice Harding fan.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Hi Lynn ... My favorite Harding film is Peter Ibbetson (available on DVD), which is an exquisite film. Others that I particularly enjoy are: When Ladies Meet (with Myrna Loy and Robert Montgomery), Animal Kingdom (with Loy and Leslie Howard), The Life of Vergie Winters, Gallant Lady, A Lady Consents, The Flame Within, Love From a Stranger (with Basil Rathbone), The Fountain (thoughtful and provoking, co-starring Brian Aherne and Paul Lukas), and let's not forget Ann's Academy Award nominated performance in Holiday (1930). I think these performances exemplify what Ann had to offer on screen. I only wish I could have seen her on stage in Inheritors and The Corn is Green.
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Mr. O'Brien,

Can you talk a bit about the John Gilbert/Virgina Bruce relationship?

Also, Did Ann Harding make any friendships in Hollywood? Did she become close with any of her female co-stars?

Thanks.
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Scott,
Thank you very much for coming back for your next to last day here at the SSO. What was it about Philip Barry's plays that made them so successful when Ann was cast in Paris Bound (1929), Holiday (1930) and The Animal Kingdom (1932)? Did you think that the level of writing in Ann Harding's movies diminished after Pathe was absorbed into RKO? How did the changing corporate face of Hollywood in the '30s affect Harding's career?

Also, why did Ann Harding turn down what might have been a career-changing part in Of Human Bondage?

What really happened when Ann was trying to get The Sun Also Rises to the screen? Do you think she would have made a good Lady Brett?

Thanks in advance for your insights.
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Post by feaito »

Hi Mr. O'Brien,

I'm reading your excellent Bio and I'm now in the chapter where Ann makes a sort of "Hollywood" comeback an appears in Zinnemann's "Eyes in the Night" (1942). Previously you mention that she accompanied her second husband, Werner Janssen in a goodwill Concert Tour through South America where they visited Sao Paulo, Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile!!

I did not know that Ann Harding visited Santiago back in 1941, the year in which both my parents were born -in Santiago- and the city I've lived all my life. Have you any further information about the Symphonies Janssen conducted in these cities? Was the Tour a success? How was Ann received in those cities, especially in Santiago? Did South American fans still remembered her as the famous star she was during the first half of the 1930s? Thanks for any further information, I'll truly appreciate it.
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Scott, could you please talk a bit about Ann Harding's adopted daughter?
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For Jack ... Virginia credited her marriage to the troubled John Gilbert as the catalyst which gave her emotional depth as an actress. They had met after Virginia's screen test for the excellent Gilbert-penned MGM film Downstairs. Upon meeting her, Gilbert not only fawned over Virginia, but her coaxed out of her a remarkable performance. After their marriage, Gilbert's drinking, emotional outbursts, and anxiety around his career consumed what energy he had. He finally asked Virginia to take their infant daughter, Susan Ann, and leave. After their divorce (1934) Gilbert wanted nothing to do with Virginia and Susan Ann. To his rescue came Marlene Dietrich. Their bizarre relationship culminated (according to Dietrich's daughter, Maria) in Dietrich abandoning Gilbert in bed while he was having a heart attack. Dietrich reveled in playing the "widow" of her lover, which raised a lot of eyebrows, especially at Gilbert's funeral when Dietrich clutched her heart dramatically and collapsed in front of the casket. Dietrich later told everyone that Virginia was a "gold-digger" and had destroyed Gilbert's final will ... I could go on and on.

Mary Astor (Ann's co-star in Holiday) wrote about her friendship with Ann Harding in her book A Life on Film. The two spent a lot of time together off screen between 1930-36. It was Ann who recommended attorney Roland "Rich" Wooley to Astor before Astor's sensational custody battle which revealed contents from the infamous Astor "love" diaries. When I contacted Astor's daughter Marylyn, she only recalled her mother making some catty remark about Ann. After many on-line conversations with Marylyn, it was interesting to see the parallels between Astor and Harding during their retirement years and the strained relationships they had with their daughters.
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Thank you very much! I was hoping that AH had been friends with Mary Astor - they seem very similar to me. I like to think of them as friends.
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Thanks to Moira for this wonderful invite. It’s been a fun way to start the holi-daze. Philip Barry’s work reflected new attitudes and Ann Harding had the look, the depth and demeanor to carry his message home. Paris Bound (1929) asked the question if married couples could philander and remain spiritually committed. Ann’s character, Linda, in Holiday (1930) had unique beliefs and attitudes about love, life, and the stifling effect of family tradition. “Money is our God here!” she warns her sister’s fiancé. What a great line. Ann’s down-to-earth characterization sums up her palatial surroundings in one sentence, “If only I could get warm in this barn.” I think the ultra-rich could use a good dosage of Philip Barry in today’s world. Animal Kingdom was an RKO production, so I doubt that the absorption of Pathe Studio effected the kinds of drama they produced. The problem was censorship. Fans of Pre-Code cinema relish the likes of Barry and the stars that could do justice to his work. The PCA, Legion of Decency, and the Catholic Church essentially put an end to this kind of drama. Ann also had success in mother-love dramas like Gallant Lady (1933) and The Life of Vergie Winters (1934). But the writing was on the wall for stars like Ann. Seven years of top-tier stardom is not a bad run. I can also understand her burnout with Hollywood. As far as a corporation, RKO wasn’t into making prestige films like MGM. Thalberg was known to use the profits from box-office hits to produce quality, thought-provoking films, which would have suited Ann’s talent. I’ve mentioned that Ann wanted to do the first Technicolor feature film and approached RKO about it. They refused. Ann was a thinker. She liked the metaphysical aspect of The Fountain (1934), which had a net loss of $150,000 for the studio—the only profitable RKO film for Ann released after the Code was The Lady Consents (1936). By then, RKO had lost interest.

Ann, Katharine Hepburn and Irene Dunne had all turned down the role of Mildred in Of Human Bondage. They felt such a portrayal would ruin their image. It seems odd to me that Ann would turn the role down, as it would have given her the opportunity to play opposite her favorite leading man, Leslie Howard. As far as The Sun Also Rises, it was Joseph Breen and the MPA who made the unanimous decision that the film should not be made. Ann eventually sold the film rights in 1946. Ann put so much time and money to the realization of playing Lady Brett. My guess is that she would have been the epitome of what Hemingway had in mind. People seem to dismiss Lady Brett as a vain, selfish, shallow, alcoholic b****. She acted on sexual impulses. They forget that by the end of the novel she doesn't feel the need to escape by drinking anymore. There is no "perfect" ending here, but Brett learns to accept "what is" and approach life with a different attitude. Ann would have been a knockout in this role.
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Feaito - I wish I had more information on Ann’s sojourn with Werner Janssen to Santiago. I’m sure that if you check the archives at your library in Santiago from mid-May—end of July, 1941, you would find some articles about Ann Harding and Janssen. All I had to go by was news articles from the American press. Let me know if you find out anything: [email protected]
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For Moira -- When I started my research about three years ago, I wasn’t aware that Ann had an adopted daughter. It came as a surprise. The internet has much mis-information about Grace Kaye and many sites claim that Ann and Werner Janssen adopted her. There is no connection at all between Grace and Werner. From what I have been able to learn, Grace Kaye was a woman in her mid-thirties who befriended Ann while they were both living in Westport, Connecticut (c. 1963). By the time Ann moved to Sherman Oaks, California (c. 1973) Grace Kaye came with her. The two lived together. As Ann was estranged from her own daughter, Grace proved to be a reliable and comforting substitute. On Ann’s death certificate is the name “Grace K. Harding-daughter.” When the two were out in public, Ann would introduce Grace as her daughter. Needless to say, it raised a few eyebrows. After several attempts to find her, I was able to track Grace down. She called me on the telephone. After a few pleasantries I asked her a few questions about Ann. She went ballistic. “You talk to me as if I was some kind of maid!” she stated indignantly. “I don’t want any book published on my mother!” I tried to ask her how she and Ann had met. Had Grace seen Ann on stage? What were Ann’s retirement years like? “Oh!, No, no no!,” she said. “I would not go into that! I’m not a Joan Crawford daughter.” She turned the most simple, harmless questions into interrogations. About a month later, after I sent her copies of some letters that Ann had written to her mentor, Jasper Deeter, Grace called me again. She was apologetic and told me that she hoped I would write “a nice book.” So, there you have it. I’m still baffled by this woman. If someone was paying tribute to my mother (who was an academic English teacher) I would be most happy to cooperate.
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Scott,

Do you know what area of Sherman Oaks that Ann lived in? I ask because my husband and I have lived there for the last six years.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Lynn -- the only address I have for Ann (c. 1974) in Sherman Oaks is: 4747 Sepulveda Blvd.
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Scott,

Thanks so much!!

That address is about a two miles from where we live! It's a business area now but the next time I drive by that area I will think of Ann!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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