Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady by Scott O’Brien

Title: Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady
Author: Scott O’Brien
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2010
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Several years ago I read Scott O’Brien’s excellent biography of Kay Francis, so I couldn’t wait to read his book on Ann Harding. I wasn’t disappointed. Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady is an excellent and extensively researched book about the film and stage star Ann Harding.

Harding grew up a military “brat” and ended up working on the stage, where she was an immediate success, due to her natural talent and beauty. This caused a rift with her father, Brigadier General Gatley, who did not approve of her career choice. Eventually she ended up in Hollywood.

Harding was one of the biggest stars of films in the early 1930s during the post-talkie, Pre-Code era, but she is little known today except by devoted fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many of her movie roles were of the noble, self-sacrificing type, and she quickly became typecast in that kind of role. She was famous for her patrician beauty, throaty voice, and long blonde hair.

Here is Harding in one of her films, with the wonderful Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard:


She wasn’t frivolous, but an intelligent, mature actress. She spent much of her time honing her skills on the stage, especially “little theater.” It is clear that O’Brien respects Harding as a fine actress. She had a common-sense approach to her career, too, not worrying about her status or whether she was still a “star” or a romantic lead. She was acting because she enjoyed acting. Being a “star” meant little to her.

Much of the book is consumed with describing Harding’s career on film and stage. Each film is thoroughly reviewed. There is some discussion of her personal life, however. Despite her genteel image, Harding did have a difficult private life. She had affairs with married men, suffered through two failed marriages, a custody battle with her first husband, and eventually a distant relationship with her daughter.

She seems to have cut herself off from many of her friends and even her natural daughter as she aged. Inexplicably, she seems to have “adopted” a grown woman in her later years. However, she seems to have escaped the real tragedies that have beset other Hollywood actors from the same era.

If you are a fan of Ann Harding or the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I highly recommend that you read this book. You can order this book by clicking the badge below!

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels by Michael G. Ankerich

Title: Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen
Author: Michael G. Ankerich
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2011
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen tells the mostly tragic stories of now-forgotten actresses of the silent film era. 

The actresses included in the book are: Agnes Ayres, Olive Borden, Grace Darmond, Elinor Fair, Juanita Hansen, Wanda Hawley, Natalie Joyce, Barbara La Marr, Martha Mansfield, Mary Nolan, Marie Prevost, Lucille Ricksen, Eve Southern, and Alberta Vaughn. 

Each actress gets a chapter devoted solely to her. I’ve read about some of these actresses before (Ayres, Prevost, La Marr), but some of them I had never heard of before (Hawley, Ricksen). 

I found it fascinating to find out what happened to these women. Most silent actors faced a unique dilemma, because during the last years of the 1920s Hollywood began transitioning away from silent films to “talkies.” Some actors struggled to adapt to talking pictures, whether because of a poor voice or bad acting technique. 

Then the stock market crashed right during that transition, and some of these women, through no fault of their own, were wiped out financially. Some of them struggled with drug or alcohol addictions, and some suffered from untreated mental illnesses, at a time when these conditions were little understood and there were no proper treatment programs. When their careers crashed, their stocks failed, their youth and beauty started fading and they lost their stardom, they were left broke and unemployed. 

Others were simply incredibly unlucky, and a couple of the actresses profiled in this book managed to have somewhat normal lives after their fame faded away. Some of these are unbearably tragic and hard to read. It is actually sadder to read about the ones who weren’t self-destructive and died through no fault of their own – Martha Mansfield was killed in a horrifying fire, and little Lucille Ricksen died at age 14, possibly from tuberculosis. 

I’m glad that Michael Ankerich wrote this book and really glad that he chose some silent movie actresses that have been neglected by other authors. There have been plenty of books and articles written about Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson, for example. It is about time these actresses get their due. If you are a silent film fan, I heartily recommend this book. 

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Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid by Ben Ohmart

Title: Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid
Author: Ben Ohmart
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2007
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid  by Ben Ohmart is a thoroughly researched biography of Ameche’s surprising career, which spanned over 60 years and including starring roles in film, radio, theater, and television.

Ameche was a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He became famous after his starring role as the inventor of the telephone in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.” His role in this film made him so famous that people joked “you’re wanted on the Ameche!”

Ameche also was a very big radio star, as well as starring on Broadway and early television. By the late 1970s, however, he was reduced to small parts on big television series. He loved performing, however, and he continued to work in touring theatre companies, out of the spotlight.

Then he made one of the most surprising comebacks in Hollywood history with his delightful performance in Trading Places. He got the part because Ray Milland did not pass the physical that all film companies require, and director John Landis called Ameche to read for the role of Mortimer Duke.

Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd were wonderful in the lead roles, but Ameche and Ralph Bellamy (in my opinion) steal all of their scenes as the nasty Duke brothers. Ameche he went on to star in several more films, winning an Academy Award for his work in Cocoon. He thoroughly enjoyed his career renaissance, and was delighted to win the Oscar.

This biography is interesting because I learned so many things I didn’t know about Don. During the 1980s I saw him interviewed a few times, and it was interesting to read about Ameche’s private life.

There were no scandals, but that does not mean his relationships with his family were not complicated. Don and his wife Honore (“Honey”) had six children, and he was a strict father. Don was constantly busy with his movie and radio work, and rarely home. His sons were sent away to boarding school early, and this also helped to create a somewhat distant relationship with his children. 

Even though he stayed married to his wife from 1932 to her death in 1986 – they spent approximately the last two decades unofficially separated. There are no explanations in the book for why transpired between them, except perhaps basic incompatibility – his wife did not like life in the spotlight, while Don seemed to love it. Don’s devout Catholicism precluded him from getting a divorce. They just lived in different parts of the country and didn’t see each other.

I definitely get the impression from this fine biography that Ameche was a complex man, and that his children really didn’t get to know their strict father, and his real personality remains somewhat elusive.

This book does go into great detail about Ameche’s professional life, including every film and almost every television show he ever did. It is profusely illustrated with wonderful photographs. It is well worth reading if you are a fan.

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