I’m very happy to present a Q&A today with talented writer, historian & blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch. Jacqueline is the blogger behind Another Classic Movie Blog, which is staple reading for those interested in classic film, & has been for years. In addition, Jacqueline writes the fine New England Travels blog. Beyond her online presence, she also is a published author, with seven novels, three works of historical non-fiction & seven plays to her credit, as well as collections of short stories & a children’s book—an impressive résumé!
But today’s Q&A isn’t about Jacqueline’s past achievements. It’s about her current project, a book on actress Ann Blyth. In this case, Jacqueline is using a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the necessities for what promises to be a first-rate publication. I encourage you to support this project in any way you can. You can reach the Ann Blyth Kickstarter at this link or from the dedicated link at the top of this blog’s right sidebar.
& now, let’s read what Jacqueline has to tell us about her project:
Okay, the $64,000 question: Why Ann Blyth?
Sometimes the subject finds you. I had written about Mildred Pierce in a previous year, but that post focused on the cinematography of the movie and not really the performances. I’d always meant to get back to it and cover it from the angle of the performances. Then the summer of 2013 I wrote about I’ll Never Forget You, (a time-travel romance I recently re-visited in another post for my year-long series on Ann Blyth’s movies). I was struck by two things: first, how meaningful her portrayal was of this 18th century woman, how much her delicate performance enhanced the story as well as our knowledge of the time in which it was set. Second, I was struck by how profoundly different this character was to the volatile and scheming Veda of Mildred Pierce.
I decided it was time to write more on Ann Blyth, but was then shocked to discover I had only seen about a third of her films. I had been watching old movies since I was old enough to toddle over to the TV and manually switch the dial and manipulate the rabbit ears by myself. Why had I seen only 10 Ann Blyth movies in all those years?
Then I discovered that so many were hard to get, never seen, not available either on DVD or VHS. 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.
I also wanted to know why most of her films are so hard to obtain. Well, you tell the girl she can’t have cookies, and she immediately starts climbing up the shelf to reach the cookie jar. It became a mission. To my amazement and chagrin, there’s still one film, Katie Did It, that I just cannot seem to find.
How has following the career of one actress for a year on your blog changed your perception of the blog' s purpose & possibilities?
At first this just seemed to be an interesting project, a change of pace, if you will, for a blog that just started its seventh year. I thought it might shake things up a little, if not for the reader, then for me.
Very quickly, however, following the career of one actress changed the tone, I think, of the blog and made it more personal, as well as more about the nuts and bolts of the industry. My approach to blogging about classic films has always been to discuss a movie in the context of the time in which it was made. For me, the era is part and parcel to understanding a movie and enjoying it more. I’ve mentioned often that if one has little knowledge of what the US or the world was like in 1939 or 1952, or whatever year, then there’s a whole lot about the movie that will go right over that person’s head. That is a shame, for movies are probably one of our greatest tools to learn about history, because they are truly time capsules, valuable most especially for their unselfconscious faults and virtues.
But focusing on one person’s career altered my background comments to the film, which became more directed toward Ann Blyth’s personal experiences, what she said at the time, what others said about her, things that happened off set. What I learned about her personal life (most of which I have not mentioned on the blog because I really do want to keep to her career) has moved me deeply. One reader joked early on that this series would become a kind of archive for people to come to who want to know more about Ann Blyth. I hope it will become, not an archive, but a steppingstone for people to discover more about her work.
If someone wanted an introduction to the films of Ann Blyth, which three would you recommend & why?
That’s a tough one, because she’s like a chameleon, and the more of her films you see, the more impressive this quality of versatility becomes.
I’d have to say Mildred Pierce, because of the skillful ferocity, the maturity of her work, and because she was only 16 years old when she did it. That alone is astounding.
Then Once More, My Darling, because it really is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and her work in this charming, offbeat story is splendid. This film definitely needs to be better known. She is a subtle, guileless, and devastatingly funny comedienne.
Then I guess Kismet, because it is a musical with a lovely score and Ann gets to display her marvelous lyric soprano.
Just seeing these three movies, say in the course of one day, one is apt to say, “Was that really the same person?”
What are the Kickstarter funds going to?
The funds will go to obtaining never published or rarely published photos currently in the collections of libraries, museums, and newspapers that currently hold the rights. I will have to pay licensing fees to use them. As funds permit, I would also obtain additional research materials, and pay for editing, proofreading, and cover art. This will be the first book written about Ann Blyth’s career. [editorial note: emphasis by yours truly]
How has studying one actress in so much depth altered your views on classic films?
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.
I am fascinated about the child of six who found work in the worst years of the Great Depression as a radio performer. That as a 12-year old, she appeared on Broadway in one of Lillian Hellman’s most important dramas, and thereby helped support her family. A shy, self-effacing girl, not from a show-biz family, whose single mother struggled to support her, and yet taught this young girl lessons she would need on perseverance, self-discipline, faith, kindliness, and humility that she would need to get her through tragic times and keep her steady when she finally ended up in Hollywood and in a world that ate up and spit out a lot of other sensitive people.
It is often commented that Ann Blyth retired after her last film in 1957, The Helen Morgan Story, but she didn’t. She acted and sang for decades afterward, not working in film because either she was not offered the roles, or the roles she was offered did not appeal to her. Of course, she also curtailed her schedule to raise her children. A celebrity drops off the radar if the glare of the lights and piercing eye of the camera are not always on them, and this is perhaps the greatest insight into our perception today of classic films. To the classic film fan, Cary Grant is as big a deal as he was when he was alive, when he was a star in the 1930s.
But Ann Blyth is alive. She did not retire. She’s going on a Turner Classic Movies Disney cruise in October. I know her old fans are eagerly interested for any news on this. What I hope, however, is that my blog will introduce her to many new fans, who will enjoy the privilege of showing their appreciation for her work while she is still with us and can know it. Classic films are not just about the stars, or the studio system, or the moguls, or the movies. They are also the fans of today that keep them alive. I think coming to understand this is one of the most profound aspects on the study of classic films that I’ve learned from this series.
Thanks so much Jacqueline! Now please folks, support this important project!