It’s a good thing we (as in, yours truly) are not famous.
We’d make a boorish celebrity, the type that sends staff on stupid errands, e.g. “Bring me a truckload of M&M’s – and don’t come back until the yellow ones have been picked out!”
You know the type.
But once in a while a genuinely decent human being will become famous, and won’t let fame wreak havoc with their character.
At least, that’s the impression we received from reading Ann Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star, the soon-to-be-released biography by Jacqueline T. Lynch.
Ann Blyth chronicles the career of a woman who was once considered to be the finest actress of her generation.
She was also rather famous in her day. It surprised us to learn that in 1951, Blyth was receiving about 2,000 letters a month from American servicemen. This amounted to three-quarters of her monthly mail (approx. 2,600 letters per month).
Blyth was popular with US troops due to her visits to Army bases, a practice she began as a teenager during World War II. Blyth lent her talents to non-profit organizations throughout her life, in between her work in movies, television, radio, theatre – and raising five children.
Although she suffered two great tragedies in her teen years and struggled to keep her private life private, Blyth never seemed to become bitter. After her film career had long ended, she said tactfully, “People’s memories are quite short. You always have to keep reminding them of what you can do.” (Ann Blyth, p. 292)
Lynch’s book does just that; it reminds us of what Blyth can do.
One thing we appreciate about Lynch’s research is the focus on Blyth’s career. There are no sordid, tell-all interviews. This book is about a woman Making It in Hollywood.
And what a career! Blyth starred with some of the biggest names in the biz, including William Powell, Burt Lancaster, Charles Boyer and Robert Montgomery.
Perhaps her most famous co-star was Joan Crawford in the 1945 film noir, Mildred Pierce. This is the film that made Ann Blyth a star and won her an Oscar nomination.
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.
“Mildred Pierce (1945) is a film that should be shown to people who say they don’t like to watch black and white movies,” writes Lynch. “The cinematography here is so good that it is a living thing quite apart from the story and the acting performances, and yet the black and white photography here enhances both…” (p. 79)
The analysis of Blyth’s performance as the amoral Veda is our favourite part of the book. Indeed, Lynch’s insightful review has made us see the film in a new light, even though we’ve watched it dozens of times.
Blyth’s career included far more than her turn as Veda in Mildred Pierce. She appeared in 33 movies in 13 years, including MGM’s first CinemaScope musical, Rose Marie (1954). Lynch’s reviews of these films are notable because she puts things in context for us. If a film doesn’t work, Lynch explains why – which makes us want to watch it anyway.
Happily, this biography includes Blyth’s radio appearances. Some biographers don’t devote much time to an actor’s radio work, but the diligent Lynch has not forgotten this part of Blyth’s career.
With such an impressive resumé, the question becomes: How come Ann Blyth isn’t more famous today?
Hopefully, Lynch’s biography will change that, and bring renewed interest in the talented Blyth. We suspect this is a book you’ll want to pick up.
Ann Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star will be available June 18, 2015. You can enter daily contests to win Ann Blyth memorabilia on Lynch’s site, Another Old Movie Blog, until June 18.
Note: The author sent us an advance reading copy for reviewing.