January 3rd, 2009

Piecing it together

My Savage Detours co-writer Kent has been spending the last month or so sorting through box after box of Ann's private notes; even before her passing on Christmas Day, Kent had helped her move from her longtime apartment into an assisted living situation, and he'd moved most of her belongings into his own space until he could figure out what to do with them.

As it turns out, Ann obsessively documented her own life. She didn't just keep every script, every press clipping, every review, every contract, etc., but she constantly scribbled little notes to herself (my God, she would have loved Twitter!). If she didn't have a journal with her (which she often did), she'd grab whatever scrap of paper was at hand and scratch away. He's sorting through hundreds of these little notes now, becoming essentially an archaeologist of a single life.

Amazingly, much of it is very useful to us, almost as if Ann was imagining her future biographers picking through these bits of her history. Some of it is absolutely jaw-dropping, like these words scribbled on the back of an airline ticket: "Went to premiere of Klondike Kate at the Egyptian".

I know that probably none of you have ever heard of Klondike Kate, but this was a key film for Ann. She made it in 1943 while a contract player at Columbia, and it's the film that could have made her a star...had the script just been a little more focused, and the first-time director named William Castle a little more experienced. As it is, Ann is sensational in it, as a woman who is forced to shed her naive ideals once she finds herself stuck in the rough-and-tumble world of the Yukon during the Gold Rush. It was the first time she appeared with Tom Neal; their fourth (and last) film together would be Detour.

But Klondike Kate was a B picture, and that's why the note is so amazing: Because we never imagined that B movies would have had premieres at prestige theaters like the Egyptian (which in '43 was still one of Hollywood's most gorgeous and esteemed movie palaces). Even if she's only talking about opening night and not a full Hollywood style premiere, it's a pleasure to know that the film played the Egyptian. And that Ann was there on the big night.

It may not have made her a star after all, but it certainly made her feel like the Queen of the Yukon - and of Hollywood - for at least one night.