Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Gal That Got Away

I don't know whether I live in Hollywood because I have a worshipful reverence for it's history or vice-versa.  I suspect it's a combination of the two.  Over my years here, I've been fortunate enough to actually meet some of it's legends as I step gently through their land.  But this morning as I read TJB's wonderful essay about the jinxed Tom Neal/Barbara Payton Affair, I recalled the time of my near brush with greatness.

During the summer months, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (eternal home to Rudolph Valentino, Marion Davies, Harry Cohn, Adrian, Janet Gaynor, Tyrone Power and many, many others) has film screenings on Saturday nights.  Since I live about a block and a half away, and since so many people attend these that if I move my car after 5pm on a Saturday there's no place to park when I come back, I often attend.

One night in May of 2006, they were showing the $20,000-budgeted, six-day-shooting-schedule, 1945 noir, "Detour", that stars Neal and Ann Savage.  Now, I'd seen this film before many times.  I even own a copy of it on DVD that I got at the 99 cent store (it's been in the Public Domain forever), but the temptation of a group viewing with 2000 other film savvy Hollywood Hipsters was too great, so a group of us walked over.

I can say, without a doubt, that lying on a blanket, on the ground in a cemetery next to Douglas Fairbanks' massive monument to himself and watching such a great film, hugely projected on the side of an enormous white marble mausoleum building that houses Valentino, Peter Finch, Peter Lorre and hundreds of others, made for the most satisfying viewing of this most satisfying picture.  That the movie is so wonderful is due to one element, and one element alone.  Her name is Ann Savage.

A born Army Brat, Savage (Bernice Maxine Lyon) and her mother relocated to LA after the death of her father.  Deciding the actor's life was for her she performed her first screen test at MGM when she was 17.  She did not receive the key to the city for it.  So she spent the next few years taking training at Max Reinhardt's School and getting her teeth capped.  Bert D'Armond, the manager of the Reinhardt school became her agent.  Her reward was a contract with Columbia, where, unlike many others, she remember Mogul Harry Cohn as the "friendly Uncle type".  D'Armond's reward was having Savage become his wife.

She enjoyed a film career that, while hardly earth shaking, was at least steady though the 40's.  And she did dabble in Television in the 50's.  And then, well, that was about it.  For acting anyway.  She and Bert had each other and were very happy.  They lived in New York for years and when he died in 1969 she returned to LA to be close to her mother.  Taking odd jobs to finance flying lessons, she became a licensed pilot in 1979.  She loved flying it kept her close to God and Bert. 
She also became a legal secretary at a law firm here in LA.  Then, in the 1990's and 2000's when Noir Fever hit, she kinda got re-discovered and appeared at screenings and retrospectives, as well as Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg" filmed in 2006.

About her performance in "Detour", it is nothing short of delicious.  To say that she is committed and goes there, is as understated as saying that there is a whiff of mystery about Garbo.  As Vera, she grabs the movie and everything in it and devours it, with a transparent skin that let's you see all the desperation, pathology and sadism inside.  Unlike most stars of the day, she allowed herself to be ugly.  Wim Wenders has said that her acting was at least 15 years ahead of it's time, and supposedly Savage was the first person that Brando wanted to meet when he got to Hollywood.

That night at the cemetery, I was joined by my best friend (an actor) who had seen the movie before, and two virgins to the picture.  Back at my house after the movie, we were all talking over each other nonstop about Ann.  We decided to Google her and to my utter shock I discovered that, at age 85, she had a Myspace Account!  Here's what her interests were listed as:  ACTING, flying, guns, diamonds, MEN MOVIES MOUNTAINS.  After everyone left, I opened an account just so I could write her a fan letter.  I gushed like a little girl.  About her performance, about seeing it at the cemetery, about my friend "Allen" also being an actor and how much he loved her work.  I told her that we'd love to take her to lunch and thank her in person.  Only after I hit 'send', did my head clear enough to realize how much I was embarrassing myself.

The next day, SHE WROTE ME BACK! :

Hello Philip,

Well, thank you so much for all your kind words and for your support of Detour. You have nice hair, honey.

I am not too sure I like the idea of watching movies at the cemetery, but one day I will be there along with my Mother and Husband Bert, so I am sure it will be a welcome diversion from my long rest. Until then, I am sure you can understand that I am in no hurry to join the others who got there ahead of me!

I am grateful to you for taking the time to send me your lovely letter. Give my best wishes to your friend Allen and tell him that I wish him the best of luck in this crazy business, and to stick to his guns and NEVER give up, no matter how much crap the bastards in charge throw at him. Also, tell him NEVER do anything for free! The people that want free are usually cons with nothing to offer anyone with genuine talent.

I can't think of anything else to say right now. I am not going to lunches these days, but I really appreciate the invitation. I just made a movie in Winnipeg and am still recovering. Sometimes I show up at the Egyptian or around town and will send out a bulletin and let you know. I will look forward to meeting you then. For now, I am laying low. Acting is hard work. Believe it.

Best to you and Allen,


I was stupefied.  But more than that, I was stupid,  I never went back on Myspace to follow up with her.

After a series of strokes Ann was moved into the Motion Picture Home where she passed away on Christmas Day 2008 in her sleep.  She has joined Bert and her Mother at (you guessed it)  Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


kabuki zero said...

ACTING, flying, guns, diamonds, MEN MOVIES MOUNTAINS. Her and I have the same interests. except for flying and mountains, and i can act like i am interested in those. i can't believe you didn't follow thru, you ninny. when fate opens a door - you'd damn well better step thru it. remember that next time, because you can't exist in my shadow forever. unless you want to.

jason said...

oh my god, I'd sadly never even heard of her, but merely based on those pics...young and old and that story, I'm a fan too!

I think need to see that film now.

FelixInHollywood said...


Yeah ya do. It's an Insane 68 minutes!

normadesmond said...

terrific story!

mrpeenee said...

Am I jealous? Why, FUCKING HELL yes. I'm both interested in her mainly because of Detour but also because I'm fascinated by people who make a living at acting without ever really breaking through. To have gotten a chatty little note from her is beyond fabulous.

Stephen said...

This post makes me have to re-visit DETOUR. This post is great story telling in the Hollywood style. I love this post!

Mike, Studio city said...

I have lived here in Hollywood for 40yrs and have met more "real stars" than I can count. I would not want to live anywhere else. Stories like this are what it's all about.

Jon said...

My gawd - MySpace really is the "Home of the Stars". Well, sort of... What a fab story! Jx

TJB said...

Oh honey, if you had only gone to lunch with her! Or gotten your hair did together. Fabulous! I have to go re-watch Detour now...

FelixInHollywood said...

Yeah, I know. Did you ever know such a yutz.

Katie said...

I lived in LA from July '03- Dec. '07 and I felt the same way you were describing. It was this beautiful world that I lived- I felt like I saw things that people didn't. That Hollywood sign is pure magic.

What a wonderful story about Ann! I tried to arrange a stalk/visit at the Motion Picture Home, but never came to fruition. That's normal, right? ;)

FelixInHollywood said...

Sounds perfectly normal to me doll!

Thanks so much for the beautiful comment.