Moving. Thorough. Fascinating. The new Ann Blyth biography will intrigue you. It’s great summer reading.
This month, New England author Jacqueline T. Lynch offers her latest book, Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. (available on Amazon.com, CreateSpace, and directly from the author on June 18, 2015). The author recounts the life of Ann Blyth -an entertainer who has performed since her childhood in the early 20th century. The star has appeared in a variety of media, including films (garnering an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Mildred Pierce), stage, radio, opera, supper clubs and television.
If there is one word which can sum up the legend’s career, as presented in this book, it is this: variety.
The parts that Ms. Blyth have played are versatile – from a debutante in lightweight comedies with the charming duo Peggy Ryan and Donald O’Connor, to vicious characters like Veda in Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford, to singing in lush, MGM musicals, to snarling characters in television westerns. These days, the performer’s gigs are as the recipient of plaudits for not only her own career, but also for that of her contemporaries -long dead- who worked during the classic movie era.
Not only are her roles varied, her performance within a role can be complex. The actress and singer would change her speaking voice for a more nuanced performance. These choices make for better entertainment, but obscures the actress. Says the author,
“Perhaps in the same way a trained singer is able to change keys while singing, so she might also be able to change the key of her speaking voice. A malleable voice is not something common with classic film stars…. Barbara Stanwyck, or Bette Davis, or Humphrey Bogart, for instance, or Katharine Hepburn—one can close one’s eyes while the movie is on and still know who the actors and actresses are, but not, necessarily, with Ann Blyth.”
Hence, Ms. Blyth’s dedication to her work has also been a stumbling block to her memory. She has avoided typecasting, which makes for a difficult “product” to sell.
However, it is doubtful that Ms. Blyth is worried over the idea that her name is not often listed among the legendary figures of her day, that her voice is not easily parodied. Her identity and sense of self-worth have never been entrenched in the entertainment industry. According to the book, her sense of identity has always been in her faith and family. When explaining her refusal of a television series or her love of the light scheduling of summer theater, the actress notes, “my children and husband come first.”
Ms. Blyth’s life is a tale of humble beginnings, support from a tireless mother, resilience, strong spiritual upbringing and generosity with coworkers. Most of America’s heartland would call this background and behavior “normal.” However, in contrast with Hollywood’s reputation for excessive self-interest and avarice, Ann Blyth is indeed a remarkable person to last so many decades in entertainment without dislodging her integrity (or as one critic calls it, her “halo”).
Much of the book contains a thorough analysis of each recorded performance. The images strewn throughout are also held to detailed scrutiny. They are there not only for general reference; the author often specifically refers to what is happening in the pictures, integrating them into the chapter. This is a rare practice for any biography.
For the performances which were not recorded, the author relies on original interviews, newspapers and audience impression. The author honors not only the musings of critics who have a prestigious byline, but also the opinions of people without official press passes who encounter the star or her performance. One hopes this is the start of a trend of reviewer egalitarianism in film star biographies.
One is particularly taken by the story of a fan in his eighties - Doug Trembearth of Australia- who recently traveled outside of his homeland for the first time just to see Ann Blyth in the U.S. during an event hosted by Turner Classic Movies. The author creates vivid parallels between the first time Trembearth saw an Ann Blyth film and the first time he saw the star in person.
In Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer.