Anne Stewart: A Most Successful Failure
If you didn’t know any better, you would swear she was famous…
Anne Stewart came from a traditional Jewish family and reinvented herself into a glamorous Hollywood starlet and socialite. To some, her scandalous life confirmed her status as the “black sheep” of the family. Others saw her as a beacon, which pointed the way out of the narrow confines of her culture and into the larger world.
Anne’s early years capture the glamour, innocence and excitement of New York in the 1930’s. Her breathtaking beauty allowed her to mix with the uppermost echelons of New York society. A torrid affair with a famous Metropolitan opera/movie star Nino Martini resulted in the birth of a daughter Diana in 1935. Anne’s cousins recount how they watched in amazement as she brazenly flouted family tradition.
Despite the birth of a child out of wedlock, Anne’s rapid climb up the American social ladder continued. She married William McLauchlan II, the heir to a steel fortune in Cleveland. Armed with her naturally blond hair, astute fashion sense and upscale heirs, Anne was able to penetrate the old-moneyed blue bloods of Cleveland. But even after having achieved her childhood dream of being one of “them”, Anne was not satisfied.
Anne and her family moved to Hollywood. There Anne divorced her husband and got herself signed with 20th Century Fox. Anne was a contract player in Hollywood in the 1940’s - at height of the studio system and at a time when movies were populated with actors who are considered today to be some of the greatest icons of our culture. She dated Tyrone Power and saved all the letters he wrote to her while serving in the Air force during World War II. The single mother Anne Stewart befriended the single mother Joan Crawford. In candid interviews she expresses regret for not being nicer to that pesky little Marilyn Monroe who, she claims, chased her around the lot saying, “I want to be sophisticated like you, Anne.”
While still with the studio and earning an outstanding living, Anne brought her sisters Elizabeth and Shirley out west in order to care for Diana. The chatter in the extended family continued - and now they could get information regularly from the mainstream media about their wayward cousins.
Anne’s daughter Diana is interviewed and shares her perspective on a mother whom she worshipped as a child and whom she now views with much skepticism. Diana was left in fancy boarding schools all around the United States while her mother traveled the world in search of greater fame and fortune. While in Rome in 1949, she attended Tyrone Power’s wedding – an event that earned her mentions in the international press. Anne was now as far away from her family as she had ever been, but keeping tabs on Anne was never a problem.
Following Anne’s return to the United States in the 50’s, Anne met and married Jazz cornet player, Wild Bill Davison. Wild Bill Davison’s modest career in show business afforded Anne the opportunity to travel the world and continue her romance with the media. Anne billed herself as a former Hollywood starlet who “left her career” in order to marry Wild Bill. Anne’s glamorous studio portraits accompanied articles about Wild Bill for decades to come.
Anne struggled for years to attain the broad acceptance that she felt she was lacking. Whether Anne Stewart was a success or a failure is up to the viewer to decide. Much of Anne’s family was disapproving of the path she chose in life, but others were inspired. It is with this mixed message that Anne called herself, “a most successful failure".
This documentary was constructed from interviews, letters, archival footage plus Anne’s large collections of news clippings and photos that span the 1920’s up to her death in 2002. Anne never succeeded as an actress; therefore only one short film clip exists from her tenure with 20th Century Fox. Nonetheless, Anne was an iconic Hollywood figure – for one family, at least.