Ann Savage was one tough broad.
And that title is a royal adornment for a lady who was pure class.
Ann Savage, who seemed indestructible, quietly passed away on Christmas Day.
My friend and colleague Eddie Muller’s masterly profile of Ann in his wonderful tome, Dark City Dames fills in most of the blanks about the ups and downs of a life that was resolutely lived on her own terms. As chronicled by Eddie, the Ann Savage story is a compelling read. My own memories of Ann are more prosaic.
I had an extended conversation with Ann in the lobby of the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs between film screenings back in 2002. We discussed the similar nuances of piloting an airplane (Ann) and piloting a large ship at sea (me).
It was terrific to learn a bit about the authentic Ann behind the public veil of her ferocious Vera character from the classic “B” film noir Detour (1945). Ann was kind, completely down-to-earth and had a wicked sense of humor.
Her recollections about director Edgar Ulmer smearing her coiffed hair with cold cream with Ann affecting a consumptive cough that created one of noir’s most unforgettable characters and belting the rakish Tom Neal in the chops when he stuck his tongue in her ear were priceless.
We would bump into each other at events over the next several years – I wrote a brief tribute to her in the Noir City Festival program in 2004 which follows – and renew our acquaintance.
Ann’s triumphal appearance in front of a delirious, sold out Castro Theatre after a screening of Detour is even more impressive when one considers the back story of her journey from Los Angeles.
Ann had just recovered from a serious bout of pneumonia in January 2004 and her doctor ruled out a trip to the Bay Area:
“If you go, you could die in San Francisco”, reported the blunt-talking sawbones who could have qualified for a cameo in D.O.A.
Forever Vera, Ann eyeballed the doc and fired back:
“I’d rather die in San Francisco than in your crummy hospital!”
Like I said, one tough broad.
A couple of remarks from Ann that stayed with me:
1. She didn’t want to be confined to Q&A appearances on the film noir revival circuit with Detour and a handful of other PRC vintage cheapies that were not nearly as good.
“I want to act again… and I know I can still do it well”, she declared.
I was impressed. At 81, Ann Savage still had the inner fire to perform and was resolutely searching for the right part.
This was why I was so gratified to see her on screen again in Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg earlier this year.
My enjoyment of Ann’s perfornance as Guy Maddin’s mother was tempered by knowing that she had taken ill and was no longer making public appearances.
At the time, I believed that her comeback was bittersweet; to have an unqualified success in the twilight of her years and not be able to enjoy it.
Not so, according to Ann’s manager and close friend, Kent Adamson.
According to Kent, Ann was fully cognizant about her success in Maddin’s eclectic bio opus and gloried in her return to the screen even though she was no longer appearing in public. She kept up on events by using the Internet, television and was amazed what came up when she googled “Ann Savage”.
And the other item?
2. Flying an airplane – Ann explained to me that she had to finally hang up her wings due to failing depth perception that caused porpoising the aircraft during landing – was her second greatest thrill.
Glad to play the straight man, I asked, “And the first?”
“Why, standing in front of that camera, of course”
Ann Savage, whose work in front of the camera and inside the cockpit were equally flawless, will be sorely missed.
A picture of Ann flying above Hollywood composed by one of her fans (Courtesy of Kent Adamson)