‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary’ by Edward Sorel (2016) – 165 pages
The scandal was a court fight between Mary Astor and her divorced husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe for custody of their four year old daughter. The court fight centered on Astor’s personal diary which she admitted documented her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman. Her husband claimed the diary kept a tally of her many affairs, and that in it she actually rated the performances of her many lovers. Astor claimed these additional rumors were untrue. The trial and the diary became front page news in the newspapers and movie magazines of that time.
‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary’ actually tells the story of Mary Astor’s entire life. She was born in 1906 and she started in the movies as a child star at age 14. While she earned big money as a silent film star, her father took all the money and spent it extravagantly. When she was only 17, the famous star and roué John Barrymore wanted her to be cast in his movie ‘Beau Geste’. She had an affair with the much older Barrymore behind her parents’ back. Later she starred with Clark Gable and became one of the biggest stars of that era. She had a short marriage to movie director Kenneth Hawks (brother of director Howard Hawks) which ended when he was killed in a plane crash in 1930.
During the custody court hearings of 1936, Astor continued to film the movie ‘Dodsworth’ which became one of her biggest successes. Here most famous role was in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ which was filmed in 1941 with Humphrey Bogart. She died in 1987 at the age of 81.
In his account of Mary Astor’s life, Edward Sorel is imaginative yet a straight shooter in assigning praise and blame for the various escapades in Mary’s life. Since Astor’s career and presumably her life were unhurt by the scandal, it is treated more as a human interest story than as a tragedy. Sorel has had a lifelong fascination with Mary Astor dating back to 1965 when he discovered some old newspapers reporting her trial while replacing the linoleum in his kitchen. His fascination with Mary Astor fuels our own fascination.
I found that Sorel’s many pictures enhanced the story and made Astor and her life and that era in Hollywood come alive for me.