RULER OF FIVE GALAXIES AND BOSS OF TV REMOTE
(Date Posted:01/08/2012 11:25 PM)
You didn't know about Mary Astor and her diary scandal? OMG!!!
I have been a big Mary Astor fan for as long as I can remember. I first heard about MaryAstor and her diary when Kenneth Anger's godforsakem HOLLYWOOD BABYLON book came out and, among all the other lurid stories, I remembered the garish photos of Mary Astor with her daughter and the sensationalistic narrative that went with it - Right after HOLLYWOOD BABYLON came out, a biography by Howard Teichmann came out on George S. Kaufman, and of course it covered the diary scandal. After that, I always looked for anything about Mary Astor.I read her book A LIFE ON FILM and years later found her memoir MY STORY in a used furniture store! Poor Mary had a ROUGH life! She was the only child of a German immigrant father and a farmer's daughter. When she was 12, she sent her photo into a Brewster publication movie magazine where the winner would be given a part in a motion picture. Her father ate it right up! When Mary lost the contest (she was too young) her father couldn't believe it and made plans to present her in person for the next contest. He quit his teaching job and uprooted the whole family to Chicago, where Brewster magazines had a branch office. He had more pics taken of Mary and then walked her into the Brewster offices. Again, Mary didn't win, and her father decided he had to take her to the head office in New York City. Another poverty stricken move took place.When Mary was 14, she was deemed a runner-up in the contest, and asked to take part in a screen test from which the winner would be chosen. In her book A LIFE ON FILM she says she was asked to walk up to the camera with her arms wide open and say, I love you, I love you, I love you - while Mr. Brewster sat down right in front of the camera. She suspected it was the only way he could get a beautiful girl to say those words to him! She lost that contest, too.But a photographer was also there and he liked the look of her. She began posing for him, and that's when the "Madonna" tag developed for her. A screenwriter saw the pics and had Mary signed to a contract with First National. Her name was officially changed, and she could consider herself an actress. She was 14 years old.Her father was an extremely oppressive influence on her. As the family's breadwinner, Mary was "protected" and chaperoned constantly, and later said she felt that she developed into a "lopsided" personality - her very humanity was seemingly denied by her parents, and she worked constantly without any social interaction. At 18 she climbed out her bedroom window and ran away to a neighbor's house. Afraid of losing his meal ticket, her father grudgingly gave her more freedom, and Mary said she had no idea how to use it. And you can imagine, being such a young beautiful woman in Hollywood, what kind of attention she attracted. Mary fell for all of it.In her autobiography she said that sexually she was out of control and extremely predatory. She didn't know any boundaries because she'd never been given the chance to explore them safely growing up. Despite the fantasies she had about love and marriage, she continued to prowl around Hollywood. When her first husband was killed during a film stunt, she felt so guilty about the unhappy life she brought him that she nearly collapsed - and met her second husband, Dr. Franklyn Thorpe.He rehabbed her, married her, and then put a stop to Mary's paychecks going directly to her parents. Mary had only been receiving an allowance from her parents! When her husband put a stop to her father getting her paychecks, her father sued her for support. The first ugly headlines she'd ever experienced came from the lawsuit her father launched against her. He lost the suit.But Dr. Thorpe turned out to be almost as oppressive as her father. After she gave birth to her first child, a girl, she went right back to work as his insistence. He used her celebrity and connections to build a medical clientele for himself. And she still never saw her own paycheck. And she started wandering again. Apparently her husband was aware of this and said nothing.One of the men she met was the Broadway playwright George S. Kaufman. Supposedly she kept a diary, and in it she claimed he was the best lover she ever had. When she decided to divorce her doctor husband, he said fine, but he wanted it all: the house, the savings, alimony, and custody of their child. Or else he would ruin her career by exposing the diary. She gave in to all his demands, and they were divorced.Six months after the divorce became final, she had second thoughts. She had made a film with Ann Harding, who went through a nasty divorce and had to fight for custody of her own daughter, so she went to the same attorney Ann Harding used - and she told him everything. But she was encouraged when he said he thought he could help her.Mary started working on DODSWORTH when her attorney filed suit to set aside the divorce agreement and re-negotiate, and Dr. Thorpe immediately let the press know: there's a diary. The press went nuts. He leaked stories all over the place about what the diary contained, and let reporters read various pages of it - or so the reporters said. All kinds of newspaper articles came out with supposed quotes from the diary, and Mary was mortified by the attention. Ruth Chatterton, who was working with her on DODSWORTH, supported Mary emotionally throughout the trial, and even went with Mary to her attorney's appointments and appeared in court, as a friend and as a witness.For all the talk about what was in the diary and the quotes being printed in the newspapers (and Mary said most of them were made up) nobody in court saw the diary. Her attorney got suspicious if the diary even existed, and if it did, were any of these stories in it? He announced he was going to call the diary into evidence. Can you imagine the impact all this must have had on the public? They couldn't get enough of it. George S. Kaufman, the best lover Mary Astor ever had, fled to England to get away from the press, and when he walked off the gangplank was greeted by screaming headlines about Mary Astor's diary. It was worldwide news!The movie studios freaked. They were very concerned about the "box score" that had been quoted by the press wherein Mary supposedly made explicit notes about her Hollywood cohorts and how they were in bed. At one point, she said the heads of all the major Hollywood studios and their attorneys summoned Mary and her attorney to a midnight meeting to persuade them NOT to call the diary into evidence, fearful that the careers of their male stars would be destroyed. Mary said she looked at her attorney for an answer, and he made it clear: the diary HAD to be called in to evidence. I suspect it was around that time that Thalberg and Shearer made their presence known in the case. Mary said everybody deserted her because to be seen with her was to be suspected as one of her many many lovers. Only Ruth Chatterton publicly hung in there with her.When Mary's attorney called for the diary, Dr. Thorpe's lawyers said they didn't have it. Dr. Thorpe's previous lawyers didn't have it. Then a legal assistant produced mimeographed pages that he said were from the diary. He said he'd been told to copy certain pages, so he took the diary apart and copied the pages requested. Where the original was, he didn't know. And the pages that were copied were NOTHING. The diary was excluded from evidence and all mention of it was struck from the testimony.Without any proof of Mary's indiscretions, Dr. Thorpe couldn't argue against sharing custody. And the judge awarded each parent partial custody - six months with him, six months with her. And Mary didn't have to pay alimony. Which was a good thing, because it didn't look like Mary had a career left after all that publicity. But DODSWORTH came out and the public was charmed by her performance. Given the reception Mary received in that picture, she moved onto THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, and from then on, her career was apparently on safe ground.Mary later wrote in both her books that you would think she learned her lesson about her behavior and the possible repercussions. She said all she really learned was how to be more secretive about it. She said she didn't learn a thing from all that horrible attention.As you probably know, Mary continued working, but she eventually became alcoholic and had to seek therapy to overcome her emotional problems, beginning with the issues she had with her domineering father.What's amazing about her is that she had the discipline to continue her film work. Her professionalism never flagged, but her personal life was a shambles.Her autobiography was really notes that she made for herself to help out during her therapy. When she finally got herself on an even keel, at the age of 54, she was talked into organizing the notes into a book, and her book became the first of all those movie star tell-alls! She said she regretted publishing her autobiography, but she did like writing - proof of that went as far back as keeping her diary! She pulled together a work of fiction and became a successful author, and was very pleased with her success as a writer, and continued to publish several more books. She said she never should have been put in films, and if left to her own devices might have become a much better writer. But when everything was said and done, Mary Astor died a content woman. She got there the hard way.
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