Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary"

Are you a fan of old movies and movie stars? Do you like reading about scandals involving the stars of Hollywood's "Golden Age"?  If the answer to those questions is "yes', then I highly recommend that you read this fun little book by Edward Sorel.

Most people know Mary Astor for playing Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the femme fatal who went up against Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in1941's "The Maltese Falcon", but like many people, particularly glamorous movie stars, Mary Astor had a life off of the screen, and a "past".  And she kept a diary, which got her into trouble and set off a media feeding frenzy back in 1936 when she got involved in a child custody hearing with her ex-husband.

Mary Astor came from humble, very humble, circumstances, but her striking beauty got her noticed and she began acting when she was teenager in silent movies in the early 1920's.  She also had the misfortune of having two not-so-great parents who managed to bilk her of most of the money she earned, and, as often happens, she also was very unlucky when it came to picking husbands.

This led to Mary seeking "comfort" elsewhere, and led to an affair with George S. Kaufman, one of America's foremost playwrights.  When you think of  masculine good looks and virility, you would not think of Kaufman, but, apparently, in addition to his great wit when it came to writing plays and screenplays, he was also possessed of skills in the boudoir that most men can only dream of, and Miss Astor fell hard for him and took full advantage of said skills. And she kept that diary.  At the time all of this was unfolding , Astor was filming a major motion picture at MGM and the thoughts of how such a scandal would hit the ticket-buying public was scaring the bejeezus out of the studio honchos, who in turn tried to exert their considerable political clout on the judge in the custody trial.

How it all unfolded makes for a great story, and how Sorel, an illustrator by vocation (in fact, his illustrations throughout this book contributes greatly to the enjoyment of it), came to unearth the story and set about writing this book, essentially a Valentine to Miss Astor, makes for a most breezy and entertaining read.

I learned about this book when someone posted on Facebook a New York Times book review that was written by none other than Woody Allen.  Allen's review was most entertaining, and prompted my to read the book itself. 

Here is Allen's review:

And, of course, I cannot leave you without a picture of Mary Astor herself in her most famous role.

Good book worth two-and-one-half stars from The Grandstander.

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