Mary Astor and The Purple Diaries Scandal

Mary Astor and The Purple Diaries Scandal
Before The Maltese Falcon, before she won the Oscar, actress Mary Astor was a star.

A star that kept a diary.

Long before her marriage to Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, film star Mary Astor began recording her thoughts, feelings, and details of her exploits and love affairs. Her diaries reportedly contained intimate details of her extramarital affair with playwright George S. Kaufman (and others), as well as details about the private lives of other celebrities and Hollywood heavyweights. The diary spanned several volumes and like many diaries, it recorded events that were meant to stay secret.

The Purple Diaries, by Joseph Egan chronicles the vicious court battle that took place between Astor and Thorpe as they both fought over custody of their young daughter, Marylyn. It grew from an ordinary Hollywood divorce to a front-page Hollywood scandal when Thorpe announced he had possession of Astors personal diaries and threatened to use some of the more scandalous entries against her in court.

As the press speculated about specifics in the diaries, the studio heads went into full panic mode. After all, it wasn't only Astor's reputation that was on the line; the press implied several of Hollywood's most famous actors would be compromised should the diaries be made public. Now, the whole industry was threatened by what one woman's diaries might contain.

The book describes a meeting where Astor is confronted by Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Sam Goldwyn and other studio heads. They intended to force her into giving up custody by threatening her career. They argued that because of what had already been revealed, the public would vilify her and that she was probably going to lose the case anyway. So, why bring down the entire industry with this selfishness?

For a moment, picture diminutive Mary Astor alone in a room with Hollywood's most powerful men. Men who were used to dictating behaviors and always getting what they wanted.

Astor didn't blink.

She chose to fight as hard as she could for her daughter, regardless of the outcome.

In addition to what was recorded in the diaries, events surrounding the trial added to the drama. A key witness went into hiding to avoid subpoenas, a B-Film actress emerged to gain publicity in order to save her career, and a secret marriage is revealed.

Besides providing details about the trial itself, Egan discusses Astor's backstory, which helps explain Astor's evolution from meek, obedient, young girl who was completely controlled by her father, to the confident, strong, force of nature that walked into the courtroom in 1936. He also performed an incredible amount of research as evident by the several pages of documentation included in the Appendices.

I purchased my copy of The Purple Diaries from an online bookseller to read during a recent holiday. Not only was it informative, it turned out to be a real page-turner.

It just goes to show you, celebrity scandals never go out of style.

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