Mary Astor was in many film hits in the 1930’s and early 40’s before her alcoholism took its toll, most notably Dodsworth with Walter Huston and then the Maltese Falcon directed by Huston’s son, John Houston. In her youth, as shown by the picture above, the raven haired actress was quite a beauty with her long locks against her porcelain skin thanks to her Irish-Portguese mother while her immigrant father, Oskar, from Berlin contributed her angular features. It was a striking package.
Mary Astor was born on May 3, 1906 in Quincy Illinois at 7:30 pm giving her a 20 Scorpio Rising that is inconjunct its lord in the seventh house in Gemini. Mars is part of large preponderance in he seventh house of relationships, including some rather pertinent asteroids. From the top, 21.19 Pluto is partile Asteroid Geranium, transforming one flower (geraniums that come from Mexico, and Mary’s second husband was Mexican) to an Aster.
Her Venus at 02.22 Gemini is sextile Asteroid Bridget in Aries that is working as symbol for her role as Brigid O’Shaunessey in the classic, The Maltese Falcon — it is also conjunct her Mercury there in the fifth house. No doubt John Houston made a good choice of Astor for the O’Shaunessey role and one wonders how much the Purple Diaries imbroglio helped in that choice as Brigid and Mary had much in common: using men and sex without a qualm is a major thread in both the flick and the custody court case. Falcon is a quintessential film noir, Astor is the classic femme fatale — duplicitous and manipulative and a murderess. She lies, connives and entreats Bogart who while darkly handsome complete with a trench coat and hat askew, is a bit of an fool falling backwards for Aster and then only at the end realizing his sexual vulnerability led his astray.
Mars and Venus are conjunct the Asteroid Siwa for speech or sound, and here while Mary was quiet as a mouse about her flings, she could not resist writing in her diary her antics. That makes sense as Venus is conjunct the Arabian part of writing, and true enough years later, Mary Astor wrote her own book, The Incredible Charlie Carew, though most would attribute her diary to her major outing which she later released as her autobiography. She did not stop there but ended up writing about a dozen books, staying active long after her Hollywood career had ended.
Her she is in one of her early films with Douglas Fairbanks, sr in Don Q, Son of Zorro. It’s a silent. Mary shows up around the 17 minute mark.
Woody Allen reviews Astor’s Purple Diaries for the New York Times
MARY ASTOR’S PURPLE DIARY
The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936
By Edward Sorel
Illustrated. 167 pp. Liveright Publishing. $25.95.
Life is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to “Moose Murders.” Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. He not only does he then write a terrific book, but illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading?
But why Mary Astor? Just because she happened to be under his linoleum? I mean I liked Mary Astor. I enjoyed seeing her up on the screen, but I never lost my heart to her the way Sorel has, and if it had been my linoleum she surfaced from, I wouldn’t have felt driven to research all the interesting details that have mesmerized the author. To me, Mary Astor was a very good, solid actress but not the exciting equal of, say, Bette Davis or Vivien Leigh. (But then again, who was the equal of Vivien Leigh?)
And when Bogart, in “The Maltese Falcon,” says his murdered partner was too smart a detective to follow a man he was shadowing up a blind alley but then tells Astor, “But he’d have gone up there with you, angel. . . . He’d have looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone, grinning from ear to ear,” I nodded.
The truth is I can think of a dozen other femmes fatales I’d prefer to be lured up a dark alley with to enjoy a beating or violent death. Even Sorel, who is so smitten with this movie star that he wants to see her put on a postage stamp, agrees she never achieved the sensual humidity of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe.
So what did Mary Astor have that such a good book could be written about her? Well, for one thing, she had a major scandal — and a torrid one at that. And while she may not have projected sex appeal, she did reek of aristocracy, or at least her name, Astor, smacked of the manor, Astoria and the Astor Hotel. Of course she was in no way related to the richest man (Jacob Astor) who went down on the Titanic and it was wasn’t even her real name. She was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke, but that would have sunk the marquee and probably her career with it.
After turning 17, despite her pair of helicopter parents, she was already having a major affair with John Barrymore, who was hugely older than she, infinitely more experienced, a big league boozer and one of the greatest actors on the American stage. A partnering like theirs required clandestine meetings and stolen moments of passion; they met in hotel rooms. The affair, with its close calls and heavy breathing, is chronicled by Sorel with pace and humor.
At first, Lucile Langhanke was doing some small acting, being noticed mainly for her looks. She soon winds up in the film capital and captures the imagination of Jesse Lasky, a studio bigwig who wants to sign her for pictures. Lasky changes her unwieldy Teutonic birth name, and suddenly she is transmogrified into Mary Astor. At first she does small parts in undistinguished celluloid nonsense, but eventually she gains some traction and finds herself a promising actress running with the West Coast party set.
As the affair with Barrymore has petered out, she meets Ken Hawks, the brother of the great director Howard Hawks. Him she marries, and while he proves companionable as a husband, from the get-go she notices a certain sluggish quality to his libido. Red-blooded herself, young Mary begins an affair with a producer who impregnates her. She doesn’t want the baby, but an abortion would be a career meltdown given her Catholic upbringing and the public mindset at the time. She enters some tricked-out joint that advertises what they call “therapeutic treatment” but in fact is a cover for the necessary surgery to send her home appropriately pristine.
Cut back to Ken Hawks, her amiable milchidik bedmate who is directing an airplane epic, and wouldn’t you know it, while shooting a flying scene, his own plane crashes and Mary is a widow.
Mary is sad. Mary drinks and works, eventually meeting Franklyn Thorpe, a jazzy L.A. medic,a doctor to the stars with a celebrated clientele. He and Mary marry, and in time, have a child together, but Thorpe fails the trial by mattress that seems to trip up certain men in Mary’s life.
Sorel notes she makes bad choices, and Thorpe is one of them. But while married life between the percales is again humdrum and the relationship is deteriorating, her career is now ascending, and she lands a choice part in the film version of the hit Broadway play “Dodsworth.” One of the stars is the wonderful Walter Huston, and playing his wife is Ruth Chatterton.
Mary is the third of the illustrious cast, a prestige score for her. At this point she would really like to be rid of her husband, and who can blame her? His practice has fallen off, and he is dependent on Mary’s fame and fortune for status, much the same as her parasitic father.
Dr. Thorpe does not relish the idea of a divorce, and the pair drone on in limbo, paralyzed by those twin gods of failing matrimony, Fear and Inertia. Then comes a trip to New York for Mary, away from her husband. Her hormones tintinnabulating as usual, one senses the critical mass for playing around has been reached.
In New York she is introduced by Bennett Cerf to George S. Kaufman, the most successful comic playwright on Broadway. As much as I love Kaufman and grew up idolizing his inspiration and craftsmanship, I would not rank him Adonis-wise with, say, Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. Despite his brilliant mind and directorial skills, I have to say he was basically a nerdy-looking Jew, complete with standard tribal hooter and the natural blessing of wit. Behind his long, gloomy face and spectacles this man could never be mistaken for a boudoir mechanic.
Kaufman was also a terrified germophobe, and here we see how deep kissing with a hot partner always trumps bacteria. Kaufman swept Mary off her feet. In addition to taking her to empyrean heights in bed, he took her to the theater, to the opera, to “21” and the fabled Algonquin Round Table for lunches alongside Woollcott, Benchley and viper-sharp Dorothy Parker, also Jewish.
Another pleasure of the book that Sorel treated me to is a quote of Dorothy Parker’s I never came across before, and I am a devoted Algonquin fan. Apparently disgusted with the trash the Hollywood studios turned out, Miss Parker quipped that MGM stood for “Metro-Goldwyn-Merde.” He also quotes Jewish Lillian Hellman’s great description of a vacuous actress: “Her face is unclouded by thought.”
When the clock strikes midnight and she must return to California, she presses her husband for that divorce but Thorpe remains intransigent. Opposing lawyers take up arms, and a custody fight ensues for the Thorpes’ only child. The doctor uses the daughter as a weapon to prevent Mary from leaving him. He claims she is unfit as a mother to have possession of their child, and as proof, he says she is a flagrant adulteress. To bear that out, he offers up her diary.
Can you believe this woman committed those four-times-a-night workouts with Kaufman to print and, worse, her husband has somehow secured said raunchy volume? In it are graphic accounts of the sex between this married mother and another woman’s spouse. Yes, Kaufman too was a married man, and as the first accounts of their purple canoodling hit the tabloids, the court fight turns into a blood bath.
Of course it must be said Kaufman and his wife Beatrice had an open marriage, which meant both were free to explore their own romantic adventures without threat to the household. While these ground rules make cheating a nonissue for Kaufman, the public embarrassment of having one’s every fondle logged rhapsodically, even with an A-plus report card, can make a man somewhat self-conscious entering a restaurant.
Now imagine you’re Sam Goldwyn sitting on top of his liability with half a movie in the can and one of the stars is suddenly famously wicked. What would you do? Goldwyn did what any businessman in crisis mode would do. He called a meeting. Should they fire Mary, eat the money already spent filming half a movie, recast and begin again? Do they scrap the whole project altogether and flush away production costs plus the numerous bucks they shelled out to buy the rights?
Meanwhile, as the tabloids ran excerpts from the portion of the diary allowed in evidence, many a celebrity sweated audibly over the nightmare that he might wind up doing a walk-on part in the next installment of Astor’s caloric hanky-panky. Fortunately for all, the judge on the case was into the studio heads for several career favors, and at this point I will bail and refer you to Sorel’s book for an account of how things turned out, which he does much better than I ever could.
It is, of course, common knowledge that Mary did go on eventually to do “The Maltese Falcon” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” two great American movies, and she was quite effective in the disparate roles. She continued to act, she retired, wrote books that hit the best-seller lists and in a moving finale to this whole mishegas, she gets done in by the demon rum, the ravages of age and the toll of a life lived on an emotional trampoline.
Her last days are spent in an actors’ retirement home, a very lovely one with individual cottages. There is much good companionship available there, but she mostly chooses to dine alone and to be by herself. She dies in bed peacefully.
I believe it was Sartre who said all lives were of equal value and who am I to argue the point, but some lives are so much more fun to read about than others, and Sorel has told Astor’s story with great flair and energy.