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Hollywood Celebrity Scandals Mary Astor's Diary Part 1

About the Hollywood celebrity scandal of 1936 involving a child custody battle and the diary of Mary Astor

HISTORIC HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS

Miss Astor Regrets...-1936

There was a rare opportunity for mass keyhole-peeking into the private lives of public figures when, in 1936, the personal diary of popular screen actress Mary Astor was used against her in a legal battle concerning custody of her daughter. In a courtroom drama with a script worthy of Hollywood, Miss Astor and her ex-husband, Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, exchanged exposes in an attempt to prove each other unfit to raise a child. The doctor's major source of ammunition was a diary which had been kept by Miss Astor from 1929 to 1934, containing many intimate portraits of her friends and lovers and recording events and hearsay of the film colony.

While Hollywood personalities-understandably nervous about their place, if any, in the pages of the blue-lined ledger-displayed a sudden deafness to any mention of "Astor" or "diary," an international audience waited eagerly for each new installment of the tabloid papers which covered the courtroom revelations. The night sessions-specially permitted so that Miss Astor could complete Dodsworth, her current film for Sam Goldwyn-were jammed with spectators and hawkers of food and drink. The press was everywhere. The scandal machine that had ruined the film careers of so many in the 1920s geared up to do its work with headlines that covered front pages.

The diary was mentioned in the earliest days of the trial but was not admitted as evidence. This prevented neither Dr. Thorpe's lawyers nor the press from referring to its contents. The newspapers obtained pages from a "reliable source." They were written in ink sold as "Aztec brown" but described reasonably as "purple," and supposedly penned by Miss Astor. Included was a detailed box score of Hollywood's 10 best lovers and an account of moments of "thrilling ecstasy" spent with George, the man whom the press labeled "Public Lover No. 1."

"Was any woman ever happier?" she asked rhetorically. "Oh, so many exquisite moments-20, count them diary, 20!...I don't see how he does it...He is perfect." Most of the details were left to the imagination of the readers, who gladly filled in the omissions.

Miss Astor flatly denied authorship of the earlier and more lurid passages and claimed that others were printed out of context so that they would appear less innocent than they were. These facts failed to turn public attention away from the case. If anything, her denial gave just another Hollywood twist to the drama.

Speculation moved the public eye from one prominent George to another in search of the mysterious Public Lover No. 1. Finally, in a steamy session in which Dr. Thorpe's lawyers accused Miss Astor of "abandoning Marilyn [her daughter] for a married man," America's new sex symbol was revealed to be George S. Kaufman, Broadway's most successful playwright, director, and critic.

An ungainly build, thick glasses, brooding brow, large nose, and soaring heights of wiry hair combined to make the casting unbelievable. His manner was not winning, and his ever present wit was most often caustic; an eternal pessimist and hypochondriac, he abhorred handshakes and other casual touching. But somehow he appealed to the ladies. One diary entry was quoted as saying, "Once George lays down his glasses, he is quite a different man."

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