The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s by Joseph Egan

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DIARIESOne of Hollywood s first scandals was nearly its last.
1936 looked like it would be a great year for the movie industry. With the economy picking up after the Great Depression, Americans everywhere were sitting in the dark watching the stars and few stars shined as brightly as one of America’s most enduring screen favorites, Mary Astor.

But Astor’s story wasn’t a happy one. She was born poor, and at the first sign that she could earn money, her parents grabbed the reins and the checks. Widowed at twenty-four, Mary Astor was looking for stability when she met and wed Dr. Franklyn Thorpe. But the marriage was rocky from the start; both were unfaithful, but they did not divorce until after Mary Astor gave birth to little Marylyn Thorpe.

What followed was a custody battle that pushed The Spanish Civil War and Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games off of the front pages all over America. Astor and Thorpe were both ruthless in their fight to gain custody of their daughter, but Thorpe held a trump card: the diaries that Mary Astor had been keeping for years. In these diaries, Astor detailed her own affairs as well as the myriad dalliances of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The studio heads, longtime controllers of public perception, were desperate to keep such juicy details from leaking.

With the complete support of the Astor family, including unlimited access to the photographs and memorabilia of Mary Astor’s estate, The Purples Diaries is a look at Hollywood s Golden Age as it has never been seen before, as Egan spins a wildly absorbing yarn about a scandal that threatened to bring down the dream factory known as Hollywood.

I never knew the lengths to which Mary Astor had to fight in order to gain custody of her daughter. If nothing else, this book put into perspective just how crazy the press can be and certainly was back in the 1930s when this story took place.

Mary Astor was a lot stronger than she looked. I remember her from the Maltese Falcon, but not many other films. Seeing her as a human, not just a star, like she’s portrayed in this book was a real eye-opener. She wanted what was best for her daughter. I commend her for that.

Gravy, though, the amount of publicity for the proceedings and how much the press fixated on Astor being a single parent. To modern ears and eyes, this seems silly, but back in the day it was scandalous. I can’t imagine the stress, struggle and strain she went through.

The author had a way with words, drawing me right into the story. Of course, I had to know what would happen. The photos only tell half of the story and I needed to know if the little girl ended up with her mother or father.

One thing this book put into perspective for me was the struggle to find the right parent and for the parents to behave in order to gain custody. Having never been through such a fight, I never realized just how much of a play it can be.

If you’re looking for a book that’s long on story and has heart, despite the courtroom antics, then this might be the one for you. If you love old Hollywood and want a better understanding of the stars at the time or the real struggles they went through, then this might hit the mark.

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