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Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Past chats with our guests.

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Joseph Egan
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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 7:42 pm

For Mrs. Osborne

You know that is the most interesting question I have been asked since the book came out. Astor really didn’t like talking about her films. She was a woman, even in her last years who lived in the present. In a Life on Film she pretty much said everything that she had to say about her movies. So, I think if I had interviewed her in 1984 or 5 it wouldn’t have gone very well because she would have been disinterested. I think once we turned to books—especially hers—and ideas she would have opened up more. She didn’t like chatter but much preferred thoughtful analytical conversation which is why many of her friends were writers and intellectuals and of course the reason why she got along with Kaufman so well. In fact Moss Hart back in the early 30s called her the smartest gal in California—referring to Hollywood. Frankly, she was a tough lady who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Frankly, I think I would have been very intimidated by her.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 8:04 pm

For Sue-Sue Applegate

For the umpteenth time. If you like the book please write a review on Amazon! A lot of people love it but no one wants to put that in writing. LOL

1-She respected Huston obviously because he was the total pro. The man’s acting was always right on target. As he got older it became less and less affected and more natural. The two of them were great on screen and they got along. In fact Huston treated her to a champagne farewell on her last day of shooting. So, that has to say something about their relationship

2-I think that working with Wyler—who was a demanding director—she gave the film everting she had because she was on the hands someone who would give her the time to do her best. And Astor was always a director’s pet who believed her job was giving a director what they wanted. Thus, she was y able to both understand and develop her character as a multifaceted human being which she was never able to do before. You can see this in her performance.

3-As for the trial and performance, I think by getting into the role as much as she did she was able to take her mind off of what was one of the most difficult episodes of her life. Remember during most of the Custody battle she was living in on the U.A. lot in her dressing room bungalow. This allowed her to focus when she wasn’t in court. She did much the same thing when she was doing The Great Lie—working on her piano hand movements while she as living at the studio. I think the film provided the concentration that really needed to get through..

4-I think her greatest strength at this time was her determination. As I’ve written, she wasn’t bluffing. She may not have wanted it to come into evidence but she didn’t care about the diary. Her concern wasn’t her reputation it was whether she would be able regain custody of her child. She really was going for broke and had, essentially pushed all her chips into the pot. Now, that is strength and my admiration for that is one of the reason why I wrote the book.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » January 21st, 2017, 8:07 pm

I'll be happy to write a review, Joe! I'll email you when it posts this week. Thank you for your great comments concerning my questions. :D

I love Mary's determination. During such a hectic episode in her life, she had what it took to achieve her ultimate goals regardless of the consequences.

As for some of your resources, what did you find helped you in your research? Did you find certain archives more helpful than others? What websites would you recomment to aspiring biographers?
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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 8:48 pm

For Sue-Sue Applegate:

I was fortunate in that I was writing about a specific event and not a biography which would have required infinitely more work. Here I am again going quote from the Purple Dairies website in which I detail the writing of the book.

At this point in the process, it was not my intention to write a book. I thought I was merely writing a long form magazine piece of no more than 20,000 words in which I planned to tell the story in two parts. The first would deal with the events leading up to the custody battle and the second with the custody battle itself. The writing of the first part was pretty straight forward and took me about a month. I used approximately fifteen sources—mostly books and a handful of newspaper and magazine articles. After reading and thoroughly absorbing this material I quickly determined how I wanted to tell this part of the story. So, after sitting at my computer, I spread these books and articles on the floor beside me and began to write. When I needed a quote or to clarify some background information, I would stop writing, pick up a book or article, find what I needed and then continue at the computer. Eventually, I produced what would become the first six chapters of The Purple Diaries.
The second part—the trial section—unlike the first for which I used a limited number of sources, was extremely complex. It had a large number of players acting simultaneously. It also concerned some relatively complex courtroom machinations. This all had to be culled, for the most part, from nearly 1000 contemporary newspaper articles. There was no way that I could work with this massive amount of material spread out on the floor beside me. Frankly, it was simply too overwhelming. I needed a better solution.

So what I eventually did was sit down and, over a period of about month—article by article—cataloged what each character did and said on a given day as well as what was happening in court. I also noted what the various newspapers were reporting. That done, I then went through it, eliminating repetition so that, when it was completed, I could instantly determine what this or that character was doing or saying on a certain day. It certainly wasn’t easy to get this done in a month as it was pure drudge work but the result was a research “bible” that I could use to write the story in a quick and coherent manner. Nevertheless, this “bible” was merely carefully cataloged notes and in no way gave any indication, or even a hint, of the eventual structure of the book.

After contacting Mary Astor’s daughter, Marylyn at the beginning of February 2014, I resumed writing. But this was a very different kind of writing than I had done for the first part of the envisioned magazine piece. There, I was able to impose my own ‘take’ so to speak—my own overriding interpretation of these events by what I chose and not chose to write about. For the second part I soon learned that the events themselves would determine the story and I would merely act as a Greek chorus clarifying what was happening for the reader. The first step would be to create a bare bones outline to guide me when I actually wrote the book proper. This outline—or superstructure as I liked to call it—was crucial as it would serve as the backbone of the book. So, as the outline and, later, the book grew out of the material, my sensitivity to this fact—and lack of resistance in allowing the material to take on a life of its own—became the key to writing the rest of the book.

I hope that answers your question

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Mrs. Osborne » January 21st, 2017, 8:56 pm

Joe

Thanks for your answers.
Do you think a transcript exists for the trial? Your book is so thorough that I was under the impression that you had gotten a transcript.

And is it true that she and Bette Davis worked on the dialogue of The Great Lie to help make it better?

Mrs. O.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 9:06 pm

I neglected to answer one part of Steve's questions about which are my favorite Mary Astor roles. I've written a piece on my blog about what I consider to be Astor's ten best roles. If you want to read it, just go to the following Link.

http://thepurplediaries.com/2017/01/19/ ... olden-ten/

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 9:22 pm

This s for Mrs. Osborne

1-No, I don’t think a trial transcript exists. As far as I could find there is no official transcript. Since newspapers and wire services had stenographers in the courtroom the tabloids printed up various portions of the testimony verbatim. Therefore, utilizing trial coverage from all the L.A. and N.Y Newspapers, as well as the wire services, I was able to painstakingly reconstruct major portions of the trail transcript.

2-Regarding "The Great lie." The following is excerpted from "The Great Lie" section of the Piece I wrote about Astor’s best screen roles on my Blog.

Davis brought Astor into the project because Astor could play the piano and had proven that she could act the royal “b****” two years earlier in “Midnight”. The only problem was the script. In Davis words it was “junk” so Davis and Astor rewrote it, beefing up Astor’s part and, by making it showier, intensified the rivalry between the two women. For example, the Nevada scenes were written almost entirely by the two women.
Consequently, Astor infused Sondra with many of her own personality traits and psychological issues. Like Sondra Astor presented herself to the world as a self-assured woman and like Sondra used work to cope with her personal demons. Astor would later write that she didn’t really need to act the part, just play it. In this respect, there is a very telling scene early in the film. Brent rejects Sondra. He leaves and Sondra walks to her Piano. In one quick angry movement, she flings off the piano’s cloth cover, lifts up the piano lid, sits at the keyboard and after yanking off her rings, drops them on the piano and begins to play. It is obvious that Sondra is using her music to cope with deep seated feelings of inadequacy much as (If you know her life story) Mary Astor used acting.

This is amplified in the Nevada sequences when, without her work to cope—Sondra’s life now controlled by the Davis’ character—Astor brings Sondra’s inner workings to life with deft artistry. Even the casual viewer can now see that Sandra isn’t really strong but, instead, merely determined. In these scenes the chemistry between Astor and Davis is extraordinary. Astor wrote that the two characters, are like “a couple of cats who had to shield their claws for expediency.”

It is in the kitchen scene—Sondra is caught eating pickles—where Sondra is finally revealed for what she is, an emotional child. Initially shouting her protest at being told what to eat, Sondra suddenly breaks down in a flood of tears. From beginning to end Astor brings absolute authenticity to these emotions. Then, following a storm when the two are playing double solitaire, a frightened Sondra suddenly turns hysterical culminating in the famous slapping scene with Bette Davis.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » January 21st, 2017, 10:11 pm

Thank you so much for that fascinating reply, Joe. What a massive effort this was on your part. It's amazing how you chronicled all the different aspects of the court case, the characters, the timeline and the events.
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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 10:37 pm

Well it did became a project that overwhelmed me. My editor told my agent that in all his years he never worked with a writer that was more passionate about a project then me. Also, I believed that Mary Astor, who is someone whom I resect enormously, deserved the best I could do as she never did anything less then the best in whatever she did. This includes both the Court battle and raising her daughter. And then of course it was her daughter, Marylyn, who helped me so much and the book wouldn't have been possible without her generosity. She also deserved the best I could do. She is a very great lady and evidence of the good job Astor did raising her daughter. Astor may not have been the perfect mother but as Marylyn told me, she was the only mother Marylyn had and she was also the best mother Marylyn had.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 21st, 2017, 11:38 pm

Sue-Sue asked -Dodsworth was one of the first times, if not the first time that a man is seen to leave his marriage and not suffer egregious consequences under the Production Code. Do you have any comments on why that was allowed? Was it because of the novel by Sinclair Lewis?

I got so lost in answering the other parts of your question, I never got around to answering this. It’s a very good questions and quite revealing about how the Hollywood censorship system worked. In a code approved film someone could have all the affairs they wanted as long as in the end they were punished for it. In Dodworth, the extent of the relationship between Astor and Huston is never overtly stated. The film dealt with it in a very subtle manner so that you might construe that the two have a chaste relationship. But let’s look at the Chatterton character. While married to Sam Dodsworth she overtly and without any doubt has an affair with the Paul Lukas character and then later with an improvised German Nobleman. In fact, she is going to divorce Sam and marry this younger man until his mother tells her that she is old and what it will be like or an old woman to marry a younger man. So Chatterton calls off the wedding and the divorce and asks Sam to come back, She is the one who committed the infidelity so at the end, as the two wait on the ship and she presumes Sam has taken her back according or Breen Joseph Breen and the Hays office she has to suffer. So Huston leaves her to return Astor leaving and Chatterton s completely shattered. And that is how they got around the censorship issue. Pretty neat, ah!

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » January 22nd, 2017, 8:38 am

Image
Thanks, Joe! I find these comments about Dodsworth so enlightening.

It's also nice to know that she got along well with Walter Huston. The empathy of the cast and crew must have given Mary strength to continue her dedication to the struggle for custody.
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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Mrs. Osborne » January 22nd, 2017, 10:36 am

Joe-

Tell us more about what happened at the trial. As I remember Astor was making Dodsworth at the time - in the daytime and attending court at night. And is it true that co-star Ruth Chatterton went to court with Astor to help her get through the ordeal?

Mrs.O...

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Lzcutter » January 22nd, 2017, 2:12 pm

Joe,

Thanks so much for spending the weekend with us! I love your book and appreciate all the research that went into it.

What would you say to people who only know about Mary's diary from "Hollywood Babylon".
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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 22nd, 2017, 2:14 pm

For Mrs. Osborne

As I mentioned earlier , written in the two, red cornered ledger books Astor used for her diary, were not only detailed descriptions of Mary Astor’s personal activities—including extra marital affairs—but what she knew and/or heard about the activities of others. For example, when Mary Astor married Ken Hawks in 1928 she became a member of an extended family that included Irving Thalberg—perhaps the single most powerful studio head in Hollywood. Before marrying actress Norma Shearer Thalberg was quite a womanizer running around with John Gilbert and the Hawks brothers. There was a good possibility that Mary Astor may have discussed this in the first volume of her diary written during her marriage to Hawks. If made public it would be an immense embarrassment to Thalberg, perhaps even adversely affecting his career. What might be true of Thalberg could also true of many others. This was during the highly moral 1930s when adultery—or any sex outside of marriage—was universally condemned and could and often did destroy Hollywood careers. So, at the time of the divorce Thorpe made it clear that if Astor didn’t relinquish custody of their daughter he would make the diaries public with the intention of destroying her career and the careers of anyone else whose private indiscretions were mentioned in the two ledger books.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier during the 15 months following the divorce when Thorpe had full custody of the baby—and prior to the custody battle—Thorpe continually countermanded the set routines that Mary Astor was implementing with the baby by threatening to take the little girl away from her mother. Mary Astor soon realized that this conflict between herself and her former husband worked against the consistency that she was trying to implement with Marylyn and, eventually, would cause the baby emotional harm. There was also the fact that Thorpe was extremely harsh in his discipline of the baby and whenever Astor tried to interfere he would always threaten to take the baby away. As Astor saw it, all of this adversely impacted on her effectiveness as a mother because Thorpe–in sheer spite—was putting his needs ahead of the baby’s. Ultimately, this was the reason why she went to court. Having been raised by parents who had also put their needs first, as an adult, Mary Astor was a woman with substantial emotional problems and didn’t want the same thing happening to her little girl.

So, returning to court 18 months after the divorce Astor was now ready to put everything, including her career, on the line for the sake of her child. Knowing that during this court action the diaries might be put into evidence and go public—which Thorpe tried very hard to do—Mary Astor understood that she would become a pariah in Hollywood both personally and professionally. Consequently, the court battle and the dread over the diary’s contents going public put the fear of God into Hollywood because of the damage which diary revelations might have on the careers and box office draw of anyone even associated with it.

Fortunately Astor had a brilliant attorney who fought in the courtroom while Thorpe’s attorney did much of his fighting in the press, continually threatening to introduce the two diaries. Unfortunately for Thorpe and his threats, Astor’s attorney managed to keep the two ledger book diary out of evidence on a technicality. Earlier, Thorpe’s lawyer had pulled one of the volumes apart to be photo-stated and two pages were missing (concerning Thorpe giving one of his girlfriends an abortion which could have led to criminal charges.) The technicality was that a mutilated and/or incomplete document could not be submitted as evidence.

So, with the diary out as evidence Thorpe lost his main leverage. In a last ditch effort to regain it, he released to the press the section of the diary dealing with Astor’s affair with Kaufman. It got him nowhere as the judge, disgusted by all the publicity and threats, put a halt to the proceedings and told Thorpe and Astor to work out a compromise or he would do it for them. So, over a two day period a compromise was reached whereby Mary Astor had the baby for 9 months and Thorpe 3 months during the summer. Regarding the diaries, once Thorpe’s attorney turned them over to the Judge they were never again in the possession of either Mary Astor or Franklyn Thorpe. Sealed by court order and put in a bank vault, they remained there until Marylyn turned 21 and a custody issue was moot. Mary Astor with Thorpe’s approval asked for it to be burned and it was incinerated in the presence of a judge.

In the end Mary Astor had won. When the film on which she worked during the court battle, Dodsworth, was previewed, the moment that her name appeared in the opening credits the audience cheered. In short, the public had seen the custody battle as a mother fighting for her child and all the revelations that came out due to the diary excerpts were neutralized because it had also come out in court that Thorpe was a real lothario type who had slept around even when he was married to Mary Astor. Thus, his indiscretions counterbalanced Astor’s and the result was that Mary Astor was not only able to raise her baby but her movie career was now bigger than ever.

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Re: Welcome Joseph Egan for a Q & A on Mary Astor 1-21 & 1-22

Postby Joseph Egan » January 22nd, 2017, 2:44 pm

For Lxcutter

Anger wrote a book to debunk what he believed was the public’s misconception of Golden Age Hollywood as this sort of dreamland. In other words confusing reality with the dream factory illusion the studios of the period had turned out. Auger had been a child actor in Hollywood during the 1930s and came away seeing the town more “Day of The Locust” than “A Star IS Born.” So he wrote the book accordingly and chose to illustrate it with extremely unflattering press photographs where it suited him. There is nothing wrong with that. The trouble that I have with the book, and this is pretty much based on his chapter on the Custody Case, is that not only did he get the basics of the story wrong but made up things to make the story seem far more salacious than it really was. In fact, it is this invalid presentation of Mary Astor’s fight for her child that became one of the principal reasons that I wrote the book.

It had been Anger’s intention to scandalize and he succeeded quite well at this. Thus, the piece on Astor was filled with so many falsehoods, often substituting the salacious for the truth that I felt the record needed to be set straight. Unfortunately this idea languished for a number of years until I read a short piece on the trial in the April 9, 2012 issue of New York Magazine for which Anger’s book was the principal source. In short, Hollywood Babylon and its many falsehoods had, and would continue to be, source material for any writer wanting to discuss the Mary Astor Franklyn Thorpe Custody Trial. This proved to be just the motivation which I needed to write something that would finally ‘set the record straight’. And I do feel that I have done that.


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