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

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  666 ratings  ·  98 reviews
One 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 on
Paperback, 300 pages
Published November 22nd 2016 by Diversion Publishing
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Cindy Burnett
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: net-galley
The Purple Diaries is absolutely fantastic. From the moment I started it, I truly could not put it down. Admittedly, I am fascinated by this time period in Hollywood and have recently read a number of books about this era so the subject matter appeals to me very much. Before I read The Purple Diaries, I knew very little about Mary Astor and her long, varied life and careers. Joseph Egan conducted an incredible amount of research to write this book, and his attention to detail really adds a lot. ...more
For anyone (like me) whose knowledge of Mary Astor's frisky & lurid "Purple Diaries" is based entirely on Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, Egan's book may be both illuminating and a letdown, simultaneously.

All the juicy bits of Astor scribbling her post-coital raving praises of George Kaufman's mighty whang is apparently a load of nonsense, stuff made up out of whole cloth by the tabloids to sell papers. That shouldn't have come as a surprise, but it still was a letdown.

Even so, Mary Astor
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, old-movies
Mary Astor is just one of those iconic faces from the 1930s. Here she is in Dodsworth (on the right), one of her greatest films, made at the same time as the trial:


She had that sleek Art Deco look to her with touch of cerebral coldness covering an underlying instability, which always made her so interesting to watch. She had one of those Gish careers that stretched from silents to the 1960s. In another way she epitomizes her movie star stature--I can't think of any movie that she didn't improve
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I knew I was going to love this book the moment the author started talking about John Barrymore. At the core of the book it's really just about a child custody case and how it plays out in a courtroom between two loving parents who want custody at any cost, but it's the tertiary stories that pop up in the telling that add so much depth to the court room events.

The only subject I consider myself a real expert at is old movies. I just love learning that Fritz Lang the German Expressionist director
Michael Ritchie
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
The story behind a largely-forgotten scandal of the 30s--Mary Astor, involved in a child custody case with her ex-husband, had pages of her diary discussed in the courtroom, a diary that supposedly included sordid details of an affair she had with playwright George S. Kaufman in addition to explicit rankings of sexual encounters with other famous men. An interesting topic, but the way Egan handles it here, it would have been better as a long magazine article in Vanity Fair or the New Yorker. To ...more
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In 1936, actress Mary Astor was embroiled in a nasty, headline-grabbing custody battle with her second husband, Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, over their young daughter. Thorpe stole two 200-page ledgers that Astor used as diaries to detail her amorous adventures in Hollywood and the numerous affairs she, Thorpe and many Hollywood's luminaries were conducting. Leaking pages from these diaries to the press, Thorpe threatened to ruin Astor's career by exposing her ongoing affair with married playwright Geor ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s by Joseph Egan is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early November.

Years going by in a moment, the story only really revolves a trial, a child, and a diary. It's relatively okay and reads a lot like an extended book report. A decent try, but not the celebrity story that I was looking for.
Melisende d'Outremer
Mary's diaries (in which she documented her inner most thoughts, her life and loves) were at the heart of the court case. The scandal of this divorce threatened to derail the movie making machine that was Hollywood.

I adored Mary in the movies "The Maltese Falcon" and in "Little Women" - a gutsy, determined woman, in whose corner you cannot but stand and cheer.
Meg Ulmes
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Don't waste your time here. I did only to discover that the most interesting part of the book was the afterward where the author tells what happened to the major characters after this "scandal." Boringly written in a professorial style that made it easier to get to sleep after I'd read a few pages. Good material wasted by this author. Just don't.
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love old Hollywood, always have, so to find a newish book about one of tinsel towns forgotten leading ladies made me very happy.
Very readable, and well written.
Helen Robare
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. Sometimes with biographies, the author can get bogged down in details and the essence of the person being written about takes second or third place instead of in first place where she/he belongs. Not so in this book. I only knew Mary Astor through her films and had never read much about her but the woman I learned about in this book was fascinating. I did have trouble dealing with her husband, Thorpe, simply because of the day and age I live in. The idea of spanking a year a ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: film
I loved the thorough research and classic-film details of this meticulously crafted biography about Mary Astor's "mother-love sacrifice:" her embarking on a custody battle with her ex-husband, who threatened to expose her diary. Here's a quote from the book that explains the import of Astor's diary extracts that were published in the 1930s: "Although the writing ... was ... 'an over-emotional account of a romantic interlude,' never had so frank a document concerning a Hollywood personality's amo ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at what constituted a scandal in the 1930's. My how times have changed. A glimpse behind the curtain to the reality of a Hollywood life. Not all fun and games!

The part I remember the most is after Astor moved to The Motion Picture Country House -a retirement home for actors. She preferred to eat alone to avoid "organ recitals" - residents discussing malfunctioning kidneys, bladders,and every other organ in their body!
Margaret Higgins
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
biggest hollywood scandal of 30s. well written and thought out. a few minor disappointments.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great read, but I do wonder if it was overly sympathetic to Mary Astor. Everyone on Astor’s side was noble and determined. Everyone on Thorpe’s side was ridiculous, malicious and full of hubris. Now, maybe that’s how it really was. That you would even threaten what Thorpe ended up doing makes you a pretty big asshole. But, I have my doubts that this book was more than a specific version of the truth.

One last note...One Star to the editor. I found three typos while reading. And while I do occas
Kay Hudson
Picked this up because I enjoy early Hollywood tales, not because I know much about Mary Astor (I think I've only seen her in The Maltese Falcon), and I didn't know much about her diaries or her custody battle. Not much from the notorious "Purple Diaries" is reprinted in this book, and most of what was printed at the time was forged, but the story is interesting and kept me reading. It's fascinating to see how the testimony at the custody hearing became wilder and wilder, and rose to the level o ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I didn't know if I should only give it 3 stars because it doesn't quite live up to its hype -- it's more about a custody case involving money and status than it is about anything salacious regarding Hollywood stars. The diaries themselves were eventually destroyed with very little of their content seeing the light of day. Ultimately I gave it 4 stars because it's short and didn't outstay its welcome, I learned a little about Astor's lover George S. Kaufman and Astor's "Dodsworth" costar Ruth Cha ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Completely engrossing! Thank you to Tracy for rating this so highly that I noticed. I never would have picked this book up otherwise.
Debra Hennessey
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, nonfiction
Written in a fun, witty style and well researched. But jeez, all these people were such self absorbed messes it was hard to feel a lot of sympathy.
Michelle Conklin
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Only book that tells truthfully what happened instead of dwelling on the sex scandal. Great actress ahead of her social mores.
Before I read this book, the only information I really had about Mary Astor and her infamous diary came from the book Hollywood Babylon. This book is a complete 360 from that trashy book in that it steers away from sensationalism and sticks to the facts. I kept waiting for the X-rated pages to come to light and instead I learned that most of the excerpts I had read previously were false, so it was an interesting and enlightening read for sure.

This was one of those books that I kept wanting to p
Carol N
Apr 20, 2018 rated it liked it
As many people of my age, I am a fan of vintage Hollywood. “The Purple Diaries is about Mary Astor's 1930s scandal.

Since I knew very little about Mary Astor and her life and career, I was anxious to learn more about this scandal. The focus of “The Purple Diaries” is the custody dispute over their young daughter, Marylyn between Mary Astor and her second husband, Franklin Thorp. It is is not a happy story and the fact that Mary’s career was able to endure such a controversy is quite impressive.

May 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
It's a fascinating story, to be sure, but the writing is not great, and the author could have used an eagle-eyed copyeditor. Commas are sprinkled about like excess seasoning, there are dropped words here and there, and I snickered aloud when a woman named Dolores was misnamed one page later as "Dolorous" (perhaps it was a commentary on her personality, but I doubt it), and when there was a passing reference to the scandal of the prince and the American divorcee "Wallace" Simpson. I'll look for a ...more
Leslie Goddard
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
As others have noted, this is mostly an account (sometimes a blow-by-blow account) of the custody trial. The research is impressive and as a graphic depiction of a pretty messy, ugly affair it does a good, solid job. You do get a fairly good understanding of Mary Astor and a sadness that for all the courage and strength it took for her to fight this battle, she was never able to live out the love for her daughter. There weren't a whole lot of "ah ha" moments, though, and the trial pretty much pl ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I started this book thinking it was going to be like most Hollywood bios, full of style but sorely lacking and substance. I'm very glad to say that I'm was wrong and by just a few pages in I was hooked. It is well researched, written, and clearly separates the fact from fiction regarding the case. Mary Astor was a very brave woman. The book shows us the human side of her and sticks to it's subject very succinctly. I love the Postscript conclusion to the book, as it helps wraps up all the promine ...more
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific read!

I like show biz bios, especially those from the 1920s and 30s. So I was familiar with Mary Astor's diaries and her affair with George Kaufmann. But it turns out I didn't know the real story at all.

Mary Astor comes across as a real person, caring and very human. I loved the input from her daughter. Her husband was a piece of work, he really sounds like a jerk. The judge is the hero of the story.

The book makes a great read, lots of photos. It's balanced and always kept my attention.
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I would give this book 3.5 stars; each review had some good points about the story, which was a sensation back in the day. It was sloppily written/edited in places, and there was repetition, but it was fascinating all the same. I was drawn into the drama of the story, like we all are when famous people are entangled in their peccadillos today...think of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. After finishing this book I wanted to watch some Mary Astor films. The saddest part was after Marylyn was grown an ...more
Wendy MacKnight
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-reads
I adore nonfiction stories about Old Hollywood and this one doesn't disappoint. Detailing the high profile custody case between actress Mary Astor and her husband, this book has everything: a potentially sordid diary, a cast of characters from central casting, including a who's who in Mary's world, a press gone wild, and a judicial system struggling to keep pace with the antics of two lawyers anxious to win the day. I was reminded that in many ways, today's Hollywood lacks glamour. A fun read ab ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: Netgalley
I love the movies and actors of early Hollywood. The time was full of elegance and strict ideas on how the famous should conduct themselves in the public eye. But underneath the glitz and glamour was a whole other side of Hollywood. Mary's story wasn't anything that we haven't heard before in today's world, but in the 1930's a scandal like a custody battle could derail an entire career. I found this story absolutely fascinating.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
May 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
In the hands of a better writer (and editor) this could have been a good book. It is clumsily written and poorly organized, and full of the kind of errors that any decent copy editor should have caught; for example, saying that a woman's hair was "barbed" instead of bobbed. Anyone professing knowledge of the 1920s would know that term. I found this book really annoying to read. I could not care that much about the scandals, either.
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