Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936by Edward Sorel
In a hilarious send-up of sex, scandal, and the Golden Age of Hollywood, legendary cartoonist Edward Sorel brings us a story (literally) ripped from the headlines of a bygone era.In 1965, a young, up-and-coming illustrator by the name of Edward Sorel was living in a $97-a-month railroad flat on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Resolved to fix up the place, Sorel began pulling up the linoleum on his kitchen floor, tearing away layer after layer until he discovered a hidden treasure: issues of the New York Daily News and Daily Mirror from 1936, each ablaze with a scandalous child custody trial taking place in Hollywood and starring the actress Mary Astor. Sorel forgot about his kitchen and lost himself in the story that had pushed Hitler and Franco off the front pages.At the time of the trial, Mary Astor was still only a supporting player in movies, but enough of a star to make headlines when it came out that GeorgeS. Kaufman, then the most successful playwright on Broadway and a married man to boot, had been her lover. The scandal revolved around Mary’s diary, which her ex-husband, Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, had found when they were still together. Its incriminating contents had forced Mary to give up custody of their daughter in order to obtain a divorce. By 1936 she had decided to challenge the arrangement, even though Thorpe planned to use the diary to prove she was an unfit mother. Mary, he claimed, had not only kept a tally of all her extramarital affairs but graded themand he’d already alerted the press. Enraptured by this sensational case and the actress at the heart of it, Sorel began a life-long obsession that now reaches its apex.Featuring over sixty original illustrations, Mary Astor's Purple Diary narrates and illustrates the travails of the Oscar-winning actress alongside Sorel’s own personal story of discovering an unlikely muse. Throughout, we get his wry take on all the juicy details of this particular slice of Hollywood Babylon, including Mary's life as a child starher career in silent films began at age fourteenpresided over by her tyrannical father, Otto, who "managed" her full-time and treated his daughter like an ATM machine. Sorel also animates her teenage love affair with probably the biggest star of the silent era, the much older John Barrymore, who seduced her on the set of a movie and convinced her parents to allow her to be alone with him for private "acting lessons."Sorel imbues Mary Astor's life with the kind of wit and eye for character that his art is famous for, but here he also emerges as a writer, creating a compassionate character study of Astor, a woman who ultimately achieved a life of independence after spending so much of it bullied by others.Featuring ribald and rapturous art throughout, Mary Astor's Purple Diary is a passion project that becomes the masterpiece of one of America’s greatest illustrators.
Acclaimed illustrator and writer Sorel (The Mural at the Waverly Inn: A Portrait of Greenwich Village Bohemians) shares his lifelong appreciation of classic film in this utterly charming, and colorfully illustrated, account of the life of Oscar-winning actor Mary Astor (1906–1987). Astor, best known for The Maltese Falcon (1941), lived a life that was often more fascinating than the roles she was offered. Despite being acclaimed both for her talent and beauty, she suffered several professional lows and endured one of the most scandalous episodes of 1930s Hollywood when her ex-husband stole her diary and used passages revealing her affairs to contest Astor’s custody of their daughter. After coming across old tabloid newspapers detailing the trial, Sorel developed an obsession with Astor that has lasted for more than 50 years. In this succinct and poignant book, Sorel traces the trajectory of Astor’s career as it melds with his own. She emerges as a troubled figure who struggled to navigate the choppy waters of success. The author’s lively narrative and vibrant images gives the actor a new role as an artist’s muse. (Oct.)
Illustrator/cartoonist/caricaturist Sorel's new book is part memoir, part Tinseltown tell-all, part graphic novel, and part love letter to American actress Mary Astor (1906–87), whose most famous role was alongside Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. Her greatest offscreen role was as sexual adventuress, when her husband discovered her "purple diary" (actually, Sorel tells us, the ink was brown) going into great detail about her affair with New York-based playwright George S. Kaufman. When Astor sued for custody of their daughter, her aggrieved husband leaked the diary to the press, and the "sex scandal of 1936" was on. Thirty years after the trial, young illustrator Sorel finds wrinkled newspapers covering the case under the linoleum in his kitchen and an obsession is born. Using his slightly frenetic drawing style, which will be familiar to readers of the New York Observer, the Nation, and many other publications, the author recounts his and Astor's semicommingled life stories. VERDICT Sorel doesn't quite crack his love object's façade, but his reportage and drawings are enjoyable and evocative. Especially recommended for those who've heard about the sex scandal of 1936 but also for fans of intelligent graphic novels such as Jules Feiffer's Kill My Mother and Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?—Liz French, Library Journal
A charming slice of retro Hollywood tabloid scandal.Though the book might have benefitted from a few more of the author’s exquisite illustrations and a little less explication, this exhumation of the “Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” allows the artist to fully indulge the obsession he’s carried for the last half-century. When Sorel (Certitude: A Profusely Illustrated Guide to Blockheads and Bullheads, Past and Present, 2009, etc.) was replacing his kitchen linoleum, he found newspapers alluding to the scandal featuring the diary of actress Mary Astor, who was in court to regain custody of her daughter and whose estranged husband “planned to use the diary to prove she was an unfit mother….Mary, he claimed, had not only kept a tally of all of her extramarital affairs but graded them.” Though the subsequent pages recount the story of young Mary’s exploitation, first by her parents, then by the movie industry, the playful tone suggests a more innocent era and a time when the glamorous Hollywood, amid the transition from silent movies to talkies, gives the artist the opportunity to “draw that exotic place when it was just at the beginning of its love affair with art deco.” As the narrative traces Mary’s rise and fall, it also provides an account of “how Eddie Schwartz morphed into Edward Sorel,” a story that ultimately provides some parallels with Astor’s and suggests why her plight so strongly resonated with that of the renowned magazine illustrator. In addition to diary excerpts and other research, the book features an extended interview between the author and “the long-dead actress” as the “proselytizing atheist” attempts “to channel her in her Catholic heaven” and get her to tell her story about the beginning of her notorious affair with Broadway’s George S. Kaufman. What was then labeled “the worst case of dynamite in Hollywood history” seems pretty tame today, but Sorel’s command of tone and pen sustains readers’ interest.
- Liveright Publishing Corporation
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- 6.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Meet the Author
Edward Sorel is an illustrator, caricaturist, and cartoonist, whose satires and pictorial essays have appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker, for which he has done forty-six covers. He is the recipient of the George Polk Award for Satiric Drawing and the Karikaturpreis der deutchen Anwaltschaft from the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover, Germany. He lives in Harlem.
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