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The Sex Scandal That Destroyed Mary Astor’s Career

Back in 1936, Mary Astor, famed star of the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon. And found herself at the center of a steamy Hollywood scandal so big that it pushed news about Hitler and the war off the front pages of the newspapers across the nation.

Astor’s disgruntled husband stole her private journal which eventually became known as the Purple Diary with the hopes of using its contents against her in a bitter custody battle that they involved in at the time. Reportedly, Astor documented detailed accounts of her numerous love affairs in the journal’s pages. And which could have potentially disastrous to her reputation if they were made public.

The press obsessed with learning new details from the stolen volumes while Astor’s estranged husband’s lawyer used it maliciously in court. It is to try and prove that she was an unfit mother. People flooded the courthouse as if it were a professional sporting event or a theatrical venue. Vendors even sold refreshments, hot dogs, and ice cream outside to the crowds that had formed to get the latest inside scoop from the high-profile trial.

Astor’s diary was one of the first major Hollywood sex scandals. Astor faced the possibility of losing everything. Her career, daughter and social status but she wasn’t going to let that happened without a fight. She refused to shamed by the media, so she fought back with everything that she had.

Franklyn Thorpe Heard About Astor’s Affair With A Famous Playwright

By 1936, Mary Astor and her physician husband Franklyn Thorpe had married for five years and shared a daughter named Marylyn. Their marriage was far from perfect. Both parties in the marriage had affairs but Astor especially wanted out of the union.

She wrote in her diary that she no longer was in love with him. And that she both unhappy and bored married to him. But every time that she attempted to leave, they always ended getting into violent altercations.

Astor wrote in her autobiography, that her marriage with Thorpe was ‘a series of explosions’ typically over small things. And things especially got dicey once she brought up the topic of divorce.

The turning point in their failing marriage came when Thorpe stole the blue notebooks that Astor used as diaries and discovered her true thoughts and feelings. For one thing, he discovered that she hadn’t had romantic feelings for him in quite some time. And had manipulated him into marrying her in the first place. And that she secretly was harboring intense romantic feelings for the playwright George Kaufman.

Kaufman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. And was already in an open marriage with his wife at the time but had no interest in leaving her for Astor. Thorpe had previously known about his wife’s affair. But he wasn’t aware of the extent of her feelings until he read her private thoughts in the journals.

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And don’t go anywhere just yet. Stick around to find out how Mary Astor and Franklyn Thorpe’s custody battle ended up panning out.

Franklyn Thorpe Tried To Blackmail Mary Astor For Revenge

Thorpe demanded that he awarded full custody of his daughter Marylyn. He also wanted half of Astor’s house and greedily wanted to retain 50 percent control of her assets and finances. If she chose not to agree to his terms, he threatened to publish her diaries for all the world to see.

Back in the 30s, adultery a huge deal, especially when it committed by a woman. If the journals published, her career could have theoretically come crashing to a halt. Thorpe threatened to put her name and the names of all of her lovers on the ‘front pages of every newspaper in America’ if she did not comply with his terms.

When she came down with the flu, Thorpe stood by Astor’s bed. Berated her and threatened her until she caved in and signed a divorce settlement essentially giving him everything that he had wanted.

Astor Laid Everything On The Line For Her Daughter

After thumbing thorugh her journals and discovering Astor’s true feelings. Thorpe made sure that life was hell for her for the next 15 months. Every time that they got into a spat, he would threaten to take their daughter Marylyn away. Astor claims that he started abusing the young girl as well out of spite for her.

She told the court that he would shake her so hard that her teeth would rattle and that he would leave bruise marks all over her body.

Eventually, Astor realized that enough was enough. And had her lawyer file for custody of the child, accusing Thorpe of blackmail and bigamy. He had a common-law wife that he continued to see even after he married Astor. Even though Mary knew that scandal was right on the horizon. She wanted to do everything within her power to protect her daughter.

The Media Reported That Mary Wrote Her Diary In Purple Ink

The journals were the primary focus of the custody trial. Thorpe’s lawyer said that they would split the movie industry wide open because they documented how Mary Astor experimented with her love life just like a scientist would experiment with their test tubes.

The press tried to get their hands on every last detail from the notorious diaries. Whenever they would see a page in court, they would report that Astor wrote in purple ink. Seeing as the color purple is sometimes associated with passion. This added little detail added an extra layer of intrigue to the story, but it later revealed that Astor actually wrote in brown ink.

The media only perceived it as purple because of an optical illusion that happens when the ink is viewed at a distance. Regardless, the nickname, The Purple Diary ended up sticking anyway.

George Kaufman Fled California To Avoid Jail Time

Despite that his name got brought up several times throughout the course of the trial, Kaufman wanted nothing to do with any of it. When he ordered to testify, he completely skipped out on coming to court. The judge Goodwin Knight was so furious that he issued a warrant for Kaufman’s arrest.

Before California cops could track him down, Kaufman hopped aboard a train bound for New York. The judge subsequently banned him from returning to Los Angeles. That warrant was however dropped in 1937 and Kaufman allowed to return to Hollywood once again.

Franklyn Thorpe’s Awful Behavior Made Apparent During the Trial

Karma is a fierce adversary and a fickle foe.

While on the stand, Thorpe’s own infidelities came to light. His ongoing relationship with his common-law wife revealed in addition to an affair he had gotten involved in with a showgirl named Norma Taylor. Apparently, at one point Taylor chased Thorpe down on his property with a carving fork in from of his daughter Marylyn.

At first, Thorpe denied his romantic involvement with Taylor. But Wooley presented to the court photographic evidence of the two kissing thus prompting Thorpe to reveal the details of the incident. Taylor had come over to his house drunk wearing silk pajamas. Reportedly, after smashing a window with a candlestick. She chased Thorpe around the property with the large fork while screaming expletives.

She even tried to look herself in a bathroom. But Thorpe climbed in through a window and managed to grab a hold of her. Taylor struggled to get free but both her and Thorpe fell down in the tussle. Marylyn later said that one of her earliest memories was that fight.

Astor Accused Of Keeping A Scorecard Of Her Hollywood Lovers

Since the press was unable to get a couple of the actual journals. They published excerpts from a forged pornographic diary instead. In it, Astor accused of keeping a detailed scorecard of her high-profile lovers. One newspaper said that Astor had become the unofficial scorekeeper of what they called ‘Hollywood’s tournaments of love’.

Astor mentioned this fraudulent diary in her autobiography. She recalled how the press had a field day with it at first and that she couldn’t possibly sue every newspaper to suppress it. Mary left essentially helpless to combat the vicious rumors that were spreading about her because of it.

She had never kept a score of anyone or anything and she never referred to it as ‘Dear Diary’ as the press had reported.

Studio Brass Ordered Astor To Give Up The Case

On the final day of shooting for the film Dodsworth in 1936 at MGM, Mary Astor called into the office of producer Sam Goldwyn. When she walked in, she found all of the big-wigs of the major film studios of the day sitting waiting for her including Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, and Jack Warner.

They all tried to convince her to give up the custody case fearing that it could possibly do damage to the film industry. Astor, however, refused to budge. She told them that she would proceed with the case as she had advised to by her lawyer before leaving the room.

It suggested that Goldwyn should ax her based upon her supposed violation of the morality clause in her contract. But he just couldn’t bring himself to fire a woman who was just fighting for her child.

Mary Astor Made It Through The Trial By Acting

Astor’s appearance in court was described as being poised and refined. She wore all-black and was referred to by the press as a “slender and frail dark-eyed wisp of a girl” barely weighing a hundred pounds.

She spoke with confidence in a deep and clear voice. And remained composed even when she was up against the overly aggressive cross-examination. It was readily apparent that she was a mother who was willing to risk everything for her child.

Astor later said that she was channeling her character Edith Cortright from Dodsworth during the trial. Cortright was everything that she wanted to be. She had total confidence in herself while she had very little.

Tapping into that persona made her impervious to the opposition’s attacks. Astor referred to Edith as ‘her shield’ and added that she helped her become rattleproof.

The judge ultimately ruled that the diaries could not be admitted as evidence. Regardless, Thorpe released excerpts to the press and suddenly everyone knew private musings. The judge got impatient with the media circus that had developed because of the case and ordered that Thorpe and Astor work out an agreement. In the end, Astor was awarded custody of her daughter for nine months out of the year.

The scandal surprising didn’t hurt Astor’s career in the least bit. She went on to star in hit films like The Maltese Falcon in 1941, Little Women in 1949, and Meet Me In St Louis in 1944.

The Judge further ordered that the diaries be locked away until Marylyn’s 21st birthday. They were eventually burned in 1952.

Fortunately, the public sided with Astor, despite her ex-husbands best attempts to discredit her and destroy her career.

Anyway, that’s about all the time we have left for this video, but we’d love to hear from you before you go. Do you think the Judge made the right decision by not allowing Astor’s diary to be used against her as evidence in court? Let us know why or why not in the comments section below.

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