MARY ASTOR


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Mary Astor was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke in Quincy, Illinois in 1906, and was far from an overnight success. Her working class parents saw her as a way to improve their life, and entered her into several beauty contests when she was barely a teen. She also acted on the amateur stage. At 13 she was runner-up in a national beauty contest from Motion Picture Magazine, which made her father move to New York, where she was signed to a contract by Paramount, and her father became her manager, and he stayed in that position for ten years. She made her first movie when she was just 14, and she made a total of ten movies while she was 14 or 15, but they were all minor or uncredited roles. Right after she turned 16, she amazingly was given the starring role in a movie called "The Rapids", and she definitely played the romantic lead, in spite of her tender years, but we have been unable to find out more information about this movie! Two years later, she had a major success appearing in "Beau Brummel" opposite John Barrymore in 1924 (at Barrymore's request), and the 18 year old Mary had an affair with the 42 year old Barrymore. Her parents broke off the affair with Barrymore and virtually kept her a prisoner in the lavish home they bought with her $2,500 a week earnings (she received only a $5 weekly allowance!). She had some success in her movies over the following years, but the advent of sound looked like it might be a career ender for her (and it was for so many actors at that time), because she failed a "sound test" and was released from her contract! But she took voice and singing lessons, and after appearing in a successful stage play, she was re-hired. She had married a director in 1929, but he was killed in a plane crash in 1930, which gave her a nervous breakdown. She was treated by a doctor, whom she married the following year! In 1932 she got a lead role (opposite Clark Gable and Jean Harlow) in Red Dust. She had a major success in The Kennel Murder Case, opposite William Powell. She had an affair with playwright George S. Kaufman, and other celebrities. In 1935, her doctor husband divorced her, and due to her behavior, asked for custody of their young daughter. He had stolen her diary which documented her affair with Kaufman. While the custody hearing was going on she was filming Dodsworth (as Edith Cortright), and rather than hurt her career, the scandal seemed to help it! In 1937 she moved back to New York, where she acted on the stage and appeared on radio. In 1941, she won the Best Supporting Actress award for "The Great Lie" (Bette Davis helped her get the part, and they remained good friends for life), and had her most memorable role that same year in "The Maltese Falcon" as Brigid O'Shaughnessy. She signed a contract with MGM, which gave her some needed financial security, but which sadly did not give her many movies worthy of her great talent. In 1951 she finally accepted that she was an alcoholic, and that this had contributed to her promiscuity, and she left her fourth husband, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous and became a practicing Catholic. She continued acting until 1964 (one of her best later roles was in Return to Peyton Place in 1961), making a total of 123 movies, and she lived for another 21 years (16 of those at the Motion Picture Country Home) until she passed away in 1987 at the age of 81. Mary Astor was a charming. beautiful and very talented actress who never was in the first rank of leading ladies, likely mostly because of her turbulent private life, but she did leave behind many memorable performances, although most of the best of them were as a secondary performer, and not as the lead.
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