Tag Archives: Silent Movies

Book Review: ‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936’ by Edward Sorel

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

If you are a fan of glamorous old Hollywood, then I have a book for you. It is a racy and juicy tale told by a masterful storyteller. I’ve always admired Edward Sorel‘s artwork with its caricatures that seem to pierce into his subject’s soul. Edward Sorel has written, and illustrated, a fresh look at Hollywood legend Mary Astor and interlaced her story with his own in “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W.W. Norton & Company. This is mainly a prose book but it is generously filled with Sorel’s illustrations, over sixty original paintings. The prose is as elegant, urbane, and idiosyncratic as his art.

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930's "Ladies Love Brutes."

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930’s “Ladies Love Brutes.”

As a writer and cartoonist, I am here to tell you that it is the idiosyncratic person who gets a project like this about the elusive Mary Astor off the ground. That is what sets Edward Sorel apart and makes his work so distinctive. Sorel confides in the reader every step of the way. It was 1965 that Sorel first embarked upon his quest. It all began with lifting old rotting kitchen linoleum from his railroad apartment. Buried at the bottom were newspapers from 1936. The big story was the custody trial of Hollywood star Mary Astor, which included her infamous “purple diary.”

Edward meets Mary!

Edward meets Mary!

Sorel runs out of old newspapers before he can find out the end of the story. But he’s hooked. He vows to investigate further. The end result is this book, which moves at a steady clip as it transports us from Mary’s humble origins on the outskirts of Quincy, Illinois, raised by domineering parents, to Hollywood in the 1920s, Mary a rising child star, still saddled with domineering parents. Poor Mary never seems to figure out how to stand up for herself when it comes to finding a mate either. At one point, Mary turns down a contract with RKO strictly for starring roles. Then she follows that up with a hasty marriage. Sorel shakes his head and raises his fists on the page and the reader can’t help but do the same. Mary’s choices will continue to be bad before they get better. Mary’s ultimate bad choice will entangle none other than the most celebrated man on Broadway, George S. Kaufman.

Edward finds Nancy!

Edward finds Nancy!

Life, in all its glorious absurdity and majesty, is on parade in Sorel’s book. With a combination of the whimsical and the world-weary, Sorel weaves a tale that includes a supernatural meeting between Sorel and Mary from beyond the grave. And, the high point for me, Sorel shares with us how he met Nancy, the love of his life. Throughout, what emerges is the story of the artist’s struggle, both of Edward Sorel and Mary Astor. Both could have used another pat on the back and moral support. Both certainly earned it.

While Mary Astor would be the last to claim to be anyone’s role model, she proved to be more than capable to rise to the occasion. That is clear to see for all time in her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Sorel’s book provides his unique and quirky take on Astor’s life and helps us to better appreciate how she blossomed at pivotal times in her life. If you are looking for a definitive tell-all, this is not that kind of book. This is more of an expanded essay, an intelligent conversation. You can be new to the facts discussed or you can be quite familiar with them already. I dare say, it is just the sort of book, with its dry wit and cosmopolitan flavor, that Mary Astor would approve of.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Books, Edward Sorel, Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, Illustration, Mary Astor, Noir, Old Hollywood, Silent Movies, W. W. Norton & Company

Review: LOUISE BROOKS: DETECTIVE by Rick Geary

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A really good murder mystery is always about more than just the murder. There’s tantalizing intrigue but it also transcends searching for clues and skulking about. How about one that features one of Hollywood’s most alluring beauties, Louise Brooks, as a gumshoe detective in Wichita, Kansas? She was never really a detective, was she? And in Kansas? That’s what cartoonist Rick Geary has conjured up with his latest graphic novel, “Louise Brooks: Detective.” And this one is quite a story. It makes you believe that Louise Brooks actually did go all Sherlock Holmes.

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Any good mystery will depend upon a fair amount of trickery and distraction. Just when you think all roads are leading to a resolution, something happens to tell you different. Murder, I tell you! It was bloody murder! And in Wichita! Enter Louise Brooks, stage left, if she still had a stage from which to veer left from. These days, she has dropped down a number of pegs. It’s 1940, she’s no longer the star she once was and, at age 33, she has had to come back home to reinvent herself. There was nothing about solving crime in her plans. So, she is literally forced into something way over her head. Initially, she had just hoped to make a go of it as a dance instructor!

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Geary has a wonderful time with bringing Miss Brooks to life. He allows her to live and breathe, starting with a little pout or smirk. She is a big city girl, after all. Who knew she would ever return to Kansas? She is not pleased. But, as she comes to terms with her circumstances, we see her grow. With regularity, Geary will bring her to an extreme close-up and we deal with her directly: read her thoughts, hear her rant, and so on. There’s an interesting thing he does here as he consistently favors going for these close-ups on the last panel of a page on the right side. This is for added emphasis, the last thing you read, before you move on to something else.

This Louise Brooks adventure is supposed to just be a little detour from Mr. Geary’s ongoing work on his Treasury of Murder true crime series. However, there’s definitely a case to be made for more Louise Brooks adventures. He’s found a way where that could happen. So, stay tuned.

“Louise Brooks: Detective” is an 80-page hardcover and is available now. You can find out more by visiting our friends at NBM Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hollywood, Louise Brooks, movies, mystery, Rick Geary

LA Journal: The Hollywood Museum

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Like any great museum, The Hollywood Museum has earned its reputation. It is Hollywood’s attic, with the most extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia in the world. The museum, featuring four floors of breathtaking exhibits, is home to more than 10,000 authentic show biz treasures to delight any movie lover and anyone interested in the history and glamour of Hollywood.

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Like the ocean, the limelight is a force of nature without feelings. It just shines. A few mere mortals become stars under its beam. A select few of these stars, like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, feel the radiance and the burn of the light and then transcend it to gain immortality. The Hollywood Museum proves to be a most attractive venue to gaze upon, and learn about, the stars.

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A most charming fact about the museum is that it is housed in the former legendary Max Factor salon. That was a veritable dream factory! You will see beautiful exhibit rooms in what once were the three separate salons for treating blondes, brunettes, and redheads. From there emerged such iconic beauties as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Lucille Ball.

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It’s uncanny how the Max Factor connection is inextricably linked to the museum on many levels: image, beauty, stardom, style, fashion, and glamour.

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Max Factor and Marilyn Monroe certainly go well together.

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There’s a wonderful mix of permanent and temporary exhibits on view. “Tyrone Power: Man, Myth & Movie Idol,” closing this weekend, is an excellent show covering the actor’s life and work in great detail.

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You won’t leave without adding numerous new movies to your must-see list, like “Marie Antoinette,” starring Tyrone Power and Norma Shearer.

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You will rediscover, or discover for the first time, such stars as Theda Bara.

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You can easily wander through the memorabilia and absorb some history on the run. Check out the replica of the Lasky-DeMille Barn, one of Hollywood’s first film studios. You won’t leave without having a fuller appreciation of Hollywood.

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The Pee-wee Herman exhibit! Yes, this place is full of surprises.

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If there’s room for Pee-wee Herman’s suit and bike, then you know this is the right place.

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Whatever your taste, there is something for everyone at the museum. While I’m a movie buff who favors old Hollywood, you’ll find young Hollywood here too for sure, like the above exhibit for “The Hunger Games.” There is so much more I could have covered. I didn’t even go into the Hannibal Lecter exhibit. You’ll have to come see that one for yourself.

The Hollywood Museum is in the Historic Max Factor Building located at 1660 N. Highland Ave. at Hollywood Blvd. For more details, visit our friends at The Hollywood Museum right here.

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Filed under Hollywood, LA Journal, Los Angeles, movies, The Hollywood Museum, Travel, Travelogue

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE? Gloria Swanson and a Talk About How We Got Here From There

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.

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Filed under Commentary, Creative Living, Culture, Essays, Facebook, Henry Chamberlain, Heroes, Hollywood, Internet, Media, movies, Silent Movies, Social Media, Superheroes, writing