In the NYT (where else?), Woody Allen reviews “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936”, by Edward Sorel. That the NYT decides to publish this on Christmas Day, presumably with Allen’s blessing (no pun intended), is itself significant.
Allen is someone who has always been uncomfortably obsessed with sex and polyamory (not to mention borderline pedophilia, as movies like Manhattan and his scandalous personal life attest to), not exactly helping with the stereotype of Jews creating and running the pornography industry to undermine Christian goyim.
So, it stands to reason he’d be fascinated with a book about a B-level actress’s incessant penchant for fooling around with older married men (e.g., Astor was only 17 when she began an affair with the much older John Barrymore.) Woody’s interest in the book makes much more sense given the angle that to the Hollywood studio system, Mary Astor symbolized the WASP-ish class, sworn enemy of Woody’s Tribe (as depicted in countless Woody movies.)
Even Sorel, who is so smitten with this movie star that he wants to see her put on a postage stamp, agrees she never achieved the sensual humidity of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. So what did Mary Astor have that such a good book could be written about her? Well, for one thing, she had a major scandal — and a torrid one at that. And while she may not have projected sex appeal, she did reek of aristocracy, or at least her name, Astor, smacked of the manor.
A ‘Jew vs. Goyim’ dynamic permeates Allen’s review:
At first, Lucile Langhanke was doing some small acting, being noticed mainly for her looks. She soon winds up in the film capital and captures the imagination of Jesse Lasky, a studio big who wants to sign her for pictures. Lasky changes her unwieldy Teutonic birth name, and suddenly she is transmogrified by this Hollywood god into Mary Astor.
A very strange description.
Woody is seemingly enthralled with Astor’s promiscuity, injected Yiddish-isms and hostility to Christianity into his review:
At first she does small parts in undistinguished celluloid nonsense, but eventually she gains some traction and finds herself a promising actress running with the West Coast party set. As the affair with Barrymore has petered out, she dates, and takes up with a benign character named Glass, who held her interest for a while much to the consternation of her parents, whose influence she has trouble shaking. She drops Glass and meets Ken Hawks, the brother of the great director Howard Hawks. Him she marries, and while he proves companionable as a husband, from the get-go she notices a certain sluggish quality to his libido. Red-blooded herself, young Mary begins an affair with a producer who impregnates her. She doesn’t want the baby, but an abortion would be a career meltdown given prevalent Catholic pressures. She enters some tricked-out joint that advertises what they call “therapeutic treatment” but in fact is a cover for the necessary surgery to send her home appropriately pristine. Cut back to Ken Hawks, her amiable milchidik bedmate who is directing an airplane epic, and wouldn’t you know it, while shooting a flying scene, his own plane crashes and Mary is a widow.
We have Allen’s similar obsession with the idea of matrimonial sex as the totality of a marriage.
Mary is sad, she drinks, she works, and eventually meets a doctor named Franklyn Thorpe. Thorpe is a jazzy L.A. medic, in fact, doctor to the stars with a celebrated clientele. He and Mary marry, and in time, although they have a child together, Dr. Thorpe apparently fails the trial by mattress that seems to trip up certain men in Mary’s life.
Was that in fact the prevailing dynamic of Astor’s failed marriages? Who knows. I’m not all that interested to find out. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a minor key.
The Jew-vs-Christian hostilities rise again in this section:
Then comes a trip to New York for Mary, away from her husband. Her hormones tintinnabulating as usual, one senses the critical mass for playing around has been reached.
In New York she is introduced by Bennett Cerf to George S. Kaufman, the most successful comic playwright on Broadway. As much as I love Kaufman and grew up idolizing his inspiration and craftsmanship, I would not rank him Adonis-wise with, say, Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. Despite his brilliant mind and directorial skills, I have to say he was basically a nerdy-looking, professorial type of Jew, complete with standard tribal hooter and the natural blessing of wit common to his people. Behind his long, gloomy face and spectacles this man could never be mistaken for a boudoir mechanic…
Kaufman swept Mary off her feet. In addition to taking her to empyrean heights in bed, he took her to the theater, to the opera, to “21” and the fabled Algonquin Round Table for lunches alongside Woollcott, Benchley and viper-sharp Dorothy Parker.
It turns out, apparently, that Astor kept a diary (the said ‘purple diary’) which included her sexual escapades. Cue Woody’s fevered enthusiasm:
Can you believe this woman committed those four-times-a-night workouts with Kaufman to print and, worse, her husband has somehow secured said raunchy volume? In it are graphic accounts of the sex between this married mother and another woman’s spouse. Yes, Kaufman too was a married man… Of course it must be said Kaufman and his wife Beatrice had an open marriage…
Allen uses the fact that Kaufman and Astor had an ‘open marriage’ to harangue Christian America (on this Christmas Day):
Also the level of sophistication required to appreciate Kaufman’s type of free-loving arrangement with his wife reads like Swahili to Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch, and the Porches were precisely who kept the nation’s motion picture industry solvent. Many a Beverly Hills swimming pool was dependent on popcorn sold in the Bible Belt…
Suddenly the studio looks around and realizes they have a very heavy financial investment in a movie featuring a tabloid adulteress doing a laundry list of abominations with a libertine New York husband whose ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh, if you get my meaning. The panicky moguls hear certain church fathers float the word boycott. They begin to smell box office leprosy. After all, the American public was at that time such a clean public, such a naïve nation of holier-than-thou prudes.
Merry Christmas from Woody Allen and the NYT!