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Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel: So this is how obsessions look to other people, huh.



I have a lot of thoughts about Mary Astor's Purple Diary, most of which can be summed up in the notes I made on my voice recorder while walking in downtown Chicago, which begins with "You know how you write that story about meeting the person you're obsessed with? And you don't show it to other people? Well, Edward Sorel decided to...like...publish it. And illustrate it."




For those of you who didn't have a lot of alone time with Turner Classic Movies in high school, Mary Astor was a movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood, more specifically in the 1930s. By the mid-1940s she was playing mom roles, but in the '30s and early '40s she had kickass parts like the wealthy eccentric sister in Preston Sturges's The Palm Beach Story, and that main lady character whose name I don't remember in The Maltese Falcon.

Edward Sorel is apparently "one of America's foremost political satirists." He also happens to have been obsessed with Mary Astor for about half a century, and he decided to write and illustrate a short but very pretty book that talks about her life and, more specifically, her diary where she talked about how much she liked banging George S. Kaufman (famous playwright of the mid-20th century).

this fun guy

So. I love Old Hollywood. In 7th grade, my friend and I exclusively called each other by names of characters that Katharine Hepburn had played. I have a deep and abiding love for the screen pairing that is Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. I had a Barbara Stanwyck keychain on my backpack senior year of high school. Old Hollywood is the shit.

I did not know anything about Mary Astor, aside from having seen her in a few movies. What I appreciate about this book is that Edward Sorel, like a true obsessive, saw one article about Mary Astor and immediately got obsessed.

What's kind of weird about this book is how very focused on her sex life he is. I mean, yeah, the whole scandal with the diary was that she was talking about her sex life, but like...she had other stuff going on in life. I'm sure he respects her as a person and an actress, etc, but there's also this undercurrent of "Man, she must've been really great in the sack," which is like...dude. 

I kept reminding myself throughout that Edward Sorel's 87 now and it's pretty cool he got to write and illustrate a book about a lady he's obsessed with. And his illustrations are great.

look at that.

I enjoyed the second half more than the first, which covers the end of the trial she was involved in (a custody battle for her daughter) and talks about her being in meetings with Louis B. Mayer and hanging out with Norma Shearer, which is really what I wanted the whole book to be about. The first half involves, in part, an imagined conversation between him and her that's just like "omg who okayed this you are not supposed to let other people see this sort of thing." 

In the end though, Sorel wanted to write a little biography of his favorite lady, and he did that, so I'm proud of him.

And it legit is so pretty.

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