Hollywood Celebrity Scandals Mary Astor's Diary Part 3

About the Hollywood celebrity scandal of 1936 involving a child custody battle and the diary of Mary Astor

HISTORIC HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS

Miss Astor Regrets...-1936

Suddenly, after attempting to keep the diary out of court since the trial began, Woolley called for it to prove that its contents were harmless. A group including Goldwyn, Thalberg, Warner, Cohn, Mayer, and other industry leaders asked the actress to keep the book out of court. They quoted $12 million as the amount tied up in names involved in the diary. If these stars were dragged into the scandal, their films could be banned from distribution by the censors. Miss Astor refused. Sam Goldwyn, whose film Dodsworth stood to lose most surely, was encouraged to use the morality clause in the actress's contract to fire her. He didn't. "A mother fighting for her child....That's good!" he observed.

Lawyer Woolley knew that pages had been torn from Miss Astor's diary, and when it was brought into the courtroom, he was able to have it excluded as evidence because it was a "mutilated document." By that time, however, no one really needed the original diary. Finally, George S. Kaufman was subpoenaed to appear in court. He didn't. A chase resulted through Beverly Hills backyards and all the way to Catalina Island, where Kaufman had fled on Irving Thalberg's yacht. Versions differ: Either Moss Hart or the Marx brothers anticked for the bailiffs while Kaufman escaped out the back door; or he was smuggled to New York either in the guise of an English naval officer-thanks to a studio costume department-or wrapped mummylike in bandages. The press loved it. Finally the story hit the front pages of The New York Times. A national event, just like the New Deal and the drought: "Warrant out for Kaufman."

The tolerance of the court was worn very thin. After a public rebuke to both lawyers, Judge Goodwin Knight-soon to be elected governor of California-called for an early settlement. With the strong encouragement of the film industry, the case was decided. Custody was to be split between Mary Astor for nine months, Franklyn Thorpe for three. A distraught Kaufman finally emerged in New York. "I do not keep a diary," he apologized to the press.

Then Edward VIII of England abdicated to marry a commoner. Suddenly the spotlight was lifted from the little Hollywood domestic drama, and the siege by newsmen was ended. All in all, it had been a harmless romp for the tabloid press. No suicide, no careers ruined, no Fatty Arbuckle here. Mary Astor, a little more cautious, more cynical about fair-weather friends, more vulnerable than ever, retreated for a while. But Goldwyn had been right. Her public had liked her for her stand in court--lucky Mary. Kaufman, already a hypochondriac, pessimist, and worrier, escaped with a fine for ignoring the summons that would have certainly brought more embarrassment to everyone concerned. The summer's romance was finally over.

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