2 April 2018

Mary Astor: forgotten author

Not long ago I discovered that the great Mary Astor was not only an actress but also an author. Apart from having written two autobiographies, she also wrote five novels. 

Astor started her writing career in the late 1950s when her film career was coming to an end. Her first book was a memoir entitled My Story (1959), which spoke candidly of her problems with her parents (her father was physically and emotionally abusive and saw his daughter only as a moneymaker), her failed marriages, a big scandal in the 1930s involving her diary (read more here), her struggle with alcoholism and a suicide attempt. Astor had become a Catholic in 1951 and had written the book at the urging of a priest as a therapeutic assignment. While My Story dealt with her personal life, in 1971 Astor would publish a second memoir A Life on Film, which was about her Hollywood career. Following the success of the bestselling My Story, Lee Barker (Astor's editor) suggested Astor also try her hand at fiction. She did, and ultimately wrote five novels, i.e. The Incredible Charlie Carewe (1960), The Image of Kate (1962), The O'Conners (1964), Goodbye, Darling, Be Happy (1965), and A Place Called Saturday (1968). 

The letter for this post concerns Astor's first novel The Incredible Charlie Carewe. Astor wrote the letter to her agent Gloria Safier after Safier had read and praised a draft of the novel. What I found particularly interesting in Astor's letter is her admission to having written the book "with enthusiasm and enjoyment- something [she'd] never been able to bring to acting." Intrigued by Astor's remark, I browsed the web and found a few other comments she made on the subjectShe reportedly once said: "I was never totally involved in movies. I was making someone else's dream come true. Not mine." In 1961 she told Hedda Hopper: "Both jobs are creative; acting is easier but writing gives greater satisfaction." And in her 1971 memoir A Life on Film Astor said of her 45-year acting career: "If only I could have put all that time and work and study into writing. I might have learned to write well—I mean really well." 

With regard to The Incredible Charlie Carewe, someone who was impressed with Astor's writing --at least when it came to her handling of the novel's protagonist, the psychopath Charlie-- was renowned psychiatrist Hervey CleckleyIn the 1964 edition of his classic work on psychopathology The Mask of Sanity (1941)Cleckley said: "In many respects the most realistic and successful of all portrayals of the psychopath is that presented by Mary Astor in The Incredible Charlie CareweThe rendition is so effective that even those unfamiliar with the psychopath in actual experience are likely to sense the reality of what is disclosed. The subject is superbly dealt with, and the book constitutes a faithful and arresting study of a puzzling and infinitely complex subject. Charlie Carewe emerges as an exquisite example of the psychopath – the best, I believe, to be found in any work of fiction." Wow, that is some recommendation-- Astor must have loved that!

Source: Nate D. Sanders Auctions



Gloria, dear Gloria!

Such words from such a tough audience really gave me a charge- I do thank you!

If "Charlie" is good, it's because it was written with enthusiasm and enjoyment- something I've never been able to bring to acting. I feel that my experience in acting will help me learn to be a good writer, not only from the more obvious reasons of characterization, familiarity with scripts, etc. but out of the less tangible qualities that make a "good trouper" - persistance, respect for the medium, study and work. I feel I am only beginning to learn- and thank God in something that has no age limits!

Lee said the final five pages had turned up missing. That whole hunk is being rewritten- from the point of Carter's return to Nelson- I've got a few more days' work on it and I think it's much better. The idea of coming to "The End" pushed the panic-button + I wrote it in too much of a hurry! All of Lee's suggestions were most helpful- he put his fingers on the exact spots I knew were weak. Love that man!

I'm having lunch with Bill B. on the 14th- can't wait!

Thanks again and
All my love,

Two of Mary Astor's best-remembered roles-- photo above: as Brigid O'Shaughnessy opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941), and below as Sandra Kovak opposite Bette Davis in The Great Lie (1941). For the latter performance Astor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

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