Graphic Tale of a Scandalous Starlet

Woody Allen in The New York Times:

StarLife is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to “Moose Murders.” Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. Not only does he then write a terrific book, but he illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading, but in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny and, in the end, touching. But why Mary Astor? Just because she happened to be under his linoleum? I mean I liked Mary Astor. I enjoyed seeing her up on the screen, but I never lost my heart to her the way Sorel has, and if it had been my linoleum she surfaced from, I wouldn’t have felt driven to research all the interesting details that have mesmerized the author. To me, Mary Astor was a very good, solid actress but not the exciting equal of, say, Bette Davis or Vivien Leigh. (Who was the equal of Vivien Leigh?) And when Bogart, in “The Maltese Falcon,” says his murdered partner was too smart a detective to follow a man he was shadowing up a blind alley but then tells Astor, “But he’d have gone up there with you, angel. . . . He’d have looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone, grinning from ear to ear,” I give this appraisal a lukewarm nod.

The truth is I can think of a dozen other femmes fatales I’d prefer to be lured up a dark alley with to enjoy a beating or violent death. 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. Of course she was in no way related to the richest man who went down on the Titanic. Astor wasn’t her real name. She was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke, a name that would probably never even fit on the average movie marquee.

More here.

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