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Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Musical


Open Jar Studios / New York / Stage

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Musical has the makings of a swell martini—coolly sophisticated with a racy kick. Based on illustrator Ed Sorel’s best-seller, this adaptation by Mardie Millitt (book) and Michael Garin (music and lyrics) pops open the trunk of one Hollywood’s most improbable scandals and the continuing source of so much feverish speculation. At the center of this escapade is Mary Astor (real name Lucile Vasconcelles Langhanke, but try fitting that on a theater marquee), a slim figure of proper deportment and refinement even when portraying the conniving, duplicitous femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon, her most famous role. Off-camera she was less demure. Astor made her debut on the silent screen at the age of 14 and at 17 had an affair with the matinee idol John Barrymore, then 40, which today would give the entertainment press massive convulsions. She would go on to marry four times, and it was the dissolution of her second marriage, to Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, that nearly capsized her career in 1936. Thorpe got his hands on Astor’s personal diary, the “Purple Diary” of the title, which he wielded as a weapon in their bitter divorce and child-custody battle. Its contents were purported to be volcanic, especially the rapturous ovations to the lovemaking prowess of George F. Kaufman, a resoundingly successful playwright and Algonquin Round Table wit whom no one had taken to be a tiger in the sack. Since the diary was never published and subsequently burned, who knows the truth of such tabloid claims? Enter Ed Sorel, determined to learn the real score with the assistance of the lovely ghostly Astor herself and a who’s who of Hollywood and Broadway eminentos. The show’s premiere is still a ways off, but its first industry reading happens this week. Let the revelry commence! —James Wolcott

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