Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mary Astor: Part Two of Three

If you missed Part One of my bio for the Mary Astor Blogathon you can read it HERE

Before I begin part two I wanted to share my mother's thoughts on Mary Astor. We were on the phone late last night, having one of our marathon gab sessions about old movies and I mentioned that I'm participating in the Astor Blogathon etc. My mother is a riot and she doesn't mince words. I had no idea that she felt the way she does about Ms. Astor.  I just had to share what she said since it is Mother's Day and all.

My Mom after I asked for her thoughts on Mary: "Do I have to watch one of her films? Please don't make me watch one of her films on Mother's Day! I refuse to watch one of her films on Mother's Day. Just give me a good Charlie Chan film. I didn't like her! She always had her nose stuck up in the air and I don't like prudes. I can't handle her! I just can't imagine Humphrey Bogart wanting to be around her, I bet he had so many problems doing a movie with her.. I bet he wanted to trip her or something worse."   (I think you can now understand where my snarky wit comes from.)

This is my favorite portrait of Mary Astor.

When we left off, It was 1921 and Mary had just secured a six month contract with Famous Players Lasky at their Astoria, NY studio.  

She was given a walk on part in SENTIMENTAL TOMMY, starring May McAvoy and Gareth Hughes. While her scenes were left on the cutting room floor, she remained in the films publicity stills. After a few more weeks of waiting around, she was given an uncredited, bit part in the propaganda short, BULLETS OR BALLOTS. This time the entire film was shelved and with that her six month contract had come to an end and she was back to going to casting offices hoping for another big break, with her determined father in tow. You see, during that six months, he was busy spending her salary of $60 a week. First, they were moved to a larger apartment in a better section of New York and with that new furniture had to be bought. Daddy needed a new wardrobe and walkin around money too.

Out of work again to the frustration of her parents, it was her good friend Albin who came through for her, giving her the big break, the one that would make her a star. Albin introduced her to the famous photographer, Lejeron Hiller who took to her immediately, offering her a job as the face in a series of two reel films based on famous paintings. While Mary didn't speak in the films, she was used as the pretty farm girl who poses for an artist. The critics took notice and they demanded to see more of her on the big screen. 

Mary was only 15 going on 16 when she first saw her name in lights. She still had three years of high school left but it was decided that her classes, even home schooling was not of importance now. She was on a very strict schedule of six hours a day of piano lessons, then dance lessons several days a week. It was also decided that she would continue to be chaperoned everywhere by either parent and friends, beaus were not to be tolerated as they were an unwelcome distraction. Nothing would interfere with her acting career now that she was on her way to becoming a star. Daddy worked too hard on "The Great Idea" for Mary to mess things up now. 

Mary's autograph from my collection

Mary would finally appear in her first feature length film, JOHN SMITH with Eugene O'Brien in 1922. Shot on location, it was a welcome escape for her as father stayed at home. This time it was mother who watched over her every move, now a permanent fixture on every set. After a couple more pictures, Mary was given a new contract with Famous Players Lasky. This time for a year and at $500 a week. 

Never one to put money away, daddy got busy looking for an even better apartment which he found in Jackson Heights, Long Island. Of course this one needed new furniture and a baby grand piano.

While Mary was coming out of her shell, making new friends in the movie industry, at home nothing had changed. Father was still very controlling and critical of her every word and suggestion of a little independence. 

Luckily, in just a few short months, Famous Players Lasky would get Mary the break she needed from daddy. At least for awhile. Mary was sent to their Hollywood studio in 1923 to start filming another silent picture. She was almost seventeen by now and beyond giddy at the prospect of seeing Hollywood for the first time. With mother as her constant companion, of course. They were put up at the glamorous Hollywood Hotel but it was decided that they would forgo their rooms there to save money for daddy's renovations to the home on Long Island. They settled on simpler digs at the Hillview Apts.

The Hillview Apts on Hollywood Blvd as they appeared when Mary and many actors resided there during the early 20s.

It certainly isn't the luxurious Hollywood Hotel but I think it's a fine looking place to live for any 17 year old. Other famous residents of Hillview were, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino and Laurel and Hardy.

This is the Hillview Apartments today. Now the Hudson Apartments at 6531 Hollywood Blvd. If you want to live in West Hollywood and where Mary Astor once lived, there are still apartments for rent here. (If you look closely, you can see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and it's stars right outside the apartment entrance.)

The front entrance with its lush red carpet, ornate iron doors and Art Deco lobby.

After filming her second picture for Famous Players Lasky, some things changed for Mary that would affect her personal life for years to come. First, daddy closed the NY apartment and joined her and her mother in California. They would remain at the Hillview Apts, opting for a larger two bedroom. 

The second important thing that happened was meeting John Barrymore, who had been following Mary's career. He wanted her for his next picture, BEAU BRUMMEL which would be filmed at Warner Bros. They would pay Famous Players Lasky a mere $1,100 for the loan-out of Mary.  She recalled in her autobiography that her father was furious about this deal. He went into the studio front office and raised hell over it. She, on the other hand thought it was worth it to get to work with the greatest actor of her time. 

The historical drama was very successful and Mary enjoyed her time working alongside Barrymore. They grew very close during this time and he made her feel comfortable, often complimenting her and being most patient with her as she honed her acting skills.  Underneath his kindness there was also an attraction brewing for both of them. Mary was seventeen and John was forty and married to the poet, playwright, Blanche Oelrichs when their affair began. An affair that nobody knew about with the exception of one of Mary's closest friends.

Mary was a naive seventeen year old but she could not deny the fact that she was in love for the very first time. Madly in love with a man that she thought was perfect. She would go on to describe John, or Jack as she called him, in this way. "To me, everything he did was perfect, but I am sure that even an impartial judge would be impressed by his unassuming friendliness among the other players and workers. He was the first star I knew who behaved like a human being around the set, without a hint of affectation or condescension. But he always preserved a sense of dignity. You could never quite forget that he was John Barrymore."

With John Barrymore in BEAU BRUMMEL, 1924 (Their age difference is quite apparent here. Mary looks like a little girl playing dress up.)

Since Mary and John weren't content to just see one another on set, he got busy trying to get closer to her parents, often stopping by for dinner at their Hillview apartment. Of course these weren't your average parents as they watched John like a hawk and never left him alone with their teenage daughter. Smart on their part. John Barrymore was a married man, 23 three years older than Mary not to mention he had a baby daughter at home. A daughter that was conceived while his current wife was still married to her ex husband. That marriage, John broke up, not caring that Blanche had two small sons from that union. Such shenanigans and shady acres going on with that man. (I bet even Charlie Chaplin was giving him the side eye!)

While Jack did what he could to garner the trust of Mary's parents, he loathed her father. It didn't take him long at all to realize that he was a controlling, know-it-all and manipulative man. Meanwhile Jack hatched a plan to get Mary out of the house and away from their watchful eye. He wanted to teach Mary acting and to do so, he needed time with her at his more comfortable suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Everyone agreed that Mary would benefit greatly from the talented John Barrymore studying with her. She was his little project, so they thought. And mother went along with Mary to his suite just to be on the safe side. 

In the time that they were together, in the evening and on weekends, John taught Mary many things. like, art, literature, music, philosophy. This was the happiest she had ever been. She finally felt needed and comfortable in her own skin. She was also kept busy at the studio, appearing in four more successful silents after BEAU BRUMMEL was completed. (I really wish UNGUARDED WOMEN wasn't lost. The drama which also starred Bebe Daniels and Richard Dix is just one of many silents from Mary's early career that was either lost or destroyed.)

The poster for OH, DOCTOR! 1925. One of Mary's early comedies with Reginald Denny and Otis Harlan that wasn't lost.

Once, BEAU BRUMMEL was completed, John went back to New York to start his run in HAMLET on Broadway. Mary felt lost without him but within a few short months she was back in New York, filming another picture where their romance would intensify. John had taken up permanent residence at the swanky Ambassador Hotel and every evening at six, he would summon her to his suite. She didn't come alone though. Not yet eighteen, she was accompanied by her father and driven by their new chauffeur. John's wife, Blanche was now living in Paris full time with their daughter. He had finally done the right thing and asked for a separation. 

They were head over heels in love with one another and the only downside to this arrangement was they couldn't express their feelings to anyone else nor spend the night together, ever be alone for long periods of time. Not ever experiencing a normal relationship though, Mary was content with this arrangement. John made her happy. He was attentive, he took her seriously and he treated her like his peer. The subject of marriage was even discussed between them. She knew Jack was serious about spending the rest of his life with her and she couldn't be happier.

After a few months of domestic bliss, Mary was sent to Alberta, Canada to start filming ENTICEMENT with Clive Brook. She was now eighteen but still under her parents total control. That wasn't about to change any time soon either. 

By the time Mary wrapped up filming in Canada, Hamlet was at the end of it's run in New York. Jack was getting ready to head over to London where Hamlet would run at least a year.  Mary was heartbroken as she had to return to Hollywood to start filming back to back pictures. She suffered in silence, went through the motions on set. Unable to even express her feelings to Jack in letters, as her parents read her mail before it was sealed and sent off. Whenever Jack sent telegrams, they were for the entire family with a few hidden codes for Mary. 

Astor would star in six films during 1925 while John was away. All successful with DON Q SON OF ZORRO being the most recognized today. She was one lucky eighteen year old to be able to star opposite the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks. (I actually have the poster for DON Q somewhere. It's in one of 10 boxes that I don't feel like digging out of a closet right now but I'll add it when I find it. )

Mary with Donald Crisp in DON Q SON OF ZORRO, 1925

With Douglas Fairbanks in Don Q Son of Zorro, 1925

It was also during this time that Mary bought a mansion in the Hollywood hills for her and her parents on Temple Drive. Mary would describe it years later as "showy and ornate". With a new house came a new maid and a new Pierce Arrow limousine with it's own chauffeur. Since Mary was handing her checks over directly to her father, all purchases were his idea and for his comfort. Mary was still brooding over Jack and going through the motions at the studio. Any pleasure she felt during this time with the change in locale was a larger, more private suite for herself away from her father's prying eyes and ears. There were also lush, well manicured, secluded gardens where she could stow away and read, daydream about happier times with her lover.

Mary wasn't all that crazy about the estate and its Moorish design. It was ostentatious and secluded behind large concrete walls and iron gates. During the early 20s it was really secluded with just a few homes in that area and you had to drive up a very long, winding driveway to reach the house from the front gates.(Personally, I've been fascinated with this estate for some time and wanting to feature it.) Charlie Chaplin also rented the estate in 1921 before buying a larger estate (I'll be covering his homes at a later date). It's still very secluded and it was on the market just recently and listed through MLS.

An early postcard of Mary Astor's first Hollywood Hills home at 6147 Temple Hill Drive. Previously rented by Charlie Chaplin in 1921.

Mary enjoys some reading on the front steps of her Temple Hill Drive home. c. 1926

A view of the towers with their East Indian design.

The beautiful gardens and privacy walls as they appeared recently in the MLS listing.

Mary still wasn't allowed to socialize with anyone from work and she certainly wasn't allowed to go on dates, or even outings with girls her own age. Her father viewed anyone outside of the family as a threat to his authority and control over the family.  Her mother was still with her on set every day but once filming on DON Q got underway, Mary started to cheer up a bit. She really enjoyed her time on set with Doug Fairbanks. While he was shy and awkward during their love scenes, he was a perfectionist when it came to his stunts, doing the 'whip work'. He was also more than willing to teach her a few tricks with the whip, and the swords. She found him very athletic and a true professional. One of the greats, like Barrymore.

The front gates to the estate on Temple Hill Drive. Still a very secluded property.

A recent aerial view of the estate with it's large grounds and interesting architecture.

The high shrubs and trees, allow seclusion in the now  very populated Hollywood Hills. (The backside of the home peaking above the trees. via Google Earth.)

A few more months would pass and she finally got word that Jack would be arriving back in New York soon. It just so happened that she would be making a film in New York for First National who she was now under contract with. She was full of excitement as she and her parents made the road trip back east. Jack was waiting for her at the Ambassador Hotel. They picked up right where they left off a year and a half before. 

Jack also had great news. He wanted Mary to play Lady Ann opposite him in Richard III. They would need to leave for London in just a few months though. Of course there was a roadblock. The roadblock that had been there since the beginning of their relationship. Her father! He forbid it. There was no way that Mary was going to give up her large salary at First National to sail off to London and make a pittance on the stage. Of course, Jack did not take the news well. He was more upset with Mary for not standing up to her parents for once and making her own decisions now that she was eighteen, going on nineteen. 

Where there was once a perfect relationship in Mary's eyes, it was now replaced with tension and annoyance. She didn't realize it then but she was on the verge of losing her first love.  They continued to see one another daily then it was time for Mary to head back to California while Jack, left for London once again. 

Mary, in Two Arabian Knights, 1927

Astor started filming THE SEA TIGER with Milton Stills and Alice White. As soon as that wrapped she shot TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS with Boris Karloff and William Boyd then the romantic drama, ROSE OF THE GOLDEN WEST with that gorgeous, Gilbert Roland. All while putting her thoughts down in her diary about Jack. He was the only thing she could think of and this caused her nothing but heartbreak as she knew deep down that she had lost him forever by not standing up for what she wanted for once. It was 1927 and she was beautiful, successful, a popular star, but the loneliest girl in the world. 

With Gilbert Roland in Rose of the Golden West, 1927

With the dashing Gilbert Roland. (I just found out recently that one of my dearest friends name his son Scott Roland after his favorite actor, Gilbert Roland. He has great taste!)

With that, I think I'm going to end Part Two here as my eyes are starting to glaze over. Boy, I had no idea this would be so long and I know this is a lot of reading. This may end up with Four parts. (How many of your are rolling your eyes with that news?)  There is so much to cover and Mary hasn't even gotten married, had children, been 'officially' dumped by John. Then the release of the scandalous diary, and the betrayals which led to the sensational court case. Thanks so much for joining me for Part Two and I do hope to see you back for the rest of the posts.  Oh, and more great photos of Hollywood mansions.

Below is a short video tour of the Hillview Apartments that was mentioned here and where many celebrities lived through the early years of Hollywood. (Now the Hudson Apartments.)

*If you are lucky enough to drive by any of the homes featured here, please keep in mind that they are private residences.

See ya soon!


  1. Page, Part Two of your Mary Astor bio was fascinating and moving. Oh, how I longed to be able get ahold of a time machine to counsel young Mary so she could stand up to her overbearing parents! Too bad John Barrymore was losing his patience with young Mary, but perhaps it was for the best in the long run, considering what a roue he was, not to mention the age difference and Barrymore's encroaching alcoholism.

    What's with the hating between Mary and your mom? Did Mary steal her away from Cary Grant? :-) Little did your mom realize Mary's life was no bed of roses, but plenty of thorns. In any case, Page, BRAVA on a great series for the Mary Astor Blogathon, my friend!

  2. Not rolling my eyes at all--was thinking Part 4 before you even mentioned it! In fact, having just read the second of Mary Astor's autobiographies, I have a feeling you might get 5 posts out of her!

    We can only hope!

  3. Oh my, this is quite the incredible read. And the photos are magnificent. I felt my heart tug reading about her relationship with John Barrymore. I know people must think him a scoundrel for cheating on his wife, but I can imagine how in love Mary must have been with him. And oh wow Gilbert Roland was such a sexy man. You've done such a wonderful job of covering the many shades of her life. Well done...

    Now, I have a question. I'm doing a William Castle Blogathon in July and was wondering if you'd be interested in participating in it. I'd love to have your wonderful presence on board. You can email me at

  4. I am glad you're doing four posts and not cramming the rest of Mary's life into one post. She deserves this royal treatment you're giving her! :)

    I had no idea the affair between Mary and John Barrymore was that intense or lasted that long. As overbearing and annoying as her parents were, I can't say that I blame them for keeping an eye on ol' Jack!

  5. Once again you are putting together a fascinating biography. Can't wait to read more!!

  6. What great info in this part 2 post about Mary Astor-love it and not too long imho. I have nominated you for the Super Sweet Bloggers award. I received it Sunday, May 19th and am now passing it on to you!

  7. Thank you -- very interesting. Can't wait to read the next part. I know Mary from the film The Prisoner of Zenda, which had a great cast. I had no idea she had an affair with Barrymore. Don't know about the scandal you are referring to.

  8. Was Mary's life ever anything but tumultuous?

    People have set ideas about certain actors/actresses. My husband feels the same way about Mary that your mom does. When she comes for a visit, she can dish with my guy then watch Charlie Chan with me.

    1. CW,
      You gave me a much needed laugh. My dad feels that way about Bette Davis! lol He just can't even watch one second of her on his TV.

      Honestly, I had no idea that my mother felt that strongly about Mary Astor. It was hilarious when she went on this 2 minute rant about her. Some actors just have that effect on us. I know it's shameful to admit it but I'm not fond of Lucille Ball or Charles Grodin, at all! Lucy gets on my nerves something awful.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read Part Two. I promise to get Part Three up soon.
      I hope that you and the family are having a wonderful Memorial weekend.

  9. I'm very sympathetic to Mary, not only because now I'm aware of how troubled her life was, but also because she was a good actress. You are making a wonderful work covering her bio!
    I recently bought Mary Astor's novel, The image of Kate, and I'll start to read it soon.