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Hollywood Scandal Mary Astor Divorce

Updated on June 25, 2012

In 1936 a major scandal erupted in Hollywood. Divorce even in those days was somewhat common for Hollywood stars and was not necessarily a great scandal. But the Mary Astor divorce was something different, with allegations of adultery against Mary Astor.

Mary Astor, who was a popular actress at the time, was divorcing Dr. Franklyn Thorpe and they were fighting for custody of their daughter, Marilyn. Dr. Thorpe tried to introduce into evidence Astor’s diary, which covered the years from 1929 to 1934. This diary was dynamite with details of Astor’s love life, intimate details about her friends and all the gossip of Hollywood.

Details from the diary were regularly leaked to the press and both sides of the action were vying for press attention. The court case was held in the evening due to Astor’s filming schedule and the courtroom was packed with spectators and reporters. The judge did not allow the diary to be used in the court case but Dr. Thorpe’s lawyers regularly leaked tidbits to the press.


Mary Astor included salacious details in her diary and had a scorecard for best Hollywood lovers. Number 1 on her list was George and many details were given why he was the best. Astor denied she had written the more lurid passages and said her words were twisted, but the public didn’t care. Reporters became obsessed with figuring out the identity of the mystery lover.

Mary Astor at work


Press speculation centered around every George in Hollywood but the actual name was a surprise. Dr Thorpe’s lawyer revealed the name in a crowded courtroom. George S. Kaufman was married and a prominent Broadway director and playwright. He was no one’s idea of a great lover. Kaufman was an awkward, unattractive man who was a cynical extrovert. But Kaufman did appeal to women and according to the diary, “Once George lays down his glasses, he is quite a different man.”

Kaufman had met Astor when she was in New York in 1933 and they soon embarked on an affair, one of many for Kaufman. When she returned to Hollywood Kaufman followed to work on a new screen play and the affair continued into 1935. The affair ended when Dr. Thorpe discovered the diary and confronted Kaufman, who left Astor and returned to New York immediately.


The doctor soon initiated a divorce, which Astor did not contest, but she would not concede custody of their child. The fight between the 2 parents involved revelations of adultery by both parties. During the trial Mary’s lawyer introduced the diary into evidence. By this time pages had been torn from the diary and said any revelations were unreliable because it was difficult to determine what was authentic and what was added by others.

Eventually Kaufman was subpoenaed to testify, he was in Hollywood at the time and he fled to a friend’s yacht. Legend is that the Marx Brothers distracted the police so Kaufman could get away. Finally the judge reined in both sides and split custody between the 2 parents with Astor getting 9 months of the year. The scandal quickly died down with Kaufman getting a small fine for ignoring the subpoena. Mary Astor’s career was not hurt by the case, she was seen as a mother defending her child. Astor did not play sweet or innocent characters and so it did not ruin her reputation.


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