The Siren gets a steady trickle of emails from readers who are a little intimidated by what the Mighty James Wolcott called the "cocktail-party bonhomie" of her comments section. And this week one well-loved reader sent along some beautiful, rare photos of Mary Astor, which were duly forwarded to daughter Marylyn Roh.
You see one such above, carefully cleaned up to eliminate a crease. The Siren has never seen it before, and she and Marylyn were mesmerized by the same thing. "Those shoes--do you bet they're red?" asked Marylyn. Yes, I bet they were.
Marylyn has been avidly reading the comments to her interview, but has given up on navigating Blogger's fussy demands about how to log in and respond. (Glenn Kenny has the same problem, and don't even get the Siren started on Mubi, a brilliant site with a comments-registration system that has been merrily blackballing her almost since its inception.) Marylyn emailed some responses, and the Siren posts them here.
I'm bowled over by the responses! Bless all their darling hearts.
The last post I read was from Krystin who is my niece--not my granddaughter as she said. Her dad is my "baby brother." She's another beauty in the family. My brother, Tony del Campo, is the son of Manuel (Mike) del Campo.
For Falcon fans--so many out there! Thank you for your generous remarks and appreciation. I wonder if you know that The Maltese Falcon was used at UCLA California to teach drama, cinematic photography, and related subjects for several years. It was an archetype of detective movies. When Ted Turner managed to ruin the dramatic B&W movies, with fake colorization, Mom's hair turned straw-colored, lipstick was pasty, and the clothes were boring because they were chosen for black & white. All the mystery of the film was squelched to the max.
I can't begin to thank you all for writing. I've never done blogging before! I did want to correct the following: On the web, there are references to me, Marylyn, as named MARYLYN ASTOR THORPE, born June 16, 1932. The extra Y in MarYlyn isn't a typo. It's from MARY, and FrankLYN Thorpe my Dad. My middle name is Hauoli, meaning "happy" in Hawaiian. My parents went on a yacht race from San Pedro, Calif., to Hawaii when Mom was 6 1/2 months pregnant. They came upon heavy weather. They landed OK, but I was born two months early at 4 pounds 11 oz. You can look in the newspaper morgues for dozens of pictures of this event, and also look for the "Purple Diary" news and the custody battle of my parents. I doubt if the REAL truth will ever come out about these things.
For David Ehrenstein, about Fayard Nicholas: :o) When I was little, I went to see Fayard and his brother in every movie they were in; the most brilliant tap dancers on the planet, ever. I was visiting Mom at the MPCH and Fayard, who was living there at the time, came to visit her. I nearly fainted. Mom had never seen me so badly starstruck. We had a great conversation together. He's adorable!
I am reading Larry Harnisch's newspaper article on the custody battle with that picture I've never seen. I also have a picture of 'little Marylyn' sitting on the lap of Goodwin Knight, who because he won the case for Mom, became California's governor in those years.
And, in response to another photo sent by the same reader, Marylyn says:
Your friend has the best of the best of young Mary. Note the early pathos in her bearing. The eyes kill ya, don't they? Little did she know then what she was going to go through in her life.
Now the Siren seizes the chance to post another picture from her email pal and to quote two passages, about the great John Barrymore, from Astor's A Life on Film. Truly, if you have any interest in the nuts and bolts of being an actor in the studio era, the Siren can't recommend this book highly enough. Robert Avrech and Marylyn both cite the chapter about filming a love scene with Clark Gable as their favorite, and certainly no actress ever did a better job of explaining the decidedly anti-erotic nature of shooting a kiss. This next passage, however, is the Siren's favorite, chiefly for the way it gives the lie to the notion that the actors in classic films were all instinct and calculation and no technique.
I remember we were sitting at lunch and I said, 'May I have some more butter, please.' [Barrymore] used it. He said, 'Before any scene--go over how long you've known him--or her. You even say "Pass the butter" differently, according to how you feel. Right now you're bored--I can hear it. There's always something under what you are saying--caused by a million things. How does it make you feel? Suppose, for instance, the guy says--maybe he's your husband--"I've quit my job." And your line is "Pass the butter, please." O.K., now don't giggle like an ass. Listen, there'd be a world of difference if you think, "Well screw him, I'll get somebody else to buy my sable coat." Or if you feel happy that the guy's finally got up nerve to do something that was your idea all along. Now let's try it. Let's improvise. I'll go out and come in and tell you I've quit my job and you invent something and let me see you thinking.'
A few years ago I was working with Actors' Studio people in a TV show, trying to make sense of the nomenclature they used. I asked one of them, 'What do you mean by "subtext?"' He explained. My thoughts whisked back thirty years to 'Pass the butter.'
The Siren already referred briefly to Astor's last meeting with Barrymore, who was in the final stages of his alcoholism; they were doing a radio show together. God knows you can read endless anecdotes about the drinking habits of the great stars, and some of the stories are amusing. And even in our Celebrity Rehab age there's some glamor that clings to tales of dissipated nights at El Morocco. But the Siren finds, as she reads Lee Server's excellent, admiring Mitchum and Gardner biographies, or encounters yet another hell-raising tale of Errol Flynn, that the reality was far less rollicking.
This week, by coincidence, the gossip outlets were rocking with laughter over Lindsay Lohan's travails. In between the bad jokes you could hear people tongue-clucking over Lohan's lack of character. Such beauty, such talent and privilege, recklessly thrown away--as though this is somehow worse than an ordinary person tossing life's small gifts over the hedge. The Siren encapsulated her double reaction in an email to a dear friend: "Basically, I a. do not find drunk jokes funny in general and b. really bleeping viscerally hate a mob of people in high moral dudgeon over someone's personal failings."
If that seems like a strange and contradictory response to a modern actress whose filmography could be kindly described as "inconsistent," the Siren thinks Mary Astor, with her extraordinary talent and troubles, might have understood.
A long bleak fluorescent lighted hall: There was no one else around. I saw him walking alone down the hall ahead of me. I wanted to catch up and say hello, but I didn't. He had stopped, like someone who just couldn't walk another step; he leaned against the wall in sheer fatigue. His body sagged. It was no time to intrude, so I retraced my steps. I couldn't help thinking: Where was everybody? Where were the valets, the little train of admiring hangers-on?...I hated all the Barrymore jokes--the sick ones, the dirty ones. I hated the people who said, "I was with Jack at a bar one night," ready to recount a wild story. This was a giant of a man, one of the few greats of our time. He was someone with enormous dignity, and he never lost it. He occasionally threw it away--for his own reasons. But that was his business. And now, in that long bleak hall, I saw a man who was catching his breath before doing battle, and quite a battle it was, with death.