Legendary actress, Mary Astor, was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke on May 3, 1906 in Quincy, IL. Astor died at the age of 81 on Sep 25, 1987 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles and was laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA.
Mary Astor was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke on May 3, 1906 in Quincy, Illinois. She was the only daughter of Otto Langhanke and Helen de Vasconcellos. Her father emigrated from Berlin and taught German at the local high school. Her mother had dreams of stardom but gave them up once Astor was born. She would go on to make a living as drama and elocution teacher. Young Astor's childhood was a lonely one, as she had no siblings and was home schooled during her most formative years. Her parents held exceedingly high expectations for their child, forcing their child to play piano every day for hours at end. Always an attractive young lady, in 1919 Astor sent a picture of herself to Motion Picture Magazine for a beauty contests. She was a semi-finalist. Her family then relocated to Chicago. Aware of their daughters striking beauty, Astor's parents transposing their lost dreams of stardom on to her. After Astor came became the runner-up in yet another Motion Picture Magazine, the family once again packed their bags and headed east to New York to break into the acting world. It would not take very long in the big apple for Astor to get noticed.
Upon arriving in New York Astor was noticed by photographer Charles Albin. He was immediately struck by her beauty and asked the young girl to pose for him. Soon after those photos ended up in the hands of a Paramount Pictures employee and Astor was signed to a six-month contract. In 1920, Astor made her first screen appearance as an uncredited bit part in The Scarecrow. She was just 14 years old. The next she would receive her first credit role as Marcia Hawthorne in Brother Bear. Although she worked on the 1921 film Sentimental Tommy, her scenes were cut and soon after her contract with Paramount expired. Although let go from Paramount, Astor remained busy, acting in independent shorts films such as The Beggars Maid, The Young Painter, and Wings of the Boarder. In 1922 she appeared in her first feature film, John Smith. The Next year Astor and her parent moved west, in hopes of better opportunity.
Upon arriving in Hollywood, Astor continued appearing in independent features, slowly making a name for herself in films like Second Fiddle, which brought the actress much acclaim. She followed that up with hits such as Success, and Puritan Passions. Soon after, Paramount once again approached the young actress and signed to another contract, this time for one year at $500 a week. She next appeared in the William C. de Mille romance The Marriage Maker. In 1924 John Barrymore took notice of young actress and took measures to get the girl cast in his next film Beau Brummel. Paramount agreed lend Astor to Warner Brothers for the film and Astor was cast. Once filming began, it became apparent the leads actors' chemistry on screen was continued off and the two began a torrid romance. The combination of Astor's not quite legal age of 17 and her domineering parents made the relationship a difficult one as Mary for originally forbidden to be alone with "the great profile." It was only when Barrymore began acting as Mary's acting coach that the two were allowed any privacy. The romance, however, was not to last as Astor could not escape the suffocating authority of her parents. Despite the backstage turmoil, the film itself was a hit and Astor began receiving more prestigious roles, much to the delight of her controlling and increasingly greedy parents. In 1925, Astor stared in six film, including Oh! Doctor, Enticements and Playing with Soul. Her most successful of that year was opposite Douglas Fairbanks in Don Q Son of Zorro. Mary also received a raise of over $2,000 dollars a week.
That same year Astor's parent bought large estate known as "Mooncrest." The money, of course, came from their daughter. And although they lived incredibly lavishly thanks to her hard work, Astor was given only a 5 dollar a week allowance and was basically kept prisoner inside the mansions gaudy walls. Finally, at the age of 19, had enough her parent's abusive behavior and ran away from home. She returned, however, after being promised more freedom and a personal savings of 500 dollars. However, it would take years before Astor could muster the strength to leave her parents and gain full control of her money, career, and life.
In 1925 Astor's contract with Paramount came to an end and soon she was signed to Warner Brother's Studio. Her first assignment would he opposite former liver, John Barrymore in Don Juan. The film caused a stir as it was the first to feature film to be accompanied by a synchronized vita phone soundtrack with sound effects and a musical track. The next Astor kept busy by appearing in six films including The Sea Tiger, The Sunset Derby, Two Arabian Knights, and Rough Riders. By this time, Astor had proven her worth as an actress and was now making $10,000 dollars a week. In 1928 Astor was loaned to Fox Corporation to star in two comedies. The was Irving Cummings, Dress to Kill. In the film Astor plays Jeanne, the girlfriend of a big time gangster some suspect maybe a groupie. The film was hit and critics were taken with Astor's comedic abilities after seeing her appear in many romantic dramas or tragedies. The second was the more sophisticated Dry Martini. Again, the picture was a hit and Astor's talent for comedy was becoming ever more apparent. She enjoyed the experience of shooting those films so much, Astor she signed a contract with Fox Corporation after her contract with Warner Brothers expired. That same year she also married director Kenneth Hawks, gaining some control over her life, however, her parents would control the vast amount of her money. She would not gain financial independence until years later.
After initially failing sound test, Astor began taking singing lessons and acting on the New York stage to improve her voice. The effort proved successful and in 1930 she returned to Hollywood to Hollywood to star in her first "talkies" Runaway Bride and Ladies Love Brutes. Also that year, Astor experienced great tragedy when her Husband died in plane crash a mere seven weeks after their second anniversary. Although she had continuing success with her career, the loss proved to be a great as Astor suffered multiple nervous breakdowns in 1931. In 1932 she starred in the romantics drama Red Dust, opposite Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The film was one of biggest hits of the year. She remained busy for the next few appearing five films in 1933 and six films 1934. One of those 1934 films was big screen adaptation of the George S. Kaufman novel, The Dark Tower called The Man with Two Faces. Little did Astor know at the time how much Kaufman would come to affect her life and reputation.
Scandal After the death of her first husband, Astor hastily remarried immediately to Franklyn Thorpe. It was a decision she would soon grow to regret and Astor began an affair with writer George S. Kaufmann. During their intense relationship, Astor kept a diary that was said to have imitated details of their love life. Astor and Thorpe divorced in 1935 and soon after fought for custody over their 4-year old daughter. Thorpe threatened the use of Astor's "Blue" diary, said to contain graphic details of Astor's multiple affairs. Although Astor admitted to some of the affairs, she stated much of what the Thorpe had said was forgery. Ultimately the diary was ruled in admissible in court due to evidence mutilation. It was ruled Astor retaining custody nine months of the year. Although the scandal made headlines, it had little effect on her career. In 1936 Astor starred opposite Walter Huston is the romance Dodsworth, The film was huge hit with Astor receiving great reviews and assured her commercial viability.
Astor remained a busy schedule in the late 1930's appearing on the stage, screen, and radio. In 1937 she received rave reviews in the production f Noel Coward's tonight at 8:30. Some of her most of notable films of that time era were John Ford's The Hurricane and 1940's Brigham Young.
In 1941 would turn out to be a spectacular year for Astor. She was cast opposite Humphrey Bogart as femme fatale Brigid O' Shaughnessy in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. The film was release to wonderful reviews and has since been held as the first of the film-noir genre that would emerge post WWII. That she also starred opposite Bette Davis and George Brent The Great Lie. In the film she plays selfish concert pianist, Sandra Kovak, who wishes to give up her child. For her efforts, she was a award the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She would have continued success throughout the 1940's In 1942 she starred reteamed with Humphrey Bogart in Across the Pacific and starred in the hit screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story. As the decade wore on, Astor steered her career towards becoming a contract player at MGM, preferring to stay away from the responsibility of star. In She appeared as the strong matrimony figure in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Two years later Astor appeared wealth widow in Walter Lang comedy Claudia and David opposite Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire. In 1949 she yet again played mother, this time of Liz Taylor and Janet Leigh in Little Women. It was her last film under MGM contract
During the early 1950's, Astor battle with alcoholism and addiction grew worse. She suffered three sleeping pill overdoses and was once again making headlines for her personal behaviors than her films. Soon after her third overdose, she entered Alcoholics Anonymous and found religion to help her recovery. After achieving sobriety, Astor returned to work, focusing most mostly on the medium of television in shows such as Producers Showcase, Studio 57 and Rawhide. In 1959, Astor released her incredibly frank autobiography My Story and detailing her family and marriage problem as well her struggle with addiction. In 1964 Astor appeared in her final film Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte. She would spent her later life writing and living comfortable retirement. Mary Astor died on September 25th 1987 of repository failure. She was 81 years old.
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Mary Astor was nominated for one Academy Award, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Great Lie (as Sandra Kovak) in 1941.
|1941||Best Supporting Actress||The Great Lie (1941)||Sandra Kovak||Won|
She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.
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Alberta Marlow: Oh, no! I want a church wedding and a groom who's got more than two suits.
Sandra Kovac: "If I didn't think you meant so well, I'd feel like slapping your face"
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: I do know he always went heavily armed, and that he never went to sleep without covering the floor around his bed with crumpled newspapers, so that nobody could come silently into his room.
Sam Spade: You picked a nice sort of a playmate.
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: Only that sort could have helped me, if he'd been loyal.
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