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Robert Osborne - March 2014
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Mary Astor

Talk about your Indestructibles! Few actors, male or female, in Hollywood's colorful past or complicated present, have had as teeter-totter a life as the one lived by our Star of the Month for March, the divine Mary Astor (1906-1987). Even fewer have had the acting chops mixed with beauty that Mary had, or the survival instincts combined with bizarre career swings that constantly dotted her Hollywood years. Once involved in the nastiest Hollywood divorce battle in the 1930s (the kind of scandal which once swiftly obliterated a career), soon after she was happily holding an Academy Award® she'd just won.

Something else about Mary: you never knew where or how she'd turn up in a movie, maybe as a hooker, perhaps a Madonna. In 1941, she was an unforgettable femme fatale in a Bogart film noir classic; in 1942, she played a daffy Palm Beach socialite in a screwball comedy directed by Preston Sturges; two years later she began portraying the nurturing mama to a whole contingent of MGM ladies and gents including Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Kathryn Grayson and Ricardo Montalban.

But one thing you could always count on with Mary Astor: in whatever guise she showed up, her acting was as beautiful as her exceptional face. That's something the Quincy, Illinois native proved for years.

She began in silent films at age 14 and didn't quit until 43 years later (her last film: 1964's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte), although she once said she almost threw in the towel during the making of the 1949 version of Little Women because, in her words, the giggling, chattering and nonstop noise made by the quartet of young girls playing her daughters that time (Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Margaret O'Brien, Janet Leigh) "almost drove me up the wall and into the loony bin."

Happily for us, she kept toiling 15 more years then retired from acting to receive great acclaim as a writer (1959's Mary Astor: My Story, 1971's A Life on Film) giving details of her four marriages and three divorces; the famous secret diary in which she ranked the performances of her various lovers, all of which was leaked to the press by a soon-to-be-exhusband; the death in a plane crash of her first hubby; a later suicide attempt and a long battle with alcohol. Quite a past Ms. Astor had, along with many famous leading men including John Barrymore (on screen and off ) all the way to Clint Eastwood on TV's Rawhide in 1961.

Every Wednesday in March, I'll be filling you in on the fascinating but complicated life of Mary Astor as we bring you 48 of her films, a glorious mix, with several "must sees" among them, notably 1936's Dodsworth on March 5, a rich example of Mary's remarkable beauty and talent as an actress; The Great Lie (1941), also on March 5, for which she won the Oscar® as 1941's Best Supporting Actress, more than holding her own with Bette Davis; The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Across the Pacific (1942), both on March 12, her two magnificent excursions with Bogie, both directed by John Huston. That's just for starters. You'll definitely be in good hands all month with the awesome Astor center stage.

by Robert Osborne