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The secret love that shocked the world



Shapely brunette Mary Astor was the ideal girl of millions of men. Throughout the 1930s and 40s she played sexy seductresses in a string of hit Hollywood movies, breaking the hearts of idols like Clark Gable, Rudy Vallee and George Arliss. But off-screen, Mary Astor was madly in love with only one man ... and it wasn't her long-suffering husband, Dr Franklyn Thorpe. For nearly two years the man in Mary's life was celebrated playwright George S. Kaufman and during that time she poured out her passionate hopes and romantic adventures onto the pages of her Little Blue Book, a five-year diary that was to provide Hollywood with its most sensational scandal for years.

What made the scandal even more piquant was that the book disclosing his wife's secret love was discovered accidentally by Dr Thorpe when he was looking through a bedroom drawer trying to find the pair of cufflinks Mary had given him for his birthday... The girl born Lucille Langhank had been looking for the perfect romance ever since she left her small home town of Quincy, Illinois, at the age of 17 to find fame and fortune in Hollywood. Later she would write: "Hollywood poisoned me. I became sick, spoiled and selfish." The ravishingly beautiful girl caught the eye of movie rake John Barrymore who co-starred with her in Beau Brummell in 1924. They had a short affair but then he dropped her for Dolores Costello.

On the rebound Mary met and married Hollywood physician Dr Franklyn  Thorpe, but he was not the romantic figure she yearned for. "I made the best of it," she wrote. "We had a beautiful daughter and settled down in a nice house. But it was not the love story I had always dreamed of." That dream finally arrived in 1933 when, at a Hollywood pool-side party, Mary Astor was introduced to bespectacled Broadway playwright George S. Kaufman. The Little Blue Book,reported: "The moment I met him I fell like a ton of bricks. He held my hand and said he would like to kiss me." The next night Kaufman took Mary to see his hit show Of Thee I Sing and then on to a party. Mary wrote: "It was very hot so we got a cab and drove round the park. Then we borrowed a friend's apartment where we could be alone..."

From then on, the couple met virtually every day, usually when Dr Thorpe was at work. On one occasion when Mary told her husband she was on location for a film she was actually with her lover in a Palm Springs hotel. Later Mary told friends that in Kaufman she had found the perfect man and the perfect lover. She was now determined to marry him. "No woman could be happier and more fulfilled. George is absolutely wonderful..."

Then came the bombshell. Her husband found the diary. But it was he, not Mary, who was most upset. "He was terribly broken up and cried for several days," Mary recorded in a new diary — her husband had taken the old one."I told him I would not see George for a while but I was lying. George was now part of my life. I couldn't live without him." When Dr Thorpe found out that the affair was continuing, he pleaded, he threatened and finally, in 1935, he sued for divorce and demanded custody of their daughter Marilyn.  The Little Blue Book, his lawyers warned, would form the basis of the case, but Judge Wilbur Knight thought otherwise. On the first day he took one look at the diary and excluded it from the evidence. But that didn't prevent the doctor's lawyers leaking huge sections of the diary to the press. Negotiations were still going on with Hollywood newspapers to publish extracts and fees of $1 million were discussed.

But Mary Astor fought back. She had married the wrong man but had now found the right one. She was planning a new life with a new and loving husband. Her lawyer declared: "This child's place is with her mother who loves and adores her."

The court thought so, too — Mary got custody of Marilyn and ownership of the Beverly Hills mansion. But could she survive the scandal? Would Hollywood, at the time obsessed by the morals of its stars, allow her to work again? Against all the odds, it did — her next movies included such hits as Dodsworth, Little Women and The Maltese Falcon. Her private life was not so lucky. Shaken by the scandal, George Kaufman disappeared from Mary's life, his promises to marry her forgotten. On the rebound she married Spanish actor Manuel del Campo, a partnership that lasted less than three years.

As a distraught Mary picked up the pieces there remained the fate of the Little Blue Book, still the hottest literary property of the decade. Did it belong to Mary who wrote it, or her ex-husband who seized it? Finally a judge had to decide. And he declared it was pornography and ordered its destruction. "I'm not a sentimental man," declared the Hearst Newspapers executive who had led the bidding for the diary. "But I cried the day a million bucks finally went up the courtroom stove!"

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