• The Purple Diaries

  • Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s
  • By: Joseph Egan
  • Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
  • Length: 8 hrs and 45 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (477 ratings)

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The Purple Diaries

By: Joseph Egan
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
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Publisher's Summary

1936 was a great year for the movie industry - the financial setbacks of the Great Depression were subsiding, so theater attendance was up. Americans everywhere were watching the stars, and few stars shined as brightly as one of America's most enduring screen favorites, Mary Astor.

But Astor's personal story wasn't a happy one. Born poor and widowed at 24, Mary Astor had spent years looking for stability when she met and wed Dr. Franklyn Thorpe.

The marriage had been rocky from the start and both were unfaithful, but they did not divorce before Mary Astor gave birth to little Marylyn Thorpe.

What followed was a custody battle that pushed the Spanish Civil War and Hitler's 1936 Olympics off the front page all over America. Although Astor and Thorpe were both ruthless fighters, Thorpe held a trump card: the two diaries Mary Astor had been keeping for years. In these diaries, Astor detailed her own affairs as well as the myriad dalliances of some of Hollywood's biggest names. The studio heads, longtime controllers of public perception, were desperate to keep such juicy details from leaking. At risk from the information in those diaries was an entire fledgling industry. With the support of the Astor family, including unlimited access to the photographs and memorabilia of Mary Astor's estate, Joseph Egan presents a portrait of a great film actress in her most challenging role - a determined mother battling for her daughter, regardless of the harm that her affairs and her most intimate secrets could do to her career, the careers of her friends, or even Hollywood itself.

©2016 Joseph Egan (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about The Purple Diaries

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Impossible not to like for old movie buffs

I knew I was going to love this book the moment the author started talking about John Barrymore. At the core of the book it's really just about a child custody case and how it plays out in a courtroom between two loving parents who want custody at any cost, but it's the tertiary stories that pop up in the telling that add so much depth to the court room events.

The only subject I consider myself a real expert at is old movies. I just love learning that Fritz Lang the German Expressionist director who had not yet made an American movie is sitting behind Mary Astor in court proceedings over multiple days in order to provide support and observe the American justice system. If you know Fritz Lang movies, you will instantly realize how appropriate that is. Fritz Lang had not made his first American movie, "Fury", but as with that movie and everyone of his other movies the theme will involve justice and how it can get confounded with vengeance or revenge, an appropriate theme for the principals within the court case going on. Mary Astor's husband, Franklin Thorpe, is friends with Clark Gable. That implies loads of things about Franklin such as he will love hunting and so on.

A couple of things, to me some of the best prose in the book is when the author was obviously quoting from Mary Astor's autobiography written in 1959 (oh how I wish Audible would make that book available, but I live in a fantasy world but I can always hope!) or when they were quoting from Mary Astor's diaries. That woman was an intellectual of the first rank and it shows. The book also gives the listener an interesting peek into human psychology by offering perceptive psychoanalytical perspectives when needed.

It's pretty much impossible for me not to like a book that brings to life all the characters who I still love today such as Groucho Marx, Sylvia Sydney (the star of "Fury"), Frederich March and his wife, John Barrymore and various other and at times bit players from the 1930s both on screen and off screen.

24 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Courtroom Drama

Enjoyed this book very much. To add to your enjoyment suggest you read Woody Allen's review in The NY Times. Tho the story involves Mary Astor's life, the meat of the story is how important the diaries were in her child custody case and the uproar they caused in Hollywood's Golden era. Book is well written with asides on various celebrities of the mid-1930's. If you are looking for a gossipy tell all, you may be somewhat disappointed, but as a fine human interest story and picture of that era you will be entertained. The courtroom aspect is intriguing and well told and is the center of the story.

Bernadette Dunn does a fine job narrating and really helps draw the listener in.

Good job, nicely written and researched.

24 people found this helpful

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very well read and seemingly well researched but .

What made the experience of listening to The Purple Diaries the most enjoyable?

Fascinating re-hash of a true Hollywood scandel . But why no mention of two of Mary Astor most enjoyable films Midnight with John Barrymore in one of his finest late performances.... he had been very important to Mary in the 1920s and Preston Sturges The Palm Beach Story , two wildly funny gems .

8 people found this helpful

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Note to self: don't keep a diary

Well you shouldn't keep a diary you wouldn't want read or published if there's anything you don't want others to read. I feel bad for her daughter, being tusseled over in this way. Didn't care for the narrator frequently becoming monotone like a robot. Overall though I enjoyed the book.

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

This is a very well-written book about actress Mary Astor's front-page sensational legal battle with her physician husband in 1936. At the heart was the custody of their only child, and Astor's diary which her husband stole from her in the hope of using it against her. It is a fascinating tale of Hollywood royalty put on display in the courtroom and the papers as each parent fought frantically for custody. The performance is also quite excellent.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Gripping court room drama

The book relates Mary Astor's life but focuses on her custody battle for her daughter. The lead up and the trial itself are a gripping read. Highly recommended.

5 people found this helpful

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Great entertaining story

The author paints Mary Astor as a saint with no faults. All men in her life are vilified and blamed for the things that went wrong in her life. This does not distract from the story but adds an almost comical flavor. I very much enjoyed the history of Hollywood in its early years.

4 people found this helpful

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Loved this Story!

Such a strong woman, and the author did justice in portraying her accurately as she struggled through several personal challenges throughout her life.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Great fror fans of Old Hollywood

Where does The Purple Diaries rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I would place this book in the top third of all of the books I have listened to.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Purple Diaries?

Listen to lawyers fight was amusing. The sounded like 2 blowhards in the audio version. I bet they must have been quite a spectacle at the time of the trial.

Which scene was your favorite?

Not really a scene, rather just the final chapters. the author does a really nice job of answering the reader's logic question, "...and then what happened?"

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I had a strong reaction to Dr. Thorpe and Mary Astor. They both came across as childish and somewhat unlikable.

Any additional comments?

This author does a very good job of wrapping up loose ends and letting the reader know what happened to everyone mentioned in the book long after the trial ended.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Emotionless audio of a boring book

The book itself was poorly written. Way too much detail about completely inconsequential points (just one example: the word “Overruled” was way OVERUSED...)and not enough detail about the person herself. Too much conjecture about her, without basis of fact. The reader’s borderline monotone sounded quite like a computer was reading the book. No emotion, no change of tone or voice-definitely a poor choice for any audio job.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Cathy D
  • 09-20-21

Mary Astor and Her Purple Diaries

Mary Astor and Her Purple Diaries.

When I was a teenager I remember reading Mary Astor's autobiography. I randomly picked it up in a library, not expecting much and quickly realised she had quite a story to tell. The Purple Diaies lifts the lid on double standards in marriage and how Mary Astor's racy private memoirs were leveraged as blackmail by her husband who wanted to control and punish Mary and take custody of their daughter Marilyn.

There is alot of psychological insight in the writing and I was intrigued to hear the details of the long court case and how eventually, justice prevailed. If you are interested in early films and how the justice system worked in 1930s America, you will enjoy this fascinating listen.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Suzanne
  • 09-30-21

Wonderful easy going read

I really enjoyed this book, it was very interesting and gave insight into old Hollywood, perfect easy listen

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Honest reader
  • 06-24-22

Carefully told tale of its times.

This is not Mary Astors full life story but the story of the scandal that engulfed her in the mid 30s.
That said, there’s enough here to fully contextualise the scandal and to enable the listener to feel close to Astor.
The reiteration of the court case itself seems faithful and well researched although the editorialising in Astors favour sometimes seems a little obvious.
So many court cases (including this one) are not in themselves about the aspects of the case which grip the world at large, and I thought the writer did a good job balancing these two realities.
Astor was a talented woman who sustained a career across decades in a way which only a handful of others (and maybe none who were as big as she was in silent movies) ever did.
Her talent is evident in many films where she provides wonderful support, although her starring roles in silent films are almost never seen.
All child custody cases are by definition Tawdry. Family disputes that become public being the essence of the word. But this tale is worth telling as it speaks to the place of women and mothers and fathers in society, their rights, roles, and obligations at a particular time. 90 years on, it’s history.
The law, culture, individual human behaviour, all submitted to the microscope supposedly in service of the welfare of a child.
Astors own close is clear, and measured, even in the midst of drama and under incredible provocation. I wonder if people today will understand her, let alone empathise. We’re in a world where freely expressing all emotion, no matter the impact on see or others is considers a right. Restraint in emotional soul baring is often seen as a failing (indeed the end of the podcast speaks very clearly to this current shibboleth). But I heard Astors voice and it spoke to me of her intelligence and innate morality.
The reader has a wonderful voice and enunciates perfectly. Reminds me of the best English actresses of previous generations. Mellifluous, but earthy.
It’s social history not celebrity bio. And a fascinating insight into how a court case develops. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  • MRS K MACRAE
  • 06-11-22

A dreadful listen

Repetitive and dull - not enjoyable at all - I had thought that this might be interesting however I would not recommend this to anyone with either an interest in early cinema or the stars of early cinema. Basically a sordid divorce and custody trial of morally bankrupt characters.

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  • Jamickle
  • 05-25-22

interesting

Had heard of the actress Mary Astor mainly due to the movie The Maltese Falcon. Had also heard that she was " a bit of a girl ". Having listened to this book and the era in which it was set it informs of the double standards in place back in the 30's. would recommend.

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  • Linda T
  • 12-19-21

Good

Really enjoyed listening to this book. I’ve never heard of this story before. Would recommend

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • NH Stevens
  • 12-18-21

Incessant bed-hopping during Hollywood's Golden Era

Mary Astor was a minor star in the Talkies and beyond, but really hit the big-time in the early 1930's when she sought custody of her 4-year old daughter from her doctor husband Frankyn Thorpe. The book is mostly a word-for-transcript of the custody hearings.
As both Mary Astor and her husband seem to spend most of their lives jumping in and out of bed with dozens of people, some quite well-known, the story comes to life when it is revealed that Mary Astor wrote her diaries every night detailing her escapades. So inevitably both she and her husband spent their time at the trial describing how promiscuous the other spouse was and hence unfit to have custody. It was quite hard to find a sympathetic character in this book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nikola D.
  • 09-06-21

brilliant story but robotically narrated

the story was really brought to life with clever writing of a complicated story with many players integral to it all.
unfortunately, the narration was very robotic and I had to remind myself it wasn't a computer generated voice. it is clear and well read but the tone is annoying sometimes which detracts from the story.