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Mary Astor Divorce Trial: 1936

Playwright Flees In A Laundry Basket

Judge Goodwin J. Knight examined the diary. Several pages were missing. It was a "mutilated document," not admissible as evidence. Thorpe's attorneys got Judge Knight to issue a subpoena that would force Kaufman to testify in court on his relations with Mary Astor. Irving Thalberg, for whom Kaufman was working, put Kaufman aboard his yacht, sailed him off to Catalina Island, and said the playwright had "disappeared." The judge issued a bench warrant for Kaufman's arrest. Kaufman sneaked back, hid at Moss Hart's home, then was hauled in a large laundry basket aboard a laundry truck to the San Bernardino railroad station, where he boarded a train for New York. After staying in his berth the entire trip, he said, "That's the best way to travel."

Too late, the judge issued a search warrant for Hart's home. "The bench warrant will hang over Kaufman's head always," he declared. "If he can be cited, I'll sentence him to jail."

Thorpe admitted that, before marrying Mary Astor, he had lived in Florida with another woman as man and wife, and that he also had been married earlier.

The judge negotiated with the lawyers. He ordered the diary impounded. (Later, with Mary Astor's permission, it was incinerated.) The judge awarded custody of Marilyn to Mary Astor for nine months of each year—the child could visit Thorpe during summer vacations from school—and nulled the earlier property settlement.

The bench warrant for Kaufman's arrest continued, but six months later the playwright visited the judge and paid a $500 fine, and they shook hands.

Mary Astor's career soared. Before she retired and turned to writing successful novels, she had made 109 movies, including The Maltese Falcon, Thousands Cheer, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She died at 81 in 1987.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Astor, Mary. A Life on Film. New York: Delacorte Press, 1967.

My Story: An Autobiography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1959.

Meredith, Scott. George S. Kaufman and His Friends. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1974.

Teichmann, Howard. George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Mary Astor Divorce Trial: 1936 - "he'd Shake Her So Hard Her Teeth Rattled", The Diary Written In Purple, Playwright Flees In A Laundry Basket