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Mary Astor Divorce Trial: 1936

"he'd Shake Her So Hard Her Teeth Rattled", The Diary Written In Purple, Playwright Flees In A Laundry Basket

Plaintiff: Mary Astor
Defendant: Franklyn Thorpe
Plaintiff Claims: Custody of child, annulment of marriage, and abrogation of property settlement in earlier divorce
Chief Defense Lawyers: Joseph Anderson and Michael Narlian
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Joseph F. Rank and Roland Rich Woolley
Judge: Goodwin J. Knight
Place: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trial: July 29-August 14, 1936
Verdict: Decree granted for plaintiff

SIGNIFICANCE: The Mary Astor case is a classic Hollywood divorce case. It entertained newspaper readers for weeks with charges, countercharges, and denials, and offered wondrous titillation and breathtaking insight into the daring illicit romances of people in show business. The case reads like the scenario of a life-in-Hollywood movie.

In 1936, actress Mary Astor was at the height of a Hollywood career that had begun in 1922 and had seen her move successfully through dozens of silent films in the 20s and into the "talkies." Her 74th film, the screen adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel Dodsworth, was in production, with Mary playing the "other woman." Over the years, she had appeared on-screen with such fabled names as George Arliss, Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, William Powell, Jean Harlow, Gilbert Rowland, Dorothy Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson, Richard Dix, Frederic March, Clark Gable, and Paul Muni, in such classics as The Man Who Played God, Don Q, Son of Zorro, Don Juan, The Lost Squadron, and Red Dust.

Astor's first husband, director Kenneth Hawks, was killed in 1930 when his camera plane collided with another. In 1931, she married her doctor, Franklyn Thorpe. He sued her for divorce in April 1935, charging mental cruelty and incompatibility. Under the divorce settlement, he gained custody of their 3-year-old, Marilyn, and some $60,000 in negotiable properties and real estate. Astor could visit the child at will and have her for six months of the year if she wished.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940