Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke in Quincy, Illinois, Astor was signed to a Hollywood contract at the age of 14 after winning a beauty contest. She was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926. She achieved success playing opposite John Barrymore in Beau Brummell (1924) and Don Juan (1926), and her stature as a film star continued to grow steadily with the advent of "talking pictures".
By 1936, her career had begun to lose momentum until she became the subject of a widely publicised scandal. During divorce proceedings her estranged husband produced a diary Astor had kept, which detailed among other events, her affair with playwright George Kaufman. The sexually explicit diary was entered as evidence in court, and extracts were published in newspapers throughout the world. Determined to separate her private and professional lives, Astor refused to apologise and her career was renewed by the huge level of publicity.
She appeared in Dodsworth (1936) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and the success of both films, and the public's acceptance of Astor, assured the studios that she was still a viable commercial property.
At Bette Davis's suggestion she was cast in The Great Lie (also 1941), with Davis deliberately stepping back to allow Astor to shine in her key scenes. An Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress resulted, and for the rest of her life, Astor acknowledged Davis for her generosity.
These successes were not enough to propel Astor into the upper echelon of film stars, but she continued working throughout the 1940s in such films as The Palm Beach Story (1942), Across the Pacific (also 1942 and costarring Humphrey Bogart) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). By the end of the decade she was playing motherly roles such as Mrs March in Little Women (1949). By the 1950s her Hollywood career had faded considerably and she made few film appearances, but she found success in the theater and in television.
A heart condition had caused Astor ill health since the early 1950s, and by the mid 1960s her health had deteriorated to the point that she was forced to retire. She wrote several novels during this period, and in 1971 published a second memoir that chronicled her Hollywood career, and provided her with another best seller.
Mary Astor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her services to Motion Pictures, at 6701 Hollywood Boulevard.
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