IWOTA #5 Mary Astor

Actress and novelist Mary Astor was born on May 3rd, 1906.

I have no hesitation in calling her a gifted English language wordsmith and therefore an important Indigenous Woman Of The Anglosphere. (IWOTA)

At Astor’s first screen test, director Lillian Gish was so impressed by the teenager’s recitation of Shakespeare that Lillian shot 1,000 feet of footage.

In making the 1941 movie “The Great Lie”, Bette Davis insisted that a difficult to cast role be given to Astor because Davis liked to work with good actresses who would bring out the best in her. Astor understood this type of risk taking, as opposed to dull self-protective caution, later writing: “Our security must be threatened in order for us to appreciate it.”

In addition, Davis was sufficiently impressed by Astor’s mind that Davis got together with her to rewrite their dialogue. Davis told Astor that “it’s up to us to rewrite this piece of junk to make it more interesting.” Astor won the movie’s only award, the supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of pianist Sandra Kovak. In her acceptance speech, Astor thanked Bette Davis and Tchaikovsky. Astor and Davis met through that movie and remained good friends.

In the same year, in John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon”, Astor played opposite Humphrey Bogart as the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy. 

Words she wrote in 1971 may explain why she was so good at that role in the less “liberated” 1940’s : “Sex as something beautiful may soon disappear. Once it was a knife so finely honed the edge was invisible until it was touched and then it cut deep. Now it is so blunt that it merely bruises and leaves ugly marks.”

She also showed deep social and human insight in writing about nationhood and people: “A person without a memory is either a child or an amnesiac. A country without a memory is neither a child nor an amnesiac, but neither is it a country.”

Mary Astor, an actress revered by many who love film and a quality thinker way past her youth.

And a bona fide babe.

Geoff Fox, 3rd May, 2023, Down Under

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