While at the public library book sale today, Java ran across a well preserved copy of Mary Astor’s last novel A Place Called Saturday, which was published in 1968. The inside dust jacket assures the reader that, yes, this is Mary Astor the movie star, but “Miss Astor now devotes all of her time to writing novels. So do not write her any more fan letters asking what it was like working with Bogie in The Maltese Falcon or whether Judy Garland was really hard to handle on the set of Meet Me in St Louis, because that was a whole lifetime ago.”
Or something like that.
In her 2nd memoir, A Life In Film, Astor makes note of an old joke about the five stages of an actor‘s career:
1. Who is Mary Astor?
2. Get me Mary Astor.
3. Get me a Mary Astor type
4. Get me a younger Mary Astor
5. Who is Mary Astor?
A pro with both silent and sound movie credits and starting off as a teen with a variety of parts, by her 30s, Astor was continually offered the same supporting mother role from film to film, which the actress found depressing.With her declining stature in show business certain, Astor began novel-writing as catharsis. The star eventually published five novels and two memoirs before her death in 1987.
Java did not buy the Astor novel, but she did purchase a book that was a couple of shelves down, one that has been on this film fan’s wish list for months: Rosalind Russell's out of print autobiography, Life Is a Banquet (coauthored by Chris Chase).
From all accounts and reviews, Russell's autobio is filled with as much ebullience as the star herself exudes on the screen. The title is taken from a famous quote from her Tony-award winning role in Auntie Mame, the aunt who teaches her orphaned nephew to grab life by the horns. It always seems as if there is a lot of Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, especially when one compares her film performance of the role with Lucille Ball's astonishingly depressing version of the same role in the musical Mame.
One review of Banquet notes that Russell's long, successful career is in part due to her unconventional face, which forced her to concentrate more on acting and comedy than on her looks. An actor whose career trades mostly on her beauty tends not to have a long shelf life in that capacity. As film stars age, they are often given supporting roles, character parts (like Mary Astor), which are usually not as fleshed out as the leads. Ms. Russell's roles, however, seem to have the best of both worlds - the complexity given to lead characters with the fun and familiar quality of a character actor.
It was fun to find a book each from Mary Astor and Rosalind Russell and discover how each one responded to life.