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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Mary Astor Mystery Photo

Nov. 16, 2010, Mystery Photo mary_astor_1959_0121_crop

At left, the publicity still from “Return to Peyton Place.” At right, Mary Astor in a 1959 photo.

Nov. 16, 2010, Mystery Photo Mary Astor, 1961

At left, the publicity still from “Return to Peyton Place.” At right, a photo of Mary Astor from 1961.

Oh, Harnisch, why don’t you let go of this and move on to something fun? Because this is fun. At least my idea of fun. I went down into the archives last night and rooted around in the Mary Astor photos. Most of them are from “The Maltese Falcon” era with a smattering of pictures from the silents but I found a few from the late 1950s and early 1960s, though nothing from “Return to Peyton Place.”

To be frank, I have a hard time convincing myself these are the same lady.

The good news is that I found another page of her diary. She met George Kaufman and "I fell like a ton of bricks as only I can fall," she says.

  Mary Astor's Diary 1934  

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Comments (10)

Nice to see the new diary page. After comparing all the above photos, I say it is her. In the bottom two photos, the hair line, part, chin, eyebrows, and nose match. In the above photos, the lips match. She is dressed and made up so severely that she looks harsh, but it's her. It's sometimes sad and sometimes perplexing to look at photos of artists when they're much older, and finally realize it's the same person.

I appreciate your doggedly pursuing this. I'm the same way. My guess is that it almost surely is her. She aged very poorly, and as she was born in 1906, she was only 53 and 55 in these photos. The makeup department went heavy on the eyebrows, which does disguise her appearance, but her straight, slash-mouth, half-hooded eyes and widow's peak are the giveaways, for me. If you advance just 3 years more, to her final film appearance, in "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte," she looks older than Stonehenge...and isn't even 60 yet. The years can be brutal, especially to the once-beautiful. (pic below)

Surprised that George S. would have had any time left for love making with Mary Astor (or anyone else) after washing his hands a reputed fifty times a day. Or so I've read.

Very intriguing. What's her diary doing in the Times' warehouse? Did she lose it there during a dalliance with a Times employee "as only she could" dally?

She was supposedly really something. Never met a man she didn't lose a ton of bricks for.

Look closely at the oldest 1961 photo, it's the one that says she's the 1934 Mary + 27.

What's the confusion all about? Clearly all these women are same person--Mary Astor. If the photos on the left are indeed from Return From Peyton Place (which was released in early 1961--and which is pretty much how she looked in film), how are they that much different from the last photo, also dated 1961 (but which looks like it might be still from her penultimate film Youngblood Hawke, 1964)? Makeup, lighting and retouching can cover a multitude of crow's feet and eye bags. Time marches on.

Hey....on a side note....this December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the death of Thelma Todd. I was hoping that you could run a story on it as the date approaches using materials and photos from the Times archives.

Everything matches [hairline, ears, eyebrows, nose, mouth] except the eyes. PS George Kaufman reportedly kept Mary Astor VERY busy on the train.

I have mild prosopagnosia and 2 pictures of the same person rarely look alike to me unless I've looked at dozens, maybe hundreds, of photos of said person. So I try to look for landmarks.

In the 2 last photos, I see eyebrows that are the same shape, only penciled heavier in the movie photo. The widow's peak of the hair is the same, as is the hair at the temples. The nose has the same sort of bulbous shape at the end, and the line from the nose to the corner of the lips is the same. The bottom lip is the same shape and fullness.

I don't think they look like the same person at all, but if I encountered these photos in the wild and was told they were both Mary Astor, I would see those landmark similarities and decide they were the same person.

The issue, I think, are the folds of the eyelids. They are raised and smoothed in the left pic, when we usually see Mary Astor with her eyelids relaxed like in the right. That's what throws me off, anyway.

I don't understand the question . . . how does this not look like Mary Astor?

To me, of course it does. There's really no question. Obviously she aged terribly because she didn't take very good care of herself, but she did live quite some time (eighty-one years?) despite that fact . . . I'd cringe to see a picture of her at eighty-one . . . I doubt she would be recognizable. But I think she looks like herself in these photos.

I met Mary Astor in January 1983 at the Motion Picture Home. She looked good for her age... identical to the photo of her riding her bike which was published a couple of years before in Life Magazine. She said "hello" to me and seemed like a pretty nice person.


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