Nonfiction on Mary Astor’s Custody Trial and Taking a Vertical View | Xpress Reviews

Week ending November 4, 2016

Egan, Joseph. The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s. Diversion. Nov. 2016. 356p. photos. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781682302996. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781682302989. FILM
Exciting Perry Mason moments roll in and pile high in video editor Egan’s book, which centers on the 1936 custody battle for the daughter of actress Mary Astor and her doctor husband Franklyn Thorpe. Astor splits her time: testifying on the witness stand and shooting Dodsworth on a Hollywood soundstage. The trial is sensationalized in tabloids and the national press. Over the proceedings hangs the possibility that Astor’s concealed character-assassinating diaries will be admitted, revealing her widely rumored strong erotic inclinations and multiple liaisons, tarnishing her maternal image and destroying famous Hollywood and New York celebrities and moguls. The book’s title derives from a reporter judging from a distance the page color of a lawyer’s notes, presumably materials from those passionate diaries, and using the inaccurate description in a headline that went “viral.” The trial story includes a strong, smart Astor; her troubled, nervous ex-spouse; their intense, hardworking lawyers; and a kindly judge. Posttrial chapters take us deeper into Astor’s life. Her own My Story and A Life on Film may well tempt the curious reader to investigate further.
Verdict A nice addition for film history, retro style, and courtroom drama buffs.—Ann Fey, SUNY Rockland Community Coll., Suffern

Graham, Stephen. Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers. Verso. Oct. 2016. 416p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781781687932. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781689967. ARCH
vertical110416Graham’s (Sch. of Architecture, Planning, & Landscape, Newcastle Univ.; Cities Under Siege) exciting, journalistic study represents illustrative and narrative cross sections of his global research into urbanism, sociology, and telecommunications over the last 25 years. He looks at satellites, bombers, drones, helicopters, elevators, skyscrapers, housing, favelas, sewers, bunkers, mines, and basements—from below ground to high in the air. Graham pounds incessantly against the growing global governmental militarization of urban life by way of all necessary engineering and construction requirements of evolving populations and the ensuing infrastructural “supervision” that is required for public mental and emotional assurance and insurance. As surveillance levels expand, with the intent to make citizens safer and more sound, the result is instead an invasion of privacy and a legal conundrum. Although Graham loves bird-watching on his hikes and bike rides throughout the English countryside, he doesn’t advocate for federal governments to record our every action in every space all the time. He is an apodictic apostle of his famous countryman George Orwell, understanding warfare as part of the burdensome border of urban life itself.
Verdict Enthusiastically recommended to all public libraries.—Peter S. Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.