She was famous – on and off and on and off through the late 1920s through the early 1950s. Mary Astor was iconic in the early ‘30s, disappeared to Broadway then came back for one of the greatest roles of the decade – Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, opposite Humphrey Bogart. She won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1941 and was gone, at least as far as Hollywood was concerned, again.
In the mid-1930’s, Mary was famous (or infamous depending on which side you were on) for something different. The 1930s version of the Trial of the Century.
Here are the [very] basic facts: Mary married Dr. Franklyn Thorpe in June, 1931. They had a child, Marilyn, in June 1932. In late 1933, Mary, unhappy in the marriage and in her career, went to New York to work on the stage. She had an affair (torrid was the mildest word used in the tabloids of the day) with the playwright and Broadway director, George S. Kaufman, a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Mary, an excellent writer (she went on to write two bestselling memoirs and five novels), kept a well-written, detailed diary of her time in New York.
Mary went back to Hollywood in 1936. The moment she did, Thorpe obtained an uncontested divorce. Then he found the diary. Then he demanded custody. Then it went to trial. Then it got ugly.
The one thing to take from this in the age of litigation and the Internet is clear: you can hide a diary probably a lot better than Mary Astor, but you can’t hide your social media. Enough said, that’s not where we’re really going with this.
Dr. Thorpe claimed that Mary was an unfit mother because she had affairs. The fact she wrote about them probably made it worse. She had a tendency to write about her lovers and Thorpe came up short in comparison.
It didn’t look good for Mary – in civil court or in the court of public opinion. Without a great attorney, Mary’s prognosis was bleak.
Then she hired an attorney almost as famous as her, George Simon Kaufman. He had the diary thrown out as inadmissible. The fact that Thorpe shared it with a gossip columnist and together they added bogus entries and changed others most likely had a lot to do with that decision.
More importantly, Kaufman presented all the facts: Mary had the stage parents from hell. At 14, she was under contract for $500/wk. (that’s $7,000 in today’s dollars). Her parents controlled the money and imprisoned her in the mansion they bought with her money. She got out to perform. She was given a $5/week allowance but had no place to spend it. Her father was physically abusive and derided her performances while cashing the checks.
Mary escaped. She fled one night through a carelessly left-open third floor window. It was 1928 and she was earning $3750/wk. ($53,000/week). She married a director in 1929, but her parents still held her money. When she finally gained control of her finances in 1932 after a contentious law suit, there was so little money left she had to apply for aid from the Screen Actors Guild. Then her parents sued her for support.
Mary’s husband, Kenneth Hawks, was killed in a plane crash in 1930. It devastated Mary. A few years later, earning a huge salary again and working almost nonstop, she took a leave of absence from the studio. She signed into a ‘mental health’ hospital. By now you can probably guess who her doctor was. Thorpe.
No one will know if Thorpe ever loved Mary but there’s no doubt he loved her money. Weeks after the wedding he bought a yacht and opened a private practice.
This filled in the blanks in the custody case. It was enough for the judge, he awarded Mary full custody. Her career took off again. The diary disappeared during the trial. It became the Loch Ness monster of Hollywood, sightings were rare but hyped up in the papers., It was discovered in 1953 in a safety deposit box. By court order it was burned.
The important lesson from the Mary Astor custody case is that facts don’t mean anything until someone makes a narrative out of them. That someone is a good attorney.
 If she really did hide it. The more I read about this the more I’m convinced Mary meant to get caught – see below for why.
Johnny Depp was divorced in 2017. So, why are we writing about it now? Because the divorce, the circumstances, the accusations, and the findings are back in the news. Today.
Why? Because Johnny Depp is in court [again] to sue Amber Heard for defamation [again] in Virginia after losing, spectacularly, a very public, media saturated trial in London in 2020. Then the appeal in 2021.
A quick recap: Depp and Heard were divorced after Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse.
Heard got a $7 million settlement, but the accusations kept getting louder and louder. The Sun in London was particularly keen to publish every sordid detail, quoting Heard extensively.
In 2019, Depp sued The Sun and Heard for defamation. He lost the defamation suit. In its opinion the Court, in essence, confirmed he was an abuser. He appealed. That decision came down in May 2021. He lost. The appellate judge not only ruled against him, he called him an abuser in the opinion. It was a vicious opinion.
From the first trial through the coming weeks, everything – absolutely everything – about his marriage and personal life and his alleged abuse was and will be repeated over and over and over in court.
If anyone managed to miss the story and the allegations and the judgments the first few times around, they’ll certainly be up to speed in a couple of weeks.
Why? Because trials are public and the courtroom is a bullhorn. Sometimes, they’re televised.
Every time Depp goes to court, the world sits up and notices and are reminded of what he was accused of doing. Along with the earlier court decisions confirming it. After a court case the notoriety fades. It would be gone now if Depp had just let the London case go.
As an attorney covering the London trial said, “the trial had the effect of placing the damning allegation at the heart of the case — that Mr. Depp is a ‘wife beater’ — into a giant global megaphone. As a result of the trial, millions more people have been made aware of The Sun’s allegation than would have been the case if Mr. Depp had not sued.”
Now more will know: he’ll be in the news for weeks and none of it will be good.
Why are we writing about this? Because we recommend that clients try to work things out in mediation – nice and quiet and private.
A little mediation would have gone a long, long way for Johnny Depp.
Mediation is worth it. Mediation worked during the COVID lockdowns and it works just fine now.
The Blame Game is what they called divorce in England and Wales before today, April 6, 2022.
Today’s the day that no-fault divorce goes into effect.
Before 12:01 this morning (GMT) anyone in England or Wales who wanted to divorce in anything like a timely manner had to accuse their partner in a divorce petition “of desertion, adultery or unreasonable behaviour.”
The alternatives were (a) if both partners agreed to a divorce they had to spend two years apart, (b) if one spouse objected to the split, it was five years. It really wasn’t (and still isn’t) financially possible to wait two years, never mind five.
Couples had a decision to make if they wanted to divorce and move on with their lives: who would take the blame. Someone had to, or it was wait. Draining financially, emotionally, and it left the children in limbo.
Here’s something most of humankind shares – no one wants to take the blame for something they didn’t do. No one wants their great-great grandchildren finding out on Ancestry.com that grand grandpop “abandoned the family . . . or committed adultery . . . or engaged in unreasonable behavior.” Because that’s went on the record. Forever.
It’s unsurprising, then, that the need to assign blame added unwanted stress to an already emotional process. It made things messier. Nastier.
From Sky News: “Sarah Gregory and her ex-husband, who she said was her ‘best friend and soul mate’, went through the divorce system after 13 years of marriage. Ms. Gregory told Sky News that what should have been a straightforward divorce ended up being complicated by the old legislation.
“You were given five options and only one really was suitable for us which was the unreasonable behaviour and again it didn’t really suit our needs because we simply fell out of love. It made things worse, knowing that one of us was going to have unreasonable behaviour on our divorce certificate. It delayed the process because it brought up some mixed feelings between us.
“We didn’t have many bad things in our marriage so you’re almost trying to exaggerate some of the not so nasty things that happened between us. I guess it just kind of created some kind of animosity between us both.”
A prominent barrister told The Independent that the no-fault divorce “legalisation is great” and would have made her divorce proceedings a much quicker process. “You hear so many stories of people coming out of divorce being utterly bereft with huge mental health issues, that can lead to debts and it can lead to the further breakdown of relationships within the family – whether that’s extended family or whether it’s the relationship between a parent and a child.
“If you have a more amicable way of approaching divorce you avoid all of those problems.”
I love that last line. We, obviously, have no-fault divorce in Washington State. We also have ‘a more amicable of approaching divorce’ – mediation.
Talk to us about it. It’s worth it.
This may feel like piling on, writing about Kanye’s divorce and behavior. But it’s not. There’s a real lesson for anyone involved in any family law matter buried in all the Kanye news.
Kanye and Kim filed for divorce in what seems like years ago. The case is dragging, it is in court. Throughout the entire matter Kanye has been burning up social media. He’s gone after Kim and Pete Davidson and everyone else not firmly on his side.
That’s a problem.
It’s not 2010 anymore. Social Media and divorce are a bad combination.
In 2022, even the courts have caught on that there’s something going on on-line and on smart phones.
Social media accounts are now accepted evidence. Before you nod and say, “That’s what delete is for,” nothing you post, text, IM, DM, and everything else on social media, whatever the platform, is ever permanently erased.
Everything you post, even on Snapchat, even stories that ‘disappear’ after a time, are easily preserved by a screenshot.
It seems like almost everyone knows this but don’t think it applies to them or their case.
Deleting a not so good post that pops up later may be worse than the original post in the eyes of the court (and public, if you have one). This applies to you as well as the many politicians and athletes who have found this out the hard way. One of the top selling musicians of all time is finding out now.
This is not where we are going to ask you to stop posting when you so much as suspect you’re going to be involved in a family law matter. That’s never going to happen [right?] Besides, this is no time to cut yourself off from the support of friends.
We are asking that you understand that sarcasm does not play well on any platform. That any post can (and probably will in an adverse matter) be taken out of context. That jokes usually fall flat at best or are misconstrued in the worst possible way at worse. Inside jokes work for insiders, everyone else will take them the wrong way.
If you post about your pending divorce; complain about the judge, opposing lawyers, your soon-to-be-ex, the ‘system;’ there’s a good chance it will not end well for you.
You may end up like Kanye is as we write this – he’s trying to have his social media posts thrown out by claiming not that he didn’t write them, but that Kim can’t prove he did. A tough prove as there’s a recent Instagram post where Kanye’s holding a yellow pad that says “my accounts weren’t hacked.”
Social media rule of thumb for anyone involved in a family law matter: if you feel uneasy, if you feel the slightest hesitation, if you wouldn’t like to see the same thing written about you, don’t post it.
Before you hit the button to send it out into the world, think this: someone who can decide your future may see it.