I’m late reading the New York Times Book Review from Sunday 1/1/17, so pardon the delayed outrage, but heavens:
Just what we don’t need on the front page is Woody Allen drooling over the purported sex life of a long-gone movie star as he (poorly) reviews Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 by Edward Sorel (Liveright).
The book tells us that Astor apparently wrote about her sexual affairs in an explicit “purple diary.” In Los Angeles, her estranged husband discovered and threatened to use it in a custody battle while Mary was having “four-times-a-night workouts” with playwright George S. Kaufman in New York.
How do we know this? Bad reviewer that he is, Allen never quotes from the diary, alluding only to accounts in tabloid newspapers, which aren’t quoted either. He prefers to snicker and chortle over “her hormones tintinnabulating” and the reason “deep kissing with a hot partner always trumps bacteria.”
The review mistakenly tells us that “the tabloids ran excerpts from the portion of the diary allowed in evidence” during the trial. But we learn from other sources that the diary was never entered in court. The trial judge ordered it sealed and impounded in a bank vault, where it was removed after 16 years and destroyed.
(This last from Wikipedia, a doubtful source, I know, but it does footnote its claims. Meanwhile shame on you, New York Times: Readers of a book review should never have to fact-check on their own.)
But wait: Why does Woody Allen believe the author? Because “in the midst of everything,” Allensays about Sorel, “he suddenly channels the departed Mary from the beyond and converses with her as she candidly reveals personal feelings in a novel interview.”
Ain’t that great. The author “channels” his subject. The reviewer behaves like a lecherous old man. And Mary Astor is proclaimed by Woody Allen to be “a foulmouthed, hard-drinking, sex-hungry carouser.”
Of course you could say the same thing about many of Astor’s male co-stars, but where is the fun in that? Woody Allen believes his view is titillating, so he gets to have his way and himself in front of us.
I’m sure the trial was scandalous and coverage at the time amusing. But nothing about this review is credible, and all of it is a waste of time. Maybe the book was worth a passing mention in our nation’s “book review section of record.” The Times gave Woody Allen three full pages.