MARY ASTOR’s seven year contract with MGM from 1943 didn’t really do her any favours . They cast her in what she called the ‘Metro Mother’ roles,even although she was only in her 30’s and early 40’s.
I think Mary would have been better off back at Warners ,or at RKO where her talent would have been better used.

By 1949 Mary was ready to leave Metro and was given a small role in CLARK GABLE’s ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY.Because the part was small,her billing was below WENDELL COREY,AUDREY TOTTER and FRANK MORGAN.(Gable and ALEXIS SMITH were top billed.)
Mary shares a 10 minute scene with Gable and you just feel, what a waste,why doesn’t she have a bigger role ( or why is she in this film at all, an actress of her ability.)
But, Mary is so good in this scene, I am glad she did it.

Reunited with her RED DUST costar, how things have changed. Although 5 or 6 years younger than Gable,Mary no longer had star roles whereas Gable was still big and played romantic leads – it was always thus in Hollywood. The actors could go on well into their 50s in leading roles.Actresses weren’t allowed to , with a very few exceptions.

It’s just one scene ,but it is well written and that’s all Mary needs to make her mark and remind us how good she is.
I love this movie and Mary’s memorable scene comes after Gable ( who plays’Charley’,a gambling club owner) has been told by his doctor (Leon Ames) that he must slow down and stop smoking and drinking as his heart is weak.
Mary (as ‘Ada’, though we never hear her name spoken) comes into Charley’s office,looking great in a fox stole. Just looking at this well dressed, sophisticated woman, we can guess the character is probably wealthy. It becomes obvious these two people know each other well.
As she comes in,Charley keels over at his desk and quickly takes a pill.Ada’s concern is obvious as she says,“Charley, what’s the matter?…I’ll call somebody.”
But he has recovered and she says,“Sure,you’re alright now.”,as if reassuring herself.
Charley says,“Sure”, as he comes over to her and touches her cheek with his hand.
She continues, ” You were kidding me, weren’t you?”


He is obviously distracted and walks over to the mantelpiece which has photos of his wife and son. He says,“That’s right.”
Ada says,“Gee,honey,you had me scared, real scared.”
She taps his shoulder and he,again with an air of distraction, kisses her on the cheek.
She says,“Is that all?”
Silently, he gives her a quick hug.
Ada,with a load of irony in her voice,says,“I couldn’t get any wrong ideas out of that either.”

He’s looking at the photos as she adds,“You’ve been faithful for 20 years. That’s a long rap.”
Charley suddenly looks directly at her and says,“Suppose I asked you to go away with me.Tonight. Right now.No questions asked. Would you go?
There’s a nice shot of Mary looking up at Gable as she says,“Are you asking me?”
He answers No and she turns it on him,“Suppose I was to ask you to go away with me tonight ..”
He doesn’t say anything. Ada adds,“Gee,honey,I’ve been waiting for this a long time, a long time.”
Charley says, “Is that why you got married three times?”
Ada smiles,“Four, but it never worked out – they all kind of looked a little bit like you.”
He’s only half listening. Ada says,“Gee, don’t take it so hard. I know how I rate. All I ask is for you to let me love you.”

Charley stares ahead as if he hasn’t heard her.
Ada :“Any contribution will be gratefully accepted.”
Charley silently looks at the photos.Ada says,“Ok,so you love your wife.”

There is then a little dialogue as Charley gets it off his chest that he can’t understand why his son doesn’t like him. Ada observes,“Maybe he wants something you didn’t learn how to give.”

The scene ends as Ada says,“Sure you’re alright now?”
Charley says,”Sure” and Ada says,“What was the matter?”
Charley smiles,“Too much tension.”
Ada leaves.

I found this scene very moving . Mary had most of the dialogue and her character of Ada is well drawn – she’s been carrying a torch for this man for a long time and seems to accept being in his company from time to time is all she is going to get.
I suppose you could take this scene out of the film without damaging the plot,but thank heavens they didn’t!
It would be the last time we’d see Mary on the screen for 7 years.

18 responses »

  1. Mary Astor did this film, then didn’t appear on screen again for SEVEN YEARS?! That is a real shame. And the other thing that’s a shame is the fact that Clark Gable remained a big star but Astor did not.

    This is a wonderful tribute to Mary in this scene. I haven’t seen this movie, but now I’m dying to!

    Thanks for participating in our blogathon. 🙂

  2. As far as I aware, yes, Mary was off the screen till the middle 50s.
    Very pleased to take part for the first time in a Blogathon. Will be reading all the posts about Mary.
    And thanks,Movies ,Silently for stopping by.

  3. So true, but still a waste of a fine actress in such a small role.
    Clark Gable literally hands the scene to Mary,though his quietness is very effective in conveying his emotions.

  4. A really nice examination of this scene. One thing that bothers me about it, though, is that she plays quite a bit of it with her back to the camera. Gable gets to be the focus of attention–just one more indication that his importance to the studio was greater than hers. A shame. She was something special.

  5. Must admit, I never noticed that. Although Mary has all the activity in the scene, Gable’s character is hardly aware of her as he reflects on what his doctor has told him , and how it may impact his life and family.

  6. Vienna, I haven’t seen this one but would really like to after reading your review – it sounds as if yet again Mary Astor managed to do a lot with just a limited amount of screen time, in this case limited to just that one scene. And what a pity she was off the screen for years afterwards! A great posting.

  7. FlickChick,you said it! A great actress impresses however small the part.

    We are lucky that the writers gave Mary this memorable scene which showed off all her talent – and that beautiful speaking voice.
    Thanks, Judy.

  8. I hate to see great actors given smaller roles, but as always, Mary Astor made the most out of what she was given. Wonderful post on a film that I tend to forget except of course for Astor.

    • Thank you. It did seem such a waste of Mary, but that’s the studios for you. Sometimes they don’t know what to do with people.

  9. It must have been crushing for all actresses to venture into the ‘Mother roles” when they weren’t very old. And a reason that most from the silent era, retired before going that route to find work. So glad that our working actresses today aren’t categorized in that way.

    Astor was a good actress so the fact that she was given a contract and offered roles should have been enough but I know it’s hurtful to make that transition. She had a long career with a resume of some amazing films.

    I really enjoyed your honest and thought provoking write up on Mary. A fine contribution to the Blogathon.

    All the best!

    • Thank you.
      I guess a seven year contract at MGM sounded like a good deal.
      Having read so many of the Blogathon posts, I realise I have only scratched the surface of Mary’s career.

  10. I’ve never seen this movie, but I do have it in my DVR, as it was on TCM a couple months ago, and I liked the sound of it, plus I love Clark Gable. I had no idea Mary Astor was in it.

    The whole studio system with their long-term contracts was not very beneficial to so many of our beloved stars. They either got typecast, or they got forced into doing nominal films.

    I am looking forward to catching this film one of these days. Thanks for sharing a bit about it.

  11. A favorite film of mine, I’ve seen it quite a few times. A solid role for Gable , and Alexis Smith is very good as his wife. Aside from Mary Astor having a small role, Audrey Totter is also wasted as Alexis’s sister . But do have a look at it. I think it is a gem.

    • I’ll never understand why MGM didnt give Mary better roles, or why other studios didnt request her for loan outs.

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