In a career that lasted almost half a century, Gertrude Astor made a mark in many noteworthy films. A number of films in which she appeared are now considered classics – and one film in particular ensure her fame will last forever.
She was born in Lakewood, Ohio, on November 9, 1887, and she was a stage actress in stock by the age of thirteen. Her initial foray into cinema was in 1914, with Universal: she spent the next 48 years in film, appearing in such pictures as The Kentucky Derby (1922), The Reckless Sex (1925), The Strong Man (opposite Harry Langdon, 1926), The Cat and the Canary (1927), and Rose-Marie (1928). Her strengths were many: she was tall, blonde, and had a knack for both comedy and drama. She typically played vampy roles, and many times portrayed the “other woman.” However, one early sound film continues to endear her to fans of two legendary comics known affectionately as “The Boys.”
Her 1931 appearance in Come Clean, opposite Laurel and Hardy, is considered one of the finest of the bevy of leading ladies who appeared with The Boys. In it, she played Oliver Hardy’s wife, and their antics revolved around such tawdry items as ice cream, suicide, and bathtubs. This is one of the cleverest, and well-acted, of the Laurel and Hardy films – and simply by the very nature of one role as Mrs. Hardy, Astor is assured of being well-remembered by the very faithful contingent of “The Sons of the Desert,” the International Laurel and Hardy Fan Society.
As she aged (and quite gracefully at that), Astor continued in film, growing into character roles in such pictures as Misbehaving Husbands (again opposite Langdon, 1940), My Dear Secretary (1948), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Astor was quite popular among fans, and enjoyed the reputation of being one of Hollywood’s best-dressed and most elegant women: in a show of her diversity and whimsy, she played the trombone aboard a Mississippi showboat at one point in her career.
In 1975, she was honored with a luncheon, hosted by Universal: the company that launched her career 61 years earlier had not forgotten her. On November 9, 1977, her 90th birthday, Gertrude Astor died, of a stroke, in Woodland Hills, California.
Happily, so many of her films survive, so that new generations can be treated to the work of a classy, glamorous, and legendary actress: as her appearances in some of Hollywood’s classic films are watched and enjoyed, it is assured that Gertrude Astor will continue to garner new admirers … forever.