Monday, November 9, 2009

Fragments ~ Hedy Lamarr

"Any girl can be glamorous. 
All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

Indeed.  And no doubt it also helps if you look like Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler), the Austrian-born American actress who spoke the above-quoted words, and who was born in Vienna on this date in 1914. 

Lamarr was born into a prominent family and had a relatively advantaged background.  She was apparently close to her parents, later recollecting that her banker father had sat beside her for many hours and read her fairy stories.

The real fairytale life of Hedy Lamarr began relatively early. Having studied both ballet and piano from age 10, Lamarr was quickly recognized for her beauty and began her acting career in German films as a teenager.

"If you use your imagination, you can look at any actress and see her nude .... I hope to make you use your imagination."

Perhaps Lamarr’s best-known – and most notorious – role was in the 1933 Czech film ECSTASY, in which she played a love-starved wife.  Lamarr appeared briefly in the nude, which she later claimed had shocked her parents when they saw it.  Look quickly because it will no doubt also shock the Photobucket police.

But possibly the most controversial thing about her role was the close-up shots of her face in ecstasy – if you know what I mean – which Wiki reports that she later claimed were induced by her director poking her in the bottom with a safety pin. 

Pin, indeed. 

"I don't have any gnawing guilt over contributing to any unhappiness suffered by my husbands. They were as much to blame as I was."

Hedy Lamarr was married a total of six times.  In 1933, the same year ECSTASY was released, she entered into an arranged marriage with an Austrian arms manufacturer named Friedrich Mandl (sometimes called Fritz Mandel).  Mandl evidently didn’t admire ECSTASY and promptly bought up as many copies of the film as he could.  He was an extremely controlling man who essentially held Lamarr captive to stop her from pursuing her acting career. 

At this point, serendipity enters the narrative.  To keep her within his sights, Mandl took Lamarr to business meetings with German military officers.  Being mathematically inclined, she quickly absorbed the technical information discussed at these meetings.

Lamarr eventually concluded that Mandl was a Nazi sympathizer.  Not entirely surprising given that he was meeting with German officers and guests at his parties included both Mussolini and Hitler.  In any event, Lamarr literally fled her marriage in 1937 and went to Paris.  One account of this story – hers -- has it that she hid briefly in a brothel and consented to sex with a patron in order to hide from Mandl, who had pursued her that far.  No shrinking violet, she.

While Lamarr was in Paris, she submitted a patent in collaboration with a neighbor -- who was also an Avant garde musical composer -- for a device, based on musical principles, which is considered to be a pre-cursor to modern wireless communication technology.  But the device wasn’t practical at the time, and Lamarr’s contribution to the invention was not formally recognized until just a few years before her death. 

While in London, Lamarr met Louis B. Mayer, who told her she was the most beautiful woman in the world and encouraged her to pursue her film career.  Lamarr, however, really wanted to become an inventor and help in the struggle against the Nazi war machine.  Who knows what she might have accomplished if she had, but unfortunately, she was persuaded by the director of the National inventors Council, George Kettering, that the true role of actors and actresses was to sell War Bonds.

Lamarr’s patriotic contribution then morphed into kissing any man who bought $50,000 in bonds.  Naturally talented in more ways than one, Lamarr reputedly raised $7 million in one day in 1941.  Do the math.

What follows after that is the typical story of a glamorous Hollywood star of the “Golden Age.”  Of Lamarr’s many films, the one that I particularly remember seeing is SAMSON AND DELILAH with Victor Mature (1949); although, being a girly-girl, I mostly remember Mature.

During the 1940’s, Lamarr appeared in about two films per year, and also took time out to have two children.  After the comedy MY FAVORITE SPY with Bob Hope in 1951, Lamarr appeared in films only occasionally. 

"I have not been that wise. Health I have taken for granted. Love I have demanded, perhaps too much and too often. As for money, I have only realized its true worth when I didn't have it."

During the 1960’s Lamarr was accused of shoplifting, which resulted in her becoming the subject of a short film by Andy Warhol. In 1967, Lamarr published an autobiography called ECSTASY AND ME.  After this, she more-or-less retired from the public eye, eventually moving to Florida, where she was again accused of shoplifting in 1992 when she was 78 years old. 

In 1998, Lamarr became the center of controversy one last time when she sued Corel Corporation for using her image on packaging relating to its CorelDRAW software. The lawsuit was ultimately settled. 

Hedy Lamarr died in Florida in January, 2000. 


  1. Moon, That was fabulous. I so enjoyed her running, through the woods, and you said, she was on ecstasy...pour girl...and I enjoyed her flirting with Nazis and the whole of her life is really quite amazing and you presented it perfectly. enjoyed. Herbert...confused Ah! Hubert,esq.

  2. Yes, indeed, Banana man. Who even knew they HAD ecstasy back in those days, or especially that they allowed women to have it. But do you think Harvey Korman would have approved? ;)

  3. Fascinating. A rare set of brains behind the beauty. Perhaps that explains her choice of a first name?

  4. I saw the film "Ecstasy" about 30 years ago. It is good to know that she had brains to go with that beauty.