Monday, November 9, 2015


One of the most beautiful and mysterious of all the beauties of classic Hollywood was Hedy Lamarr. Her beauty was timeless, but she was born on this day in 1914. Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, the only child of Emil Kiesler and his wife Gertrude (Lichtwitz) Kiesler. Her mother was a pianist and Budapest native who came from the "Jewish haute bourgeoisie". Stephen Michael Shearer, a Lamarr biographer, asserts that Lamarr's mother had converted from Judaism to Catholicism and was a "practicing Christian". Lamarr's father, a banker, was a secular Jew born in Lemberg.

In early 1933, at age 18, she starred in Gustav MachatĂ˝'s film, Ecstasy (Extase in German and Czech), which was filmed in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Lamarr’s role was that of a neglected young wife married to an indifferent older man. The film became notorious for showing Lamarr's face in the throes of orgasm as well as close-up and brief nude scenes in which she is seen swimming and running through the woods.

Friedrich Mandl, her first husband, objected to what he felt was exploitation of his wife and "the expression on her face" during the simulated orgasm. He purportedly bought up as many copies of Ecstasy as he could find in an attempt to restrict its public viewing. In her autobiography, she insists that all sexual activity in the film was simulated, and the orgasm was achieved using "method acting reality". The authenticity of passion was attained by the film director's off-screen manipulation of a safety pin strategically poking her bottom. Lamarr had married Mandl at the age of 19 on 10 August 1933. Reputed to be the third richest man in Austria, Mandl was a munitions manufacturer. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr described Mandl as extremely controlling, preventing her from pursuing her acting career and keeping her a virtual prisoner, confined to their castle home, Schloss Schwarzenau. Although half-Jewish himself, Mandl had close social and business ties to the fascist governments of Italy and Nazi Germany, selling munitions to Mussolini.

Lamarr wrote that Mussolini and Hitler had attended lavish parties hosted at the Mandl home. Mandl had her accompany him to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and the ground that nurtured her latent talent in science.

After escaping her husband, she fled to Paris in 1937 where she met Louis B. Mayer, who was scouting for talent in Europe. Mayer hired her but insisted that she change her name to Hedy Lamarr—she had been known as "the Ecstasy lady"—choosing the surname in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr, who had died in 1926 from tuberculosis. Upon arriving in Hollywood in 1938, Mayer promoted her as the "world's most beautiful woman."

She received good reviews for her American film debut in Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer, who asked that Lamarr be cast after meeting her at a party. In Hollywood, she was invariably cast as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origins. Lamarr played opposite the era's most popular leading men. Her many films include Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, Comrade X with Gable, White Cargo (1942), Tortilla Flat (1942) with Tracy and John Garfield, H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) with Robert Young, and Dishonored Lady (1947)...

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