Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films” in the 1940s, actress, art connoisseur and inventor of radio guided torpedoes during World War 2, Hedy Lamarr has an impressive resume. However, writing a book is not one of them.
Lamarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me” published in 1966 reminds me of a bad late-1960s film: story lines that jump around with random flashbacks that don’t make sense.
The book begins talking about how important sex has been in her life. She shares a few anecdotes of some of her earliest sexual exposures as a young girl and how once a husband was having sex with another woman-in their bed, while Hedy was asleep.
What does any of this have do with anything? To be honest, I’m not sure. I think Miss Lamarr is attempting to say that her sexual encounters shaped her life or draw some sort of metaphor. After telling these stories she says, “But we will discuss these experiences further later,” but she really doesn’t.
Hedy continues to give a vague account of her childhood, jumping from birth to age 14 when she became interested in acting to 17 when she was in her first film, “Symphony of Love (Symphonie Der Liebre)” which is now known as “Ecstasy” (1933).
Hedy actually does talk about “Ecstasy” in some detail. The famous nude scene was filmed under some false pretenses. She didn’t want to do it at al, but was told she would “ruin the picture” if she didn’t. The director made a deal with her and said he would film the shot from 50 yards away on a hill. But the director was sneaky and used a telephoto lens to zoom up on the scene (28). However, the real censorship issue wasn’t the nudity but the close-up of Hedy’s face while she was supposed to be having sex-she was really being poked in the butt with a safety pin to get the desired facial expressions (18).
Hedy Lamarr skims over most of her films with the exception of “Ecstasy” (1933), “Algiers” (1938) and “Samson and Delilah” (1949).
I wanted to hear more about one of my personal favorites, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) and she didn’t even mention her relationships with Lana Turner or Judy Garland. She glossed over “Come Live with Me” (1941) and “Heavenly Body” (1945) and dismissed “Her Highness and the Bellboy’ (1945) saying it was so bad she didn’t care to discuss it-though she did say June Allyson had the best role in the film.
Hedy surprisingly got along with the notoriously difficult Cecil B. DeMille during “Samson and Delilah.” DeMille gave actors quarters whenever they came up with a good idea for the movie-Hedy received five.
Besides the three films she listed above, Hedy doesn’t have a lot of mainstream well known films. I think part of this was because she was deemed difficult to work with and also turned down several roles. The casting agencies referred to her as “The Hedy problem.”
One of my favorite parts of reading star autobiographies are the back stories to movies, friendships with other stars and relationships with co-stars. You don’t get a lot of this from Hedy Lamarr. Hedy actually made false names for some actors. Since it was 1966, several of them or their families were still living. So if she was talking about sleeping with an actor she may say, “We will refer to him as Sam.”
Though she does share a few unexpected tidbits:
•She got along with Robert Young in “H.M. Pulham, Esq.” (1941)-a personal favorite of mine and also her favorite film- and thought he was a great actor. She once asked Louis B. Mayer why Young wasn’t a big star and Mayer said he didn’t have any sex appeal. Hedy said she was pleased when he was a success in the television series “Father Knows Best.”
•One thing that surprised me the most was Reginald Gardner was one of Hedy’s first close friends in Hollywood. Hedy even said, “We became very good friends. In fact we really should have become husband and wife. Frankly, I wanted to marry him, but he was never sure enough” (50). This sure was surprising to me!
•Hedy told a very funny anecdote concerning Errol Flynn and his crazy parties. Hedy told her stand-in Sylvia who went to a Flynn party with her, “Many of the bathrooms have peepholes or ceilings with squares of opaque glass though which you can’t see out but someone can see in. So be careful. Never got to a room Errol sends you to change if there is swimming” (182). One time Hedy, Errol and another party guest watched a “busty Italian star” changing into her bathing suit and laughed when she sniffed her armpits and tried to hide red clothing marks.
One thing Hedy Lamarr did not make a passing grade in was love. She went in and out of marriages like people buy and return clothes. She married Austrian munitions aristocrat Fritz Mandl because of his prestige, but she didn’t love him. She found he was demanding and kept her a virtual prisoner so she fled. I’ve heard that he allegedly forced Hedy into a sexual relationship with Hitler, but she doesn’t discuss this.
Hedy then rushed into marriage with writer Gene Markey-Joan Bennet’s ex-husband- who she was married to for less than a year. The two knew each other for a few days and got married. They adopted baby James Markey together but it was right before their divorce. During this time a single woman couldn’t adopt a baby. Hedy included a long column Louella Parson’s wrote about “Hedy Lamarr suffering for her adopted baby boy.” But Hedy ends the topic of James Markey after this article and never says what happens with the legal battle, though in her obituary he is listed as one of her children.
Probably her best marriage (if that’s saying much) was to actor John Loder. They actually had a courtship, but they got married because he wanted to see how many times they could have sex in one day on their honeymoon-in competition with a story he heard. The real problem with this marriage was Hedy. I think she was too demanding of him but he was also lazy. She got obsessively protective over her children and seemed to divorce him because she wanted her children to herself.
Later Hedy married three other times. One was because she simply wanted a husband and to settle down and he seemed like a good candidate. The others were also for security.
That’s a wrap
In all, I did think the book was interesting and it was nice to learn a little more about Hedy Lamarr, but it was a really poorly written book. I felt like she left me hanging on a lot of aspects and I wanted to know more or a different side of the story.
The book was published during a bad time in her life. She had just been arrested for stealing a few inexpensive items from a store and didn’t have much money. She even said her lawyer and friends like Frank Sinatra would bring her food to make sure she was fed.
Hedy seemed like a bit of a rash diva, but I still like her. She had an interesting out look on life-detailed in the book with a transcript of a psychologist conversation.
I plan on reading the Hedy Lamarr biography that came out last year so I can hopefully get some more information.
Life Lessons from Hedy
At the end of Hedy’s book she some life tips she has learned. I will leave you with my favorites:
-I never drink beer, it’s too plebeian.
-I’d rather wear jewels in my hair then anywhere else. The face should have the advantage of this brilliance.
-American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.
-I don’t fear death because I don’t fear anything I don’t understand. When I start to think about it, I order a massage and it goes away.
-I can excuse anything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way.
**Also, happy birthday to Hedy Lamarr with this book review. I inadvertently planned to publish it today and had no idea it was her birthday!**
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