Hedy Lamarr

gigatos | October 4, 2022


Hedwig Kiesler, known as Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian actress, film producer and inventor, naturalized American, born November 9, 1914 in Vienna (then in Austria-Hungary) and died January 19, 2000 in Casselberry (Florida, USA).

During her film career, she played under the direction of the greatest directors of the time: King Vidor, Jack Conway, Victor Fleming, Jacques Tourneur, Marc Allégret, Cecil B. DeMille or Clarence Brown. Glamorous icon of American cinema, she was designated in his time as the “most beautiful woman in cinema.

In addition to her career in the cinema, she left her mark on the scientific history of telecommunications by inventing, with the composer George Antheil, a pianist and inventor like herself, a means of coding transmissions (spread spectrum by frequency hopping). This is a fundamental transmission principle in telecommunications, currently used for satellite positioning (GPS, etc.), encrypted military links or in certain Wi-Fi techniques.


Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was the only daughter of an Ashkenazi Jewish couple. Her father Emil Kiesler (1880-1935), born in Lviv (a town called “Lemberg” in Austria-Hungary) in the present-day Ukraine, was a director of the Creditanstalt-Bankverein, while her mother Gertrud Lichtwitz (1894-1977), from a large Jewish bourgeois family in Budapest, Hungary, was a concert pianist, and hoped to have a son whom she would have named Georg. As an adult, Gertrud converted to Catholicism at the insistence of her first husband and later raised her daughter in this religion without having baptized her. Hedwig grew up in a privileged environment, having tutors or being educated in Switzerland, learning several languages (besides German, Yiddish and Hungarian, English and Italian), taking dance and piano lessons, horseback riding, going to the opera; she will keep a strong, imperishable and always nostalgic memory of her youth.

At the age of 12, Hedwig Kiesler won a beauty contest in Vienna. She was already interested in theater and film, but after a “revelation” when she saw Fritz Lang”s Metropolis (1927), she wanted to become an actress. Her father explained to her how certain technologies worked on walks, and she often worked at home.

Career in Europe

Hedwig Kiesler presented herself alone, at the age of 16, to the Sascha studios in Vienna, probably recommended by a relation of her parents whose financial situation had deteriorated with the Austrian economic crisis of the 1930s. The future Hedy Lamarr entered “the world of expressive silence” through the intermediary of her compatriot director Georg Jacoby, who directed many films, including Vendetta (1919), with Emil Jannings and Pola Negri, Le Petit Napoléon (1922), which was the first film in which Marlene Dietrich appeared, and co-wrote the famous Quo vadis? Jacoby hired her for two films – Geld auf der Strasse with Rosa Albach-Retty, future grandmother of Romy Schneider, and Tempest in a Glass of Water, in 1930 and 1931 -, then as a script girl to keep her with him.

The young girl, who dropped out of school, was then hired by the theater director Max Reinhardt, who presented her to the press as “the most beautiful girl in the world.” It was at this time that she met Otto Preminger and Sam Spiegel, who vied for her favors, and whom she would later meet again among the Jews who had emigrated to the United States.

Hedwig Kiesler went to Berlin in 1931 where she immediately shot Alexis Granowsky”s The Thirteen Trunks of Mr. O.F., starring Peter Lorre and Margo Lion – a film for which Hedwig was the subject of a noisy publicity campaign with interesting repercussions, since even the New York Times hailed her presence – and then, in 1932, No Need for Money, by the pro-Nazi Carl Boese (co-director of the classic The Golem), which was a great success.

At the same time, she played one of the four main characters in Noel Coward”s Private Lives in the theater, and her performance again earned her rave reviews.

While she sat reading a script, the filmmaker Gustav Machatý noticed her beauty and made her shoot a few “turnips” and then in 1933, Extase, a Czechoslovakian film almost without dialogue but with a sophisticated aesthetic, and whose scenario is close to that of Lady Chatterley”s Lover, where her nudity and the first scene of orgasm on the screens in which we see only her face – which she says she has executed the directives with naivety -, and the absence of moral judgment on the conduct of the heroine, are a sensation throughout the world, making her famous. This sulphurous reputation, acquired in the year of her 19th birthday, will never leave her and a large part of Europe already nicknamed her “The Ecstasy Girl”. Even if the first censors had demanded the insertion of a wedding in the film before the said ecstasy of the actress took place, the film, presented at the Venice Biennale, was condemned by Pope Pius XII; Hitler, recently in power, banned it in Germany and the polemical scenes were expunged from most European and American versions.

Then, the young woman also won a great success on stage by interpreting Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi).

Friedrich Mandl, an arms manufacturer and supplier to Mussolini, also noticed the young actress in Extase and their relationship led to a marriage of convenience in 1933: the husband had, in all likelihood, been encouraged by his future parents-in-law, who were worried about the future of their offspring. But the young woman, in love with freedom and too much supervised by her husband – who forbids her to continue her profession of actress and tries to buy back all the copies of the film Extase. She first went to Switzerland where she rubbed shoulders with the jet set but also with the Austrian Jewish emigrant like her, Billy Wilder, or Kay Francis, the star of Paramount. She also met the German writer Erich Maria Remarque who owned a beautiful villa in Porto Ronco on Lake Maggiore where he offered asylum to those fleeing Nazi Germany: she began an affair with him that kept her off the screen for another year.

Through the American agent Bob Ritchie, she then met, in London, Louis B. Mayer, who had come to hire Greer Garson – who had had some success in the play Golden Arrow by Sylvia Thompson alongside Laurence Olivier -, as well as Victor Saville, who had directed Dark Journey with Conrad Veidt and Storm in a Cup of Tea with Rex Harrison and Vivien Leigh. Apparently uninterested in Hedwig Kiesler, embarrassed by her performance in Extase (according to the woman), Mayer, the Hollywood magnate, offered her a contract that was not very advantageous (six months” trial and one hundred and fifty dollars a week), which she refused. According to her own words, she worked as a housekeeper for the violin prodigy Grisha Goluboff, with whom she boarded the Normandie to cross the Atlantic. On board, where Mayer and Cole Porter were also present – the latter would later write a song about her – Hedwig put on her best face to impress Mayer and thus convinced him to hire her under the conditions she wanted (five hundred dollars a week). However, the film director, who remained faithful to the sulphurous image of the film that made his reputation, never held her in esteem, even avoiding to greet her when he met her.

Career in the United States

Hedwig Kiesler reappears on the screen, being bound to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) – the largest studio in Hollywood – by a seven-year contract, during which she plays in fifteen feature films: her American career begins with Casbah (1938) by John Cromwell, produced by Walter Wanger and United Artists, a remake of Pépé le Moko by Julien Duvivier in which she takes over the role of Mireille Balin, and Charles Boyer as Jean Gabin.

Upon her arrival in Hollywood, she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr, on the idea of Howard Strickland, a publicist for MGM; “Hedy” is a diminutive of her first name Hedwig and “Lamarr” would have originated from her cruise “at sea” aboard the Normandie with Mayer. Other sources indicate that it is a tribute suggested by Mayer, to the actress Barbara La Marr who died in 1926.

After the Anschluss in March 1938, she helped get her mother, Gertrud Kiesler, out of Austria and into the United States, where she later became a citizen. She listed “Hebrew” under “race” on the naturalization form, a term then frequently used in Europe.

Promoted to revelation and a new sensation in Hollywood, she continued in the exotic vein with the novel The Lady of the Tropics by Jack Conway, on a screenplay by Ben Hecht with Robert Taylor as her partner, and began, alongside Spencer Tracy, the complex filming of This Woman is Mine, also on a screenplay by Hecht, begun by Josef von Sternberg, taken up by Frank Borzage, uncredited, and completed by W. S. Van Dyke, nicknamed “One Shot Woody”, who signed the film alone. Some exegetes claim that Sternberg left the shoot after a few scenes because he could not find Dietrich as Lamarr. It seems, however, that it was Mayer”s interventionism that actually turned Sternberg and then Borzage away from the project. According to the Hollywood Reporter, in October 1939, the actress demanded and obtained a salary of $5,000 per week, whereas she had been earning $750 until then.

After beginnings in fanfare then a disappointing career, her performances are sometimes freshly welcomed by the critics. The young woman is requested by Luther Green to play Salome on stage but the studio is opposed.

She distinguished herself in the anti-Soviet comedy Comrade X by King Vidor, opposite Clark Gable, on a script again by Ben Hecht: in a role close to Ninotchka shot the previous year, she parodied Greta Garbo by aggravating her voice and, if she intervenes late, amuses in incongruous situations such as the one in which she drives a streetcar filled with goats and peasants in jackets. The parodic vein is again in favor with critics and the public.

She finds: in a role that announces the future heroines of his films noir, Spencer Tracy and Jack Conway for the adventures of Oil Fever, overshadowed, however, by the couple formed by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; and King Vidor for one of his masterpieces, the nostalgic Memories with Robert Young, which denounces an oppressive puritan order.

The filmmaker, who appreciates lead actresses, then compared her to the incandescent Jennifer Jones, and the studio RKO pressed her against John Wayne in Duel in the Sun, also directed by Vidor, but finally shot a few years later with Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck.

Instead, Lamarr competes with Judy Garland and Lana Turner in Robert Z. Leonard, one of the great successes of 1941.

Clarence Brown, Garbo”s favorite director, employed her in the romantic Come with Me, and Victor Fleming, the director of Gone with the Wind, directed her with John Garfield and Spencer Tracy in the adaptation of John Steinbeck”s realistic novel Tortilla Flat, which dealt with the lives of poor California fishermen; the critic Pauline Kael gave Hedy a glowing review. At the same time, Conway directed her for the third time, together with William Powell, in the melodrama Crossroads; in this film, Claire Trevor played the second female role, turned down by Marlene Dietrich – who did not want to appear as a second fiddle after Hedy.

In Richard Thorpe”s Tondelayo, dressed in black, the actress is a native of Sierra Leone on the African continent, the vile temptress of Walter Pidgeon and Richard Carlson, but her career threatens to sink into the B-movie; the actor and biographer Stephen Michael Shearer calls her role “a teasing exercise in 1940s eroticism at its most vulgar.

She still shoots a comedy, The Celestial Body by Alexander Hall, which gives her back as a partner Powell as an astronomer husband proclaiming like a slogan: “It”s heaven to be in love with Hedy.

During World War II, she participated as an exile in the American war effort, along with Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in Jean Negulesco”s film noir The Conspirators (1944), a contemporary spy story inspired by the success of Casablanca. She also used her celebrity to sell $25 million worth of war bonds, which she did with great success by traveling to many American cities, also participating in a letter-writing campaign in support of the G.I.

In a similar vein, Jacques Tourneur”s Anguish, one of the director”s few big budgets, once again confirmed the actress as a thriller heroine, between Irish George Brent and Austro-Hungarian Paul Lukas. The film is the most expensive production of RKO in 1944; Hedy Lamarr insists that the action contemporary to the novel by Margaret Seymour Carpenter (the action takes place in the cosmopolitan upper class of the East Coast, the interior sets, costumes, photography are also luxurious.

In 1945, she played the last film of his contract with MGM, the comedy The Princess and the Bellboy directed by Richard Thorpe, with Robert Walker as co-star. Mayer”s ambitions were long gone. From Sternberg to Thorpe, Hedy Lamarr failed to become the new Garbo.

From Casbah and in all his films made with MGM, Hedy Lamarr embodies a glamorous queen, as was common at that time with Joan Crawford whose appeal was fading or Greta Garbo already retired.

“The Queen of Glamour” seemed to embody the very definition of the word with her classic, hieratic and sensual beauty, her “jet hair”, her immense transparent eyes “marbled blue-green” or “chameleon blue”, “perfectly symmetrical”, with arched eyebrows, her “fine and straight nose”, her “porcelain skin”, her “mouth comparable to the flight of a bird”, her “small dreamy smile and her voice with an exotic accent” which was a combination of the old Vienna and the diction school of the MGM. At the screenings, the audience always waits for the moment when the director shows the perfect profile of Hedy Lamarr in close-up.

She is the archetypal femme fatale (“mysteriously beautiful, intense and disturbing, sensual but unattainable, irresistibly attractive but manipulative, dangerous and treacherous, often foreign or downright exotic”) that only her rival in beauty and amorous follies, Ava Gardner, could rival.

Magazines are full of gossip about the whims of the star who is also nicknamed “Vienna”s gift to men”. Women who admired her and even actresses like Joan Bennett (whose ex-husband Gene Markey she married) dyed their hair black, styling it with a parting in the middle and vague curls to resemble Lamarr, who was named “the most beautiful woman in the movies”.

Many testimonies, even from rivals, support her beauty:

“Hedy was at the height of her beauty, with thick, wavy, jet-black hair (…) her face was beautiful (…) that incredible face, that gorgeous hair…. It was enough to make strong men faint.

In 1946, Hedy Lamarr began to produce independently. The Demon of the Flesh was directed in part by Douglas Sirk, another Berlin emigre, and signed by Viennese Edgar Ulmer, who was specifically chosen by Hedy. This costume psychodrama, with its heightened romanticism, is set in New England in the early 19th century and offers the actress her best role: the portrait of a schizophrenic criminal. Based on a novel by Ben Ames Williams, also author of Deadly Sin, whose screen adaptation earned Gene Tierney an Oscar nomination, Lamarr shares the screen with George Sanders and Louis Hayward. This film remains, with Ecstasy and Samson and Delilah, one of his classics.

The failure of her next film, The Dishonored Woman by Robert Stevenson with John Loder (whom she married), marked the abrupt end, in 1947, of her activity as a producer.

The next nine years are marked by a relative discretion, despite the triumph of the peplum Samson and Delilah (1949) by Cecil B. DeMille, inspired by the Book of Judges, with Victor Mature, George Sanders and Angela Lansbury, where in one scene, she receives a fortune in emeralds and sapphires corresponding to the color of his eyes, the film fixes for a long time his image of femme fatale, cold and heartless. In August of the same year, she made the front page of “Paris-Match”.

The actress then moves from the comedy Let”s Live a Little (1948) by Richard Wallace with Robert Cummings and the Russian Anna Sten, to the spy film The Lady without a Passport by Joseph H. Lewis, whose plot takes place in Havana under Batista. Comedy and espionage are combined in Norman Z.”s Spy of My Heart. McLeod alongside Bob Hope. She also experiments with the western (with little success) at Paramount, with Earth Damned by John Farrow, as a saloon owner facing Ray Milland.

She completes her career in L”amante di Paride by Marc Allégret, where she plays the mythical Helen of Troy and Empress Josephine, and in the semi-documentary The History of Mankind, by and produced by Irwin Allen, in which Ronald Colman and the Marx Brothers also take part and where she lends her features to Joan of Arc.

In 1958, the actress shared the credits of her last official film, Harry Keller”s The Female Animal, with soprano Jane Powell: “a rather gripping study of the world of actresses” according to Gérard Legrand. At the end of March, she is the surprise guest on the popular entertainment TV show What”s My Line? on CBS. The same year Mayer, her second “father in cinema” after Jacoby, died.

After her greatest success, Samson and Delilah, the fall of the star is initiated. Hedy Lamarr retired in 1957 after a series of failures. Her fame had already faded; her last appearance in volume 26 of Who”s Who in America dates from 1950-1951.

In 1960, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

According to obscure sources, she led a social life for a few years and squandered her fortune. In the 1960s, she was arrested several times for shoplifting beauty products. She moved from California to an apartment on the East Side in New York to better handle her various legal actions, including against the publisher of her book Ecstasy and Me, on the rights of an unreleased Italian film in which she had played, against her ex-husband Howard Lee who would have made her co-sign his loans or for his defense of the accusation of kleptomania.

The arrest after her first robbery at the May Company department store, the publicity around it and her subsequent stay for overwork in a Los Angeles rest hospital prompted producer Joseph E. Levine, with whom she had just begun working in 1965 on a horror film called (en)Picture Mommy Dead, to claim that she had deserted the picture, and fired her, thus ending her Hollywood career.

Plagued by the fear of aging, she takes great care of herself and experiments with plastic surgery, without success.

End of life

Gertrud Kiesler, his mother, died in 1977, far from her husband who was buried in Vienna in 1935, and was buried in California.

In the last decades of her life, Hedy Lamarr communicated only by telephone with the outside world, even with her children and close friends, living in seclusion in her Florida apartment. She often talked for up to six or seven hours a day on the phone, but spent almost no time with anyone in person.

A documentary film, Calling Hedy Lamarr, released in 2004, features her children, Anthony Loder and Denise Loder-DeLuca.

Hedy Lamarr died on January 19, 2000 at the age of 85 years in Casselberry, Florida as a result of heart disease. According to her wishes, her remains were cremated, and in 2014 her son Anthony Loder spread some of her ashes in the Austrian woods of Vienna.

In the documentary Calling Hedy Lamarr, co-directed by the actress” son Anthony Loder, we see him throwing half of his mother”s ashes in the woods surrounding Vienna, the city of her childhood where she never returned. We also see him noting the omission of Hedy Lamarr on the Walk of Fame where his mother received the star number 6 247.

Since November 7, 2014, the urn containing the other half of Lamarr”s ashes rests, according to Anthony Loder”s wish, in Vienna Central Cemetery, shortly before his mother”s 100th birthday (group 33 G – grave number 80).

Hedy Lamarr had many other interests than acting (she said that ideas came naturally to her): she was passionate about design and a brilliant inventor.

From her conversations with her friend, the avant-garde composer George Antheil, a passionate anti-Nazi and anti-fascist like her, the idea of an invention was born to put an end, according to her, to the torpedoing of passenger ships. It is a principle of signal transmission, the frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS). This principle is however different from the direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS), used in some Wi-Fi standards such as IEEE 802.11b.

Lamarr had learned about various weapons technologies, including torpedo control systems, while she was married (from 1933 to 1937) to Friedrich Mandl, a very important Austrian arms manufacturer who traded with the Austrian Heimwehr and supplied Mussolini.

George Antheil, on the other hand, was familiar with automatic control systems and frequency hopping sequences, which he used in his musical compositions and performances, based on the principle of the perforated tape rolls of mechanical pianos (pianola).

In order to help the Allies in their war effort, both of them proposed their invention in December 1940 to an association of inventors in the field, the National Inventors Council (en), and then decided on June 10, 1941 to patent their “secret communication system”, applicable to radio guided torpedoes to allow the transceiver system of the torpedo to change frequency, making it virtually impossible for the enemy to detect an underwater attack. They immediately made this invention royalty-free to the United States Army.

The U.S. Patent Office holds the description of a secret communication system for radio guided devices, applied for example to torpedoes, co-signed by Hedy Lamarr (under the name “Hedy Kiesler Markey”), aged 27. The patent, entitled Secret communication system (US patent no. 2,292,387) of June 10, 1941 (registered August 11, 1942) describes a system of simultaneous variation of transmitter and receiver frequencies, according to the same registered code (the medium used being perforated tapes inspired by player piano cards, where Antheil gives all the credit for the functional part to Lamarr, specifying that his work on the patent was merely technical. This patent is often described as the “Lamarr technique”.

However, this idea was so innovative that the U.S. Navy did not immediately grasp its importance, so it was not put into practice at the time, although in the 1950s there was a project to detect submarines by aircraft using this technique. Hedy Lamarr did not even mention this invention or the patent in her sulphurous memoirs. Later, advances in electronics meant that the process was used – officially for the first time by the US Army – during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and during the Vietnam War.

When the patent was declassified (fell into the public domain) in 1959, this device was also used by manufacturers of transmission equipment, especially since the 1980s. Most cell phones take advantage of the principles of Lamarr and Antheil”s invention. This principle of transmission, by spreading spectrum by frequency hopping, is still used in the 21st century for satellite positioning (GPS, GLONASS …), military encrypted links, communications of space shuttles with the ground, mobile telephony or in the Wi-Fi technique.

In 1973, the founders of the first “National Inventor”s Day” issued a press release with the names of unexpected inventors, including Hedy Lamarr, the woman who had made missiles stealthier. Lamarr, then 59 years old, was surprised, not knowing until that day that her patent had been used; she decided to obtain rights to it in vain. But she never received any financial compensation for her invention (estimated to be worth $30 billion) despite her claims, unaware that U.S. law allowed only six years after the patent was filed to claim it, and often still being told that her invention had not been used.

In 1997, Hedy Lamarr received the Electronic Frontier Foundation”s award for her contribution to society. Living then in reclusion in Florida, aged 82, she did not go to the ceremony, for fear that people would make fun of her appearance. The accusation of espionage and plagiarism by Robert Price, a historian specializing in secret communications, contributed to the oblivion of her invention in the collective memory. The film historian Jeanine Basinger believes that in another era, Hedy Lamarr “could very well have become a scientist. It is an option that has suffered from its great beauty.

She counters her bitterness against the movie moguls: “They wanted something cheap and stupid,” she says, “they wanted something stupid but I have little shelves in my brain. In the 1970s, she says, “Things go in waves, that”s the truth, and I have to change. Then I”ll buy the yacht… I am a water person. In my next incarnation, I”ll be a fish – a whale, I think. Oh, I know I”m going to win!”.

Until her death, Lamarr did not stop producing inventions and left behind many ingenious projects thrown on paper.

In the 2000s, she became a symbol of innovation and design, and her genius was celebrated. In 2003, she was featured on the cover of Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists. An Austrian invention award is named after her and her birthday on November 9 marks Inventor”s Day in German-speaking countries.

In 2014, the “most beautiful woman in cinema” and pianist George Antheil were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Love life

Hedy Lamarr is one of the great seductresses of Hollywood.

In an article of Ciné Télé Revue of July 1950, Hedy Lamarr is thus described:

“The first thing she notices, when one of these handsome gentlemen is introduced to her, is his walk, his manner. Is he friendly, courteous, distinguished? Does he look fresh and well-groomed? Hedy hates men who look as if they have forgotten to shave, as well as those who take a malicious pleasure in putting their hands deep in their pockets and their feet on the desk.

Hedy Lamarr”s 1966 memoir, Ecstasy and Me, degraded her image as an untouchable goddess. In France, two years later, it was the subject of a review by Bernard Cohn in Positif. The star dwells on his eventful private life and particularly sexual. This memoir is among the ten most erotic autobiographies of all time according to Playboy, along with The Sex Life of Catherine M., The Memoirs of Casanova and the autobiographies of Klaus Kinski and Motley Crue. Lamarr believed that the book”s frankness had put an end to his career and blamed it on his pen-pals, but the court ruled against Lamarr on the grounds that his persistent image of low morality, invoked in the title of the book described as “dirty, nauseating and revolting”, made it very easy to believe that its content was not libel but the truth. The book was even preceded by two introductions, one medical and one psychiatric, because sexual activity outside of marriage was then considered pathological.

Hedy collects adventures. In England, she seduces Stewart Granger, still married to the actress Elspeth March (en). She describes the actor as “one of the most adorable men in the world”.

In March 1941, the billionaire Howard Hughes flooded her with gifts. In August 1942, she met Jean-Pierre Aumont and then Mark Stevens in September, and her engagement to George Montgomery was broken off in November, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In Ecstasy and Me, she recounts that in 1945 John Kennedy, visiting Paris, phoned her and asked her what she wanted; she replied “oranges. She invited him to her apartment, where he arrived an hour later with a bag of oranges; citrus fruits were virtually impossible to find at the time, so the gift was much appreciated.

Among the various personalities that the star would have frequented closely:

Once sharing her “sex addiction,” which at the time might have seemed out of place, she concluded, “It”s a curse for a woman to have too many needs.”

Friedrich Mandl was one of the four largest arms dealers in the world, a personal friend and supplier to Mussolini, a Jew who converted to Catholicism in order to trade with the Austrian Heimwehr and was promoted to “honorary Aryan” by Josef Goebbels. From 1933, he made her an institution of Vienna”s high society, receiving foreign leaders including Hitler, according to Lamarr”s memoirs, or Hermann Goering. Her task was to look pretty, wear jewels and furs, and speak or laugh very little: “He always treated me like a doll,” she reports, “I had to spend all my time giving and going to parties, wearing elegant clothes, taking pleasure trips to Switzerland, North Africa, the French Riviera… Mandl tried, according to an unlikely legend, to buy back all the posters where she appears languid and the copies of the film Extase to destroy them. Moreover, Lamarr left her because he was too involved with the Nazis and his sick jealousy suffocated her in the golden cage where he confined her. According to the same legend, she ran away after drugging the maid in charge of watching her, by borrowing her uniform.

Of her subsequent husbands, there is little mention: with the writer and producer Gene Markey (1939-1940), of whom Hedy later says that “he was the only civilized man : he spat in a spittoon”, she adopts the little James Markey Lamarr that after a fight for his custody, which in 1969 turns out to be the main protagonist of a news story (with the actor John Loder (1943-1947), she has two children, Anthony and Denise, with whom she has difficult relations despite beautiful declarations because the actress has the heavy hand (then follow the actor and real estate tycoon of Acapulco Teddy Stauffer (en) (1951-1952), the oil industrialist of Texas W. Howard Lee (1953-1960) and the lawyer of her previous divorces Lewis J. Boies (1963-1965). Her longest marriage, with Howard Lee, was confirmed by the actress as a “black page” of her life; she will be long in court against him.

Hedy Lamarr was married and divorced six times:

Her various unions made her say, “I have to stop marrying men who feel inferior to me. Somewhere there must be a man who could be my husband and not feel inferior. I need a man who is superior and inferior.

Hedy Lamarr had three children:


Her Jewishness is an element of her biography that she will never mention, neither in her autobiography nor in her interviews nor even with her children.

Subversion and nudity

Hedy Lamarr is one of the most famous actresses who appeared entirely naked in the cinema, in the Czech film Extase (1933), which predates her Hollywood career. According to her, she was guaranteed to be filmed from afar.

In the book Great Ladies of the Cinema (1993), Don Macpherson laments the lack of “that distinct charm and personality that would echo her beauty”; he praises “one of her most pleasing professional efforts” in The Dancer of the Ziegfeld Follies and makes the point about Cecil B. DeMille”s successful peplum (Samson and Delilah, 1949): “Lamarr plays Delilah with a beneficent disregard for realism,” alongside Victor Mature “whose acting prowess” is “a great credit to her. DeMille”s successful peplum (Samson and Delilah, 1949): “Lamarr plays Delilah with a beneficent disregard for realism”, alongside Victor Mature “whose acting prowess is in the same vein”.

The author recognizes, however, that “her determination and panache” help to save the film and ends on this note: “Among the ruins of her ”technicolor” temple, doesn”t it seem that she has finally found her place, however ephemeral her glory?

Many do not forgive Hedy Lamarr for turning down the films Casablanca (1942), Haunting (1944) and The Intrigue of Saratoga (1945), which opened a royal road to actress Ingrid Bergman.

About Casablanca, Hedy Lamarr would have been approached, like Irene Dunne and Michele Morgan (too expensive), but she was bound by contract to MGM and did not want to commit to a project without knowing the script – the team, Bogart and Bergman included, did not appreciate the improvised aspect of the shooting either

It is also rumored that many famous actresses refused because they did not find Bogart attractive enough. Bogart had only two starring roles to his credit in 1942, in The Great Escape and The Maltese Falcon.

Ingrid Bergman, on the other hand, was just starting out in the United States, where she had only shot the remake of Intermezzo and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even Jack Warner couldn”t believe that Bogart could look sexy and he himself gave credit to his partner. On the other hand, George Cukor, director of Haunting, did not remember that Hedy Lamarr was mentioned in this project.

In the Larousse article, the film critic deplores that “the aseptic aesthetics of MGM” has accentuated the “natural coldness of his game” and measures the capabilities of the actress by her performance in The Flesh Demon. Concerning Mayer, the book insists on his conception of the star: “elegant, diaphanous, distant” and underlines the general mawkishness of MGM films after the death of Irving Thalberg (1936). For Jean Tulard, his career has “no great masterpieces but excellent strips.

The woman did not receive better reviews than the interpreter. From the point of view of the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont:

“At a dinner party to which Hedy Lamarr had invited him, the actor suddenly felt under the table the leg of his hostess rubbing against his own … Eight days later, Hedy and Jean-Pierre were engaged. After having offered a solitaire to the lady of his heart, the actor called his father to ask him to come to Los Angeles to meet his future daughter-in-law. By the time Mr. Aumont Sr. made the trip, Jean-Pierre had realized that he was about to make a mistake: capricious, futile, Hedy was really not the woman of his life. When he met his father at the airport, Jean-Pierre told him of his decision to break up with Hedy and entrusted him with the mission of informing the fiancée. The news was not well received. When she saw the actor again, Hedy threw her ring in his face, then, changing her mind, picked it up and slammed the door!”

With Howard Lee, love becomes hate. Gene Tierney remembers, in her autobiography Miss, you should be in the movies:

“Howard Lee was in the middle of a divorce with Hedy Lamarr. Long before the tourists came to town, he had built a house called Villa of Aspen (formerly Villa Lamarr) (…) At the mere mention of my name, he spat, ”No way! I”ve had my fill of movie actresses!” (…) If he believed, or feared, a Hollywood creature, I no longer fit that category, as far as it was ever the case.”

Jane Powell, about Hedy Lamarr”s last official film, Women Before Desire (en) (The Female Animal, 1958), tells:

“Hedy Lamarr was obsessed with her age and beauty. She couldn”t stand being the mother of a grown woman and had forbidden any scenes with me, which was totally unreasonable since I was supposed to be her daughter. She was a star to the core. Every day she arrived at the studio in a limousine driven by her chauffeur and rushed to the makeup room along a red carpet that had been carefully rolled out for her. One day she slammed the door in the face of the entire crew, thinking that a joke we were laughing at was about her.”

The black legend

According to pianist and composer George Antheil, “Hedy was an intellectual giant compared to other Hollywood actresses. Appearances often did her a disservice and loneliness and melancholy seemed to attach themselves to her. Failed plastic surgery and sordid facts, these contradictory noises compose her “black legend”.

In the film American Night directed by François Truffaut, during a crisis of despair that the crew cannot explain, the lead actress Julie Bake (played by Jacqueline Bisset) asks for butter in a lump. A casual observer, one of the lead actors (played by Jean-Pierre Aumont who had been engaged to Lamarr), comments:

” … He is still lucky in his misfortune. I”ve known far more expensive whims. There was an Austrian actress, Hedy Lamarr, who was one of the queens of Hollywood; she missed the rainy climate of her native Tyrol so much that she had a rainmaking machine installed in the garden of her property in California. So you see, butter in a lump… “

– Dialogue by Jean-Pierre Aumont in La Nuit américaine.

In 1949, Hedy Lamarr won the only award of her career, the Golden Apple Award for the least cooperative actress. This misanthropy is not only exercised towards journalists: the Ciné Télé Revue of July 18 to 24, 1950 reports that :

“Hedy Lamarr no longer likes to be talked about. She hates interviews and distrusts the sincerity of her friends. She doesn”t have many of them anymore. She has had too many disappointments and therefore dreads them. She is almost a recluse. Above all, don”t ask her questions that are too precise: let her speak from her heart. When she is feeling down, as she is now, she thinks most intensely about her Viennese childhood and her father. And her father.

During his life, female friendships are mentioned, such as the childhood friendship with the great Viennese singer Greta Keller: admired by the Prince of Wales and King Carol of Romania, who had debuted with Peter Lorre and Marlene Dietrich and became the first star of the Oak Room cabaret.

In 1939, Lamarr counted among her fans the actresses Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead and the actor Clifton Webb. Another of her friends, Ann Sothern, was the comic heroine of the Maisie series and one of the performers in Joseph Mankiewicz”s Wedding Chains (1949).

In 1960, Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting and released without trial. In 1966, caught red-handed stealing beauty products in a department store in Los Angeles, she was tried and released on the grounds of a misunderstanding. It is a defeated Hedy Lamarr who explains herself before the cameras. In the memoirs of Ava Gardner, the actress Lena Horne tells :

“When I met Hedy Lamarr after one of my shows, she said to me: “It was just wonderful, MGM! They picked out our clothes, we didn”t have to think about anything, Howard Strickling (in) took care of everything and anticipated what we would have to say.” And that comment made me feel funny, because I knew there was something horrible going on. You always need to be able to think for yourself.”

In the mid-1960s, Andy Warhol met Hedy Lamarr, whose memoirs inspired the 1965 parody melodrama Hedy (The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

In 1990, the magazine Télé Poche mentions a telefilm biography of Lamarr with Melissa Morgan, former skater and actress in Les Feux de l”amour.

The following year, Jean Tulard wrote that she had “sunk into anonymity and, it is said, into misery. The same year, Hedy Lamarr reoffended at the Eckerd supermarket in Casselberry, Florida, where she lived: she was sentenced to one year of judicial control.

The author and confidante of stars, Joan MacTrevor, confirms in 1990 the ease of Lamarr :

“Born to a Hungarian mother known worldwide for her beauty and a father who is a bank manager, she is rich. She even owns an island in the Caribbean. Recently, she declared to the press: “A woman must, until her last breath, take care of her person. She can not let her physique and beauty degrade!” Hedy Lamarr probably did not bear the oblivion of her fans. Suffering in addition from cataracts, she now gives the sad image of a fallen star.”

”  Parlons de Lamarr, cette Edy si belle, pourquoi laisse-t-elle Joan Bennett porter tous ses vieux cheveux ?  “

– Cole Porter, Let”s No Talk About Love, 1941.

This song is cruel to Joan Bennett, who was then making a career as a brunette femme fatale with Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir, after having been a young blonde leading lady, married to Walter Wanger (the producer of Casbah) and ex-wife of Gene Markey (Hedy”s second husband)… Apparently, the song was inspired by Lamarr”s first appearance in Hollywood, which made a strong impression, Joan Bennet then deciding to become brunette like many women at the time.

“Sir Henry – You see the little house at the end of the road, opposite the one where Monsieur Poirot stayed last year? Well, it has been rented by a film star. The neighbors have their eyes popping out of their heads. Midge – Is she really as fascinating as they say? Sir Henry – Actually, I haven”t seen her yet, but I understand she”s around here these days… What”s her name again? Midge – Hedy Lamarr?”

– Agatha Christie, The Valley, 1946

”  Mais quelle entrée ! Hedy Lamarr détient le record pour ça. Une entrée qu”elle a faite au Ciro”s est une vision que je n”oublierai jamais. Hedy était au sommet de sa beauté, avec des cheveux épais, ondulés, d”un noir de jais. Avec cette étonnante crête de veuve, son visage était magnifique. Nous avons tous levé les yeux et elle était là, en haut des escaliers. Elle portait une sorte de cape jusqu”au menton, qui descendait jusqu”au sol. Je ne me souviens même pas de la couleur de la cape, parce que tout ce que je voyais, c”était ce visage incroyable, ces cheveux magnifiques… Elle avait de quoi faire s”évanouir les hommes forts.  “

– Lana Turner, Lana, la dame, la légende, la vérité, 1982

“When I first met Hedy Lamarr about twenty years ago, she was so breathtaking that all conversations stopped as soon as she entered a room. Wherever she went she became the focus of everyone”s attention. I doubt if anyone cared if there was anything behind this beauty. Everyone was too busy staring at her.

– George Sanders, Memoirs of a Scoundrel, 1960 (PUF reprint, p. 155)

”  Je pense qu”Hedy est l”une des actrices les plus sous-estimées, une actrice qui n”a pas eu la chance d”obtenir les rôles les plus désirables. Je l”ai vue faire des choses brillantes. J”ai toujours pensé qu”elle avait un grand talent, et en ce qui concerne la beauté classique, vous ne pouviez pas, à l”époque, ni peut-être même aujourd”hui, trouver quelqu”un qui surpasse Lamarr.  “

– Errol Flynn, My Wicked Wicked Ways, 1959.

In addition, Flynn wanted to cast Hedy Lamarr in the lead female role in William Tell (1943

”  Tu n”as pas manqué son magnifique visage. Oh, c”était fabuleux, juste fabuleux ! Les gens supposent, apparemment à cause de sa beauté, qu”Hedy est un blanc. Pas du tout. Elle a toujours été charmante quand je l”ai connue, avec un bon sens de l”humour.  “

– Myrna Loy, Being and Becoming, Primus

“Any girl can look glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look silly.”

“My face is a mask that I can”t take off: I have to live with it forever. I curse it.”

“Perhaps my problem in marriage – and this is the problem of many women – has been wanting both intimate closeness and independence.”

“I have a power that can bring things. I”m a small person pursuing a big business, but I”m going to win because I know I”m right.”

“Hope and curiosity for the future… The unknown has always been so appealing to me… and still is.”

“The world is not getting easier. With all these new inventions, I think people are in more and more of a hurry… Rushing is not the right way; you need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.”

“I”ve met the most interesting people by plane or boat. These methods of travel seem to attract the kind of people that work for me.”

Hedy Lamarr also spoke a lot about men, often in pithy formulas like, “Under 35, a man has too much to learn and I don”t have time to give him lessons.”

External links


  1. Hedy Lamarr
  2. Hedy Lamarr
  3. Le biographe S. M. Shearer indique qu”elle quitte Vienne pour fuir d”abord vers Paris (par le Trans-Europ-Express) puis passant par Calais, traverse la Manche pour se réfugier à Londres à l”hôtel Regent Palace de Piccadilly Circus.
  4. a et b Son nom fonctionnait également comme le jeu de mots « Hedy G-lamar » (glamour), « TheHairPin », op. cit.
  5. « Markey », nom de son mari à cette époque.
  6. ^ a b Se si escludono pellicole pornografiche.
  7. ^ Hedy Lamarr, una scienziata a Hollywood, su Focus.it. URL consultato il 9 novembre 2019.
  8. ^ According to Lamarr biographer Stephen Michael Shearer (pp. 8, 339), she was born in 1914, not 1913.
  9. ^ When Lamarr applied for the role, she had little experience nor understood the planned filming. Anxious for the job, she signed the contract without reading it. When, during an outdoor scene, the director told her to disrobe, she protested and threatened to quit, but he said that if she refused, she would have to pay for the cost of all the scenes already filmed. To calm her, he said they were using “long shots” in any case, and no intimate details would be visible. At the preview in Prague, sitting next to the director, when she saw the numerous close-ups produced with telephoto lenses, she screamed at him for tricking her. She left the theater in tears, worried about her parents” reaction and that it might have ruined her budding career. However, the cinematographer of the film claimed that she was aware during filming that there would be nude scenes and did not raise concerns during filming.[26]
  10. Alice George (ed.). «Thank This World War II-Era Film Star for Your Wi-Fi». Smithsonian Magazine. Consultado em 21 de setembro de 2020
  11. a b c Katz, Ephraim (2012). The Film Encyclopedia. Nova York: HarperCollins. p. 780. ISBN 978-0062026156
  12. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Barton, Ruth (2010). Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. 314 páginas. ISBN 9780813126043
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