With today’s blog, you’ll find out exactly why we love reader e-mails. We recently received this note from Kitty Collins:
I love this blog! Please make Hedy Lamarr your Star of the Week one of these days – I absolutely adore her, and I’d get such a kick out of seeing her being appreciated for once!
Wow! Thanks, Kitty, and how can we possibly resist?
You’re affection is welcome but your Star of the Week suggestion is even more so. We’ve written several times in the past about Hedy, but now is a good time for another look at her remarkable career.
She was born Hedwig Kiesler in 1914 to a solidly bourgeois family that prized culture and the arts. By 16, Hedy was already embarked on movie bit parts in silents produced at Vienna’s Sascha-Film Studio. Stage parts followed, then a fateful journey to Prague in 1932.
She had been offered a part in an Czech art film about a frustrated bride breaking free from a sexless marriage to an older man. The movie was title Ecstasy, and it involved full frontal nudity and scenes showing Hedy in the throes of intercourse with her lover, a virile construction worker (played by 27-year-old German actor Aribert Mog).
What added zest to the project was the fact that Hedy at 18 was shown in long tracking shots running through the woods completely in the buff. What caught world attention were her realistic love scenes with costar Mog (with whom she actually was having an affair). Ecstasy nearly shot down her Hollywood career before it even started.
MGM’s Louis B. Mayer was appalled by the film. At MGM we make clean pictures, the mogul growled. We want our stars to lead clean lives. I don’t know what people would think about a girl who flits bare-assed around the screen. Bare-assed or not, Mayer wound up hiring Hedy (after trying to low-ball her with a financial offer she rejected out of hand).
Lamarr impressed Hollywood with her strikingly mature beauty. When she came to Hollywood in 1937, she had already been heralded as “the most beautiful girl in the world.” She also became in short order the most glamorous of glamour queens.
Probably her most remembered picture is 1949’s Samson and Delilah, director Cecil B. DeMille’s Old Testament extravaganza costarring Victor Mature, George Sanders and Angela Lansbury (as Hedy’s older sister, no less). And be sure to check her out opposite Charles Boyer in 1938’s Algiers, performed under her MGM contract which lapsed after the end of World War II.
We recently took a look at one of Hedy’s more popular pictures from 1944 — RKO’s Experiment Perilous, a costume drama with George Brent during which not one but at least three of the male leads repeatedly profess their abject love for her. Director Jacques Tourneur backed up the script demands by showing bare-shouldered Hedy adorned with jewelry and strings of pearls musing about her situation in the direction of camera.
Such attractive posing was also emphasized six years later when Hedy starred in MGM’s A Lady Without Passport, in which she cast as an international woman of uncertain past caught in pre-Castro Havana. Her male costar is an undercover immigration officer played by John Hodiak, who falls in love with Hedy after some extended plot preliminaries.
Hedy is a shady lady in Passport, who in one scene appears not above selling her considerable charms to get what she needs. Director Joseph H. Lewis makes sure to include the requisite number of closeups of Hedy — staring into the camera. She looked so good, nothing else would suffice.
As bright as she was — and Hedy was unusually intelligent, especially for a Hollywood star — she made her share of boneheaded career decisions, notably turning down the choice Ingrid Bergman roles in both Gaslight and Casablanca. She endured six unsuccessful marriages, and ended her days (she died in 2000 at age 85) in financial straits.
Can anyone name another actress as brainy and as beautiful as Hedy Lamarr?
And, Kitty, your name did not go unnoticed. Is it your real name or a homage to Ava’s character in 1946’s The Killers?