New titles from others and research in progress

Hedy Lamarr

July 6, 2012

Tags: Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood, <i>Ecstasy</i>, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford

Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film
Ruth Barton.  Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful woman in Film.  University Press of Kentucky, 2010.  281p ISBN 9780813126043, $29.95  

Barton's subtitle is no exaggeration.  It pinpoints what movie producers and reviewers remarked about Lamarr (1913-2000) nearly every time they mentioned or wrote about her.  An impeccable researcher, Barton (film, Trinity College Dublin) has written an engaging biography that also serves as a history of Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1950s.  She is especially insightful about Ecstasy (1933), the scandalous film in which Lamarr appeared in the nude, establishing herself as the quintessential sexualized figure of modern cinema for nearly two decades.  Lamarr performed poorly in serious roles, Barton demonstrates, but she had a gift for light comedy that Hollywood all too rarely exploited.  Oddly, though she was an intelligent woman with a brilliant mind--she patented a frequency-hopping technology for radio-guided torpedoes in WW II, a technology that is still in use for cell phones today--Lamarr seems not to have cared enough about acting to demand better parts, as did her contemporaries like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.  Was Lamarr just disgusted with her willingness to collaborate with Hollywood's beauty machine when she had the brains to do better?  Unfortunately, in the end, for all Barton's research, this conundrum goes unresolved; here Lamarr remains an enigmatic and unfulfilled person.

I'd love to get your take on this fascinating figure.


  1. July 6, 2012 6:04 PM EDT
    very interesting bio about a truly enigmatic star, Hedy Lamarr. At the height of her fame, she was nicknamed "The Most Beautiful Woman In Films". It was sad her career didn't maintain the high expectatives Hollywood had set on her erratic star. She was considered for the role of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942), but Ingrid Bergman was cast instead. Hedy's talent was underestimated by many within the industry, i.e. Victor Fleming during the filming of "Tortilla Flat" he didn't thought much of her range. In 1972, Hedy Lamarr took a room at the Blackstone Hotel, where she spent the next 3 years. "To live in a hotel means I don't live here. I'm finally away from California, where we did fine films. That was the Golden Years. They've gone; that doesn't exist any more". In the late 1980's, Hedy moved to Altamonte Sprinsg, a retirement community in Florida. Neighbors passing by late at night would glimpse her swimming in the pool. Most didn't know who she was. In August 1991 she was once again arrested for shoplifting goods. When she received the EFF Award for her contribution to the frequency hopping system, she said "It's about time".
    - Elena Gonzalvo
  2. July 6, 2012 6:15 PM EDT
    Elena, your comment about Lamarr turning down the role in Casablanca reminds me that she also turned down the role Gene Tierney played in Laura. Afterwards, Lamarr commented, "Who knew the film would have such lovely music." Who knew, indeed. Not even the cast of the picture. Vincent Price commented that the first time he heard the music was at a screening of the picture. Could Hedy Lamarr have done as well as Gene Tierney or Ingrid Bergman in the roles that made them stars? You have to wonder. Lamarr made some bad choices, but she was not alone. George Raft didn't want Bogart's role in Casablanca. But of course who knows if Raft and Lamarr really would have gotten the roles they turned down anyway? Darryl Zanuck thought of changing the cast of Laura several times and only backed off because of Otto Preminger's determination to go with what he thought was best.
    - Carl Rollyson
  3. July 7, 2012 11:52 AM EDT
    As much as I love Hedy, I couldn't imagine Ilsa in Casablanca plalyed by other actress than Ingrid Bergman, and the same I feel in the case of "Laura" with the almost ethereal Gene Tierney that I feel cannot be disassociated in my memory from Laura's almost spectral beauty.
    - Elena Gonzalvo
  4. July 7, 2012 1:15 PM EDT
    Spectral beauty is a good word. Ingrid Bergman was a far better actress than Hedy Lamarr. Hedy might have be able to do Gene Tierney's role. But that's just a guess, of course.
    - Carl Rollyson
  5. July 8, 2012 11:00 PM EDT
    Since I've not read this book it's all a guess on my part but couldn't Hedy Lamarr's bad movie choices be a lack of passion for acting? It can happen even to established actors; Marlon Brando stands out as a good example. Maybe Hedy found out she could make money off her looks but never was challenged by acting. It's all conjecture but what you've described here sounds like a possibility. Louis
    - Louis Burklow
  6. July 9, 2012 6:33 AM EDT
    I good question, Louis. I don't recall that Barton addresses your point directly, but, yes, Hedy had other interests, and, after all, there were roles she had to do that she did not like. That happensed, of course, to many actors under long-term contracts, and many put up with it, but others were discouraged and wary. Nobody knew, for example, that Casablanca would make such a good film. During the shooting Ingrid Bergman thought it was a mess, and she never did understand why it had become a classic.
    - Carl Rollyson