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Hedy Lamarr

The Most Beautiful Woman in Film

Ruth Barton

Publication Year: 2010

Hedy Lamarr’s life was punctuated by salacious rumors and public scandal, but it was her stunning looks and classic Hollywood glamour that continuously captivated audiences. Born Hedwig Kiesler, she escaped an unhappy marriage with arms dealer Fritz Mandl in Austria to try her luck in Hollywood, where her striking appearance made her a screen legend. Her notorious nude role in the erotic Czech film Ecstasy (1933), as well as her work with Cecil B. DeMille (Samson and Delilah, 1949), Walter Wanger (Algiers, 1938), and studio executive Louis B. Mayer catapulted her alluring and provocative reputation as a high-profile sex symbol. In Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film, Ruth Barton explores the many facets of the screen legend, including her life as an inventor. Working with avant-garde composer and film scorer George Antheil, Lamarr helped to develop and patent spread spectrum technology, which is still used in mobile phone communication. However, despite her screen persona and scientific success, Lamarr’s personal life caused quite a scandal. A string of failed marriages, a lawsuit against her publisher regarding her sensational autobiography, and shoplifting charges made her infamous beyond her celebrity. Drawing on extensive research into both the recorded truths of Lamarr’s life and the rumors that made her notorious, Barton recognizes Lamarr’s contributions to both film and technology while revealing the controversial and conflicted woman underneath. Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film illuminates the life of a classic Hollywood icon.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Screen Classics

Title Page/Copyright/Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Without the persistent advice and encouragement of Patrick McGilligan, this book would never have been finished. I would also like to thank the University Press of Kentucky— Leila Salisbury and Anne Dean Watkins and my anonymous readers— for their many and helpful comments...

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Introduction: Waxworks

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pp. 1-8

On a September day in 1973, Richard Dow, a caretaker at the Hollywood Wax Museum, started his workday as usual. “I walked down the dark corridors to the back of the museum, and I reached behind a black curtain to turn on a sequence of spotlights,” he told reporters afterward. It was then that he saw the demolished figure of Madame Tussaud. “The more lights I...

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A Childhood in D

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pp. 9-15

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Kiesler on 9 November 1914, in Vienna. Later, she added two middle names, Eva Maria, to her given name. Her father, Emil, from Lemberg (Lw

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The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

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pp. 16-28

Hedy now signed up for acting classes with Professor Arndt in Vienna.1 According to Ecstasy and Me and several interviews that she gave, Hedy forged a handwritten note to the school from her mother and slipped off one day to Austria’s largest film studio, Sascha Film Studios, where she talked herself into a job as a script clerk. While there she overheard the ...

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pp. 29-42

By the time he began filming Ecstasy, Gustav Machaty enjoyed a reputation as a director of art films. His most celebrated work was an erotic masterpiece, Seduction (Erotikon), made in 1929. The film concerned the sexual encounter between the daughter of a station master and a stranger and opens with scenes from their night of love, which marked the film as ...

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Fritz Mandl

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pp. 43-58

The success and notoriety of Ecstasy opened doors for the young star; although for the moment those were to be stage doors. Interviewed during the shooting of Ecstasy, Hedy was firm: she did not want a Hollywood career. “I don’t want to become a slave to cinema,” Hedy said. “I want to film when I feel like it, and to take a break when I don’t. I’ll...

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The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

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pp. 59-68

Switzerland was regarded by many German and Austrian refugees as a station on their way to France until 1938, when it introduced measures prohibiting Jews from crossing its borders. The better- heeled refugees, whose numbers now included Hedwig Kiesler, chose to spend the winter of 1936– 1937 in St. Moritz before heading to Paris. The Swiss resort was a ...

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To the Casbah!

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pp. 70-78

In early 1938, Hedy began seeing Reginald Gardiner, the suave English star, who, like her, was on the rise in Hollywood. She credits him with introducing her to Walter Wanger, who was preparing to shoot Algiers with her old friend from Switzerland, the French matinee idol Charles...

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This Dame Is Exotic

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pp. 79-99

“Your next picture at MGM,” Hedy remembers Mayer pronouncing, “must be better than Algiers. If it isn’t we won’t make it. Your next picture must be an artistic triumph, a picture that will make Algiers look small. We are now going to give you the biggest stars, the finest writers, and...

Photo Insert- between pages 94 and 95

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The Siren of the Picture Show

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pp. 100-112

Between September 1940 and January 1941, Hedy was busy shooting Ziegfeld Girl. She had pressed Mayer for a part in the film: “Mr. Mayer, I’ve done several dramatic roles. Now I’d like to do something Viennese style, a light, airy musical,” she recalled telling him.1 Mayer had assembled a team of writers to work on the script and was not amused when its...

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The Rather Unfeminine Occupation of Inventor

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pp. 113-125

Hedy was condemned to watch the battle in Europe from the distance of America. Like so many other

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Enter: Loder

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pp. 126-139

Hedy was becoming as well known for the roles she did not play as for those she did. If her most famous missed opportunity was the role of Ilsa in Casablanca, other films she reputedly rejected included Gaslight (1944) (ironically, she starred in Experiment Perilous, a film often compared to

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Exit: Loder

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pp. 140-151

In 1944, Hedy compensated for her missed opportunity to act in Casablanca. In January, she, Alan Ladd, and John Loder reprised the lead roles in the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film, produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Soon after, filming started on...

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pp. 152-168

While the rifts in Loder and Hedy’s marriage were becoming public, Hedy was busy developing her own production company, Mars Productions Inc. Her partners in the venture were Hunt Stromberg and Jack Chertok. Stromberg was one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and had recently split with MGM after a dispute with Louis B. Mayer...

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No Man Leaves Delilah!

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pp. 169-175

Cecil B. DeMille had been contemplating another lavish biblical epic for a number of years. His reputation for large- scale biblical films had been cemented in the prewar era with the release of The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1926), and The Sign of the Cross (1932). The...

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pp. 176-188

By the spring of 1950, Hedy was enjoying the comforts of financial security. She had proven herself professionally and could indulge her interests. If she had never learned to love Hollywood, she had grown used to West Coast sunshine; most of all she enjoyed swimming and relaxing on the beach. She headed to the Naples Beach Club in Florida, but she was...

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Houston, Texas

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pp. 189-203

In early 1952, Hedy announced that her production company intended to produce Queen Esther and the King of Egypt (a series of films for television) to be filmed in Britain, with Edgar Ulmer slated to direct. She had purchased the rights to the story for $25,000. But as negotiations spilled over into 1953, the project fell through....

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A Filthy, Nauseating Story

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pp. 204-219

The eventual publication of Hedy’s long- planned autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, devolved into the first in a series of court cases involving the star. Hedy’s encounters with American courts were many and legendary. It is hard to know just why she resorted to litigation so frequently: was she driven by a faith in the fairness of the courts or was she...

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Final Years

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pp. 220-235

In 1972, Hedy took a room at the Blackstone Hotel, where she spent the next three years. “To live in a hotel,” she said, “means that I don’t live here. It’s like a bridge. It means I’m finally away from California, where we made fine films. That was the Golden Years. They’ve gone; that doesn’t exist any more . . . But I would like to go back, to Europe, to Vienna,...


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pp. 237-239


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pp. 241-256


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pp. 257-267


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pp. 269-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126104
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813126043

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Screen Classics