In this proficient biography of the sultry, litigious Hollywood star, Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Shearer (Patricia Neal, 2006) takes pains to render a fair reevaluation of her acting.
Exotically beautiful and groomed for the high-toned films of the 1940s and early Technicolor, Hedy Lamarr (1914–2000) often groped for the right roles. As a result, she didn’t fully explore her acting potential, writes the author in this nuts-and-bolts account. Lamarr is quoted as saying, “My face has been my misfortune,” and indeed she was considered in her era the most beautiful of the Hollywood actresses. She was typecast as the vamp and temptress, largely due to her notorious early German film Exstase (1932), in which she appeared naked. Her German accent didn’t help. Born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna to a middle-class Jewish couple, Lamarr bluffed her way into small acting parts at the Sascha-Tobis-Film in her teens. She briefly attended Max Reinhardt’s school in Berlin, then followed him back to Vienna to act in various stage productions, befriending Otto Preminger. After achieving exposure in Exstase, she married the wealthy Austrian industrialist Fritz Mandl—the first of six mostly disastrous marriages to men she believed would fix her financially—before fleeing him (and the Nazis) to board an ocean liner carrying the party of M-G-M mogul Louis B. Mayer. Felicitously, by their arrival in New York in late 1937, she had a new name and a movie contract. From her first film, Algiers (1938), Lamarr set a new standard of beauty, “with those huge, marbly eyes, the porcelain-skin, the dreamy little smile, and the exotic voice that was an artful combination of Old Vienna and the MGM speech school. During the ’40s, she worked with all the greats, culminating in Samson and Delilah (1949), then moved on to television roles to support her spiraling law suits and several children. Unfortunate shoplifting sprees later marred her chances at working. Only late in life was the invention she had worked on with composer George Antheil as early as 1941—an anti-jamming device instrumental in torpedo operations—finally recognized.
A dogged, basically factual tale of a Hollywood survivor.