Hedy Lamarr 101

Hedy Lamarr was once called the “most beautiful woman in the world” — and she was damn smart too. Born today in 1914, she was a talented actress, who clearly lacked good roles, and lamented that fact until the day she died. The actress and Austrian-Jewish immigrant was also the inventor of frequency-hopping technology, which helped guide systems for anti-submarine torpedoes in World War II. It was her effort toward helping to stop the Nazis. Later, her creation spurred on radical changes in communications technology too. Imagine Nicole Kidman doing a scene for “Grace of Monaco” by day and then by night inventing a vital war technology that changes the dynamic of electronic warfare. Surely, that brings to life the commonly-heard phrase, “They don’t make stars like they used to.” Of course, all kidding aside, Lamar was an anomaly even in her own time. I suppose her life offers much to say about the packages in which creative brilliance shows itself, and also about the nature of women in a male-dominated world. Here is a woman who often received mediocre roles, in part, because of her unique beauty. But in another world and in another aspect of her life, she could sit down at a drafting table and think-up marvelous technology and barely be recognized as having done so until the last couple of decades. She was misunderstood and undervalued in many respects. (She even tried to create a kind of soda-pop sugarcube that could turn water into Coke.) I’ve always loved Lamarr’s early Czech film “Ekstase” (1933) — primarily known for her controversial nudity. But really the film is better than that piece of notoriety. There’s a gorgeous scene about an ex-husband contemplating suicide, involving a fly, flypaper, a window and man’s inability to escape sorrow (being jilted by Lamarr’s character) that’s worth more than the film rental fee and the brief titilation. I enjoyed Lamarr in “Algiers” (1938), “Zeigfeld Girl” (1941), “Come Live With Me” (1941) and somewhat in “That Strange Woman” (1946). The latter is truly an odd, overwrought picture. On the other hand, you can also watch “My Favorite Spy” (1951) — which I always like to joke misses the boat — most likely because of Bob Hope’s comedic ego. If your movie features Lamarr, as the film’s posters suggest, and more screen time is given to Hope pratfalls than to her face — then clearly you’ve failed the audience. Check out today’s Google Doodle celebrating what would have been Lamarr’s 101st birthday. It’s a wonderful remembrance for an endlessly interesting classic actress. — David D. Robbins Jr.

3 thoughts on “Hedy Lamarr 101

  1. Pingback: Hedy Lamarr 101 | Rogues & Vagabonds

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