Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film

Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film

Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film

Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film


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.


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 switched on, the more damage I saw. I walked down one corridor and I tripped over the head of a mad scientist.” Now feeling more than a little uneasy, Dow started to take stock of the damage. All in all, thirteen statues had been destroyed. These included: Jean Harlow, Vivien Leigh, Susan Hayward, Tyrone Power, Sony Bono, a couple of U.S. presidents, and Hedy Lamarr. “Now we’ll have to keep a security man on after hours,” mused Spoony Singh, the museum owner. “We used to have a watchman. We went through a string of them. But they complain of having to be there all alone with those wax figures. After a while some of them claimed they could see the figures moving.” The break- in led the museum to take stock of its silent luminaries; sadly Hedy Lamarr did not make the cut. She was melted down and later replaced by Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

If that break-in had occurred two or three decades later, the outcome for the Viennese actress, whose reputation derived from a brief, naked run through a wooded copse, followed by a swim, filmed by a longforgotten Czech director for a 1930s European art film, might have been otherwise. When Hedy Lamarr arrived in America, her reputation preceded her. Few people had seen Ecstasy, the film that had made her famous. Fewer would later remember the plot of Ecstasy or their last glimpse (depending on which version they saw) of the character played by Hedwig Kiesler, as the eighteen- year- old was then called, on the station platform in the early hours of the morning, gently kissing her sleeping lover, folding her coat under his head, and walking away from him.

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