Friday, March 28, 2014

Books: Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr - By Stephen Michael Shearer

(Drivebycuriosity) - Are you interested in the history of the cinema? Then you might enjoy the biography "Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr" by Stephen Michael Shearer (amazon).

The author describes life and career of a Hollywood star who`s light shined from the late 1930s through the 50s. Hedy Lamarr had an ambivalent personality. The Austria born actress wasn`t just a glamour girl, she also was highly sophisticated and super-smart. Hedy co-invented, "together with composer George Antheil, an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, which paved the way for today's wireless communications and which, upon its invention in 1941, was deemed so vital to national defense that government officials would not allow publication of its details" (wikipedia).

Hedy´s biography gives an impression how Hollywood functioned in the so-called golden age of cinema. Hedy, and other top actors, weren´t free, instead they were a kind of slaves because they had  tight contracts which bound them to the studios. Over many years Hedy Lamarr was a property of the studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). Studio boss Louis B. Mayer decided in which movies Hedy played and in which not. According to Shearer the actress was temporary neglected and underemployed because Mayer didn´t see her fit to some of his projects.

The book also gives a glance into the economy of movie making in those days. As today movies were just commercial products - like soap. The author describes Hedy`s relationships with Hollywood moguls like Mayer and Cecil B. DeMille, the director of her greatest hit "Samson and Deliah" who used her as an asset.

Shearer focuses on the movie business, describes Hedy´s films (with spoilers)  and elaborates about the star´s personal live (a lot of divorces and short time friendships). The  strengths of his book are the insights into the Hollywood machine of the 1940s and 50s; but her role as a co-inventor of one of the most important technological achievements of the last century went a bit under the radar.

"Beautiful…" is a fascinating portrait of a chatoyant personality and Hollywood`s golden years, but if you want to get a more complete picture of Hedy`s ambivalence you might supplement your reading with this Wikipedia article (wikipedia).

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