Reviews & Discussion
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW:
In this authoritative biography, Shearer (Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life) surveys the career of actress Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000), born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna. In her teens, she was cast in German films, and in 1933, after she appeared nude in Ecstasy, she was catapulted to international fame. During an Atlantic crossing on the Normandie, Louis B. Mayer offered her an MGM contract and changed her name to Hedy Lamarr. Promoted as "the most beautiful girl in the world," she appeared in more than two dozen films between 1938 and 1958. Metro denied her a loan out to do the lead in Casablanca, but her vibrant screen presence in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) left a lasting impression on both filmgoers and Paramount; it raked in over $11 million to become the most profitable Paramount production up until that time. She faded from films in the 1950s, made numerous 1960s TV appearances and then dropped from the limelight, retiring to Florida in 1987. Providing probing and detailed coverage of her five marriages, children, various lawsuits, radio roles and shoplifting headlines, Shearer has combined extensive archival research with insightful interview quotes. The result is a fascinating biography that recreates Hollywood's Golden Age of Glamour.
REVIEWS for "Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr"
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION “BOOKLIST” REVIEW: Shearer’s biography does not simply chronicle the life of Hollywood legend Hedy Lamarr, from her cosseted childhood in an assimilated Jewish family in Austria to her early breaks in Max Reinhardt’s internationally famous theater company; her scandalous, career-launching nude scene in the Czech film Ecstasy; her tortured first marriage to Jewish Nazi arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandl (dubbed an “honorary Aryan” the Third Reich); and her daring escape from the sadistic Mandl and Nazi Germany to Los Angeles and MGM. The real beauty of the book is how well and how wholeheartedly Shearer tells this remarkable story. It helps that much of Lamarr’s life reads like a novel, packed with surprise twists and stereotype-destroying details, such as Lamarr’s fascinating after-hours research in military communications systems (done with avant-garde composer George Antheil), research that formed the foundation for the technology used in Wi-Fi and cell phones. For this she won an award in 1997, three years before her death, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. One finishes the book feeling that one has read a complete portrait of Hedy Lamarr, actor and inventor, a biography that reveals, with drama and wit, how much more there was to this complex, brilliant woman than her ethereal natural beauty.
— Jack Helbig
Shearer, Stephen Michael. Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2010. c.432p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-312-55098-1. $29.99. FILM
Hedy Lamarr was known in her heyday—Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s—as “the most beautiful girl in the world.” Lamarr was incredibly lovely, but she was also highly intelligent and complex. She first gained worldwide attention for her nude scenes in the Czech film Extase in 1933; Hollywood soon beckoned, and she quickly became a glamorous film icon, referred to as the “Dream Girl of 50,000,000 Men.” But behind the stardom and multiple marriages was a reclusive woman with a fertile mind who was a successful inventor and financier. In his biography of Lamarr, Shearer (Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life) pulls back the veil to reveal a woman who was at her most fascinating away from the movie screen. VERDICT Deeply researched and written with humor, grace, and a great respect for his subject, Shearer’s biography will be of interest not only to film buffs but also to students of women’s history in science. Highly recommended.—Teri Shiel, Westfield State Coll. Lib., MA