Tag Archives: MGM

Hedy Lamarr: Smoking Hot Genius

17 May

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Why the story of Hedy Lamarr hasn’t been made into a movie yet I’ll never understand. She was one of the most beautiful movie stars to ever grace the silver screen. But beyond her obvious attributes, Hedy was a bonafide genius. Hers was a classic case of beauty and brains taken to the extreme. And maybe because of the fact she was so beautiful, her academic achievements would never be taken seriously. Not until over 40 years later, at least.

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Born Hedwig Kiesler, Hedy grew up in Vienna as an Austrian Banker’s unorthodox daughter. A self-described enfant terrible, Hedy gained notoriety while still a teenager for running through the woods naked in the Czech film “Ecstacy”.

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Shorty afterwards, Hedy married wealthy arms merchant Fritz Mandl, a Hitler admirer. She accompanied Mandl to business and political dinners, quietly listening while her husband and his Nazi friends plotted advanced weaponry for the coming war.

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Hedy managed a daring escape from the marriage by drugging a maid ordered to keep tabs on her. She fled to England, taking with her all the knowledge and information her Nazi-sympathizer husband has unwittingly exposed her to. Information that would be of incredible value to the Allies in a few years.

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In London, Hedy met film mogul Louis B. Mayer. Mayer took one look at the natural beauty and shipped her to Hollywood and promptly rechristened her Hedy Lamarr.

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A self-taught mathematical genius, the 26-year old Hedy created “frequency-hopping” or “spread-spectrum” technology. She applied her theory to radio-controlled torpedoes, to sink Nazi ships without having their frequency being jammed by the enemy. Lamarr won a patent for her secret communication system. But it wasn’t until 1962, 20 years later, that the Navy would incorporate it into their torpedo guidance systems in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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During WWII, Hedy was urged not to pursue the inventor’s route, but instead to help fight the war by selling war bonds as a glamorous actress, which she did. In one evening alone, Hedy sold over $7 million worth of bonds by selling kisses for $50,000 each! A record that has never been broken since.

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Hedy never received a penny for her ground-breaking spread-spectrum technology. Her patent expired in 1959, but it is being used today in everything from cellular phones, to military defense satellites. Hedy was finally honored for services rendered during WWII by the Electric Frontier Foundation, among other honors. But it was scant recognition for technology that would eventually become the foundation for a trillion-dollar business.

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Living in Florida shortly before her death at 84, the former movie goddess and mathematical genius had a tough time making ends meet. But ever the Lady, when asked about her new-found fame surrounding her invention, Hedy simply replied, “It’s about time.”

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Hedy Lamarr’s true-life story is more fascinating to me than any she ever portrayed on screen. In the 1940’s and 50’s her star was among the brightest in the Hollywood Universe, with films like WHITE CARGO, ALGIERS and SAMSON & DELILAH rocketing her to fame. But watching the sex-kitten roles today gives me a slow burn, knowing tinseltown considered this beautiful woman better without a brain. One that could create technology out of a need to rid the world of Nazis but would end up having much farther reaching effects to this very day.

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I’m hoping some day in the near future, Hollywood will finally get it right and do justice to this golden age movie goddess by telling her story on the silver screen. Hedy’s is truly an original tale and the most unique and unlikely comeback story in virtually all of Hollywood history. You’d think they’d be interested in something like that. Even if it does make them look foolish.

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To Hedy Lamarr, the ultimate Beauty with Brains!

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Hedy in her hey-day.

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One of my favorite glamour shots of the brunette beauty.

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Hedy smoking-hot in her screen debut in Czech silent “Ecstacy”.

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A rare nude of the young movie goddess.

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An even rarer shot of Hedy smiling for the cameras.

 

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Garbo: Her Run-In with Leo the Lion

23 Oct

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In 1925, Greta Garbo signed a contract with Louis B. Mayer’s MGM studios and came to the United States from Sweden with her director/mentor Maurice Stiller. She arrived in New York City where she languished for over 8 months before Mayer sent for her to come to Hollywood. The would-be movie star was already nervous and felt like she was being kept in a cage waiting for word on when and what she would be starting work on. It didn’t help that she could barely speak a word of English.

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In Spring 1926, Mayer finally got around to his newest star and ordered a publicity shoot to create some buzz for the Swedish Sphinx. Garbo was only 19 and must have been terrified when they drove her out to the Lion Farm where they kept Jackie the Lion (aka Leo the Lion) the MGM mascot and a quite large male. The photoshoot was conducted by Don Gillum, a renowned sport photographer at the time. You can tell in the above shot that Garbo isn’t too happy to be sitting beside the lion. And Jackie doesn’t look especially happy, either. He’s staring down the starlet as if she were trying to steal the scene.

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Garbo survived and like a true pro, agreed to mug it up with some lion cubs as well as act the lioness behind a chain-link fence. Fast forward 10 years and Garbo would be the queen of the silver screen. She would have her revenge on Louis B. Mayer and Leo the Lion by imposing a $5,000 a week salary on the notoriously stingy movie Mogul. Mayer would learn that Garbo would never again have to do anything she didn’t want to do and he would have to go along with it – or lose his biggest star for good.

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Garbo would learn that breaking into sound from silent pictures meant she could afford to keep quite. But that’s a story for another day…

Marlene Dietrich: My Blue Angel

1 Dec

Marlene was the first to admit that her onscreen image was a creation of her own and that of director Josef von Sternberg. Imported by Paramount Pictures in 1930 (the execs wanted their own Garbo to make MGM sweat a little at the box office), Marlene had made The Blue Angel in English as well as German to capitalize on the scandalous subject matter. But it was Marlene’s androgynous appeal to women as well as men that made her a huge crossover star in America. Arguably, the German-born actress was as beautiful as goddess Garbo with one distinct difference. Marlene’s sex appeal was derived from her self-effacing sense of humor. If Garbo’s love was tragic – Dietrich’s love was sardonic.

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Marlene called herself the “ersatz-Garbo”. She didn’t like being compared to the Swedish Sphinx and her film roles reflected that fact. Plus, Marlene was more than just a movie goddess: she could sing and dance with the best of them. When she arrived in Hollywood the studio tried to make her sign a morality clause in her contract. America was coming off the hangover of Prohibition and Hollywood didn’t want their stars private lives to overshadow their on-screen creations. No doubt Marlene’s proclivity for bedding as many women as men (she traveled with her lover as well as her broad-thinking husband) gave the studio suits fits of worry and they thought they could control her with money.  Little did they know how smart and strong Marlene could be.

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Marlene may have been a creation of her favorite director/collaborator von Sternberg, but when it came to her career she took no chances. As soon as she could, she assumed control of her movies by becoming one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Now she had a say both on camera and off about the script, costumes, locations and, most importantly, what the censors cut and what she fought to keep in her films. In 1934, the tide changed in Hollywood and the code came into full effect. Only stars of Marlene and Garbo’s stature could fight for the best roles – often times their own studio bosses would try and tame them, watering down the storylines until there was little or no value left in them. Garbo would ultimately throw in the towel and retire in 1941. But Marlene’s star would rise even higher in the wasteland of World War II.

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Dietrich was as strong as she was beautiful. When Hitler commanded her to return to Germany at the outbreak of hostilities – Marlene not only told him where to get off, she did everything in her power to aide the Allies. She was a fixture of War Bond fundraisers overseas. She entertained the troops at USO shows with song and dance (her fabulous legs were insured for a million dollars) and spoke passionately about democracy and her love for America, her adopted country). Marlene truly came into her own during and after the war – and her fans loved her all the more for it. She was like a blonde Venus rising from the catastrophic aftermath of her birth countries bid to rule the world. And she was a shining example of a woman who fought for freedom as hard as any man – and won on her own terms.

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What Marlene lacked in Garbo’s perfect facial features she more than made up for in exquisite make-up effects.

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She liked to say “The Blue Angel” was her first film, even though in reality it was her sixteenth!

Jean Harlow: Original Blonde Bombshell

8 Oct

The story of Jean Harlow is inescapably intermingled with Hollywood legend.  The story goes like this: Harlean (her real first name) was accompanying a friend to central casting when studio executives became interested in her instead. She put them off, only to return to central casting several days later on a friendly bet and was hired to play bit parts for Hal Roach, then Howard Hughes and finally Irving Thalberg at MGM where she became an “overnight” sensation and massive superstar at the tender age of 20.

The world’s first “platinum blonde” couldn’t get a break, either from real life or the critics that panned her acting ability in the early years of her career. Jean (she borrowed her mother’s name for the silver screen) seemed always ill regardless of the radiant presence she had on film. She was married three times, most notoriously to Paul Bern, an MGM producer who was found shot-dead in their Hollywood home when Jean was only 21. The resulting scandal (his death was officially a suicide) made Jean even more popular with her adoring fans. Her true love was fellow movie star William Powell but the two never married.

On screen, Jean was glamorous, sexy and most of all funny. Her comedic timing and attitude were a goldmine to MGM and she single-handedly kept the studio out of bankruptcy in the early 1930’s. Jean played opposite Clarke Gable six times. My favorites are Red-Headed Woman and Hold Your Man. She played opposite a fetus-young Jimmy Stewart in Wife Vs. Secretary, whose concept is so dated that it’s impossible to like the movie even though it features one of my all-time favorite actresses – the imitable Myrna Loy.

Jean was only 26 when she became dreadfully ill on the set of Saratoga. A victim of medical malpractice, Jean was misdiagnosed several times and suffered horribly before succumbing to kidney failure. Her grieving fans were outraged when MGM studios tried to replace her with another actress to complete her last film Saratoga. Instead, they hired several body doubles to be shot from behind and even an actress to mimic Jean’s voice to complete the film “starring” Jean Harlow. Ironically, the critics have labeled it her finest work.

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Jean was supposed to be MGM’s next Greta Garbo but she didn’t live long enough to inherit Garbo’s throne. She was a funny, spirited personality more than an actress. Her legacy is her films opposite Gable and the indelible impression she made on depression-era America. She never took herself or the industry that made her famous too seriously. She died way too young, which made her a Hollywood legend and a legacy that wouldn’t be seen again until another tragic blonde came along to fill her shoes…her names was Jean, too. Norma Jean aka Marilyn Monroe.

Norma Shearer – The Anti-Garbo

17 Feb

I can’t help but love Norma Shearer. She was so beautiful, ballsy and, in her day, the reigning queen of Hollywood. That is, if Garbo hadn’t been. Fascinating how someone who would otherwise be number one in the world, exists opposite another who is their match and then some. Just like John McEnroe had Bjorn Borg and Tom Brady has Eli Manning to contend with – Norma had the almighty Garbo raining on her Hollywood parade.

Not that we should feel too bad for Norma. After all, she was married to Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind at MGM who made silver screen art and tinseltown magic while Louis B. Mayer made money. But even though he was married to Norma and gave her all the choice parts, even Irving knew Garbo transcended her time. As accessible Norma was to the masses, Garbo was inaccessible like a true star in the sky. As likeable and glamorous in an earthly way as Norma was portrayed, Garbo was the goddess who touched down on terra firma long enough to steal our hearts – then quickly ascend back into the heavens. But this wasn’t the biggest reason Garbo has endured and been remembered while Norma Shearer has largely been forgotten. No, the biggest reason is how the two stars fates were constructed on-screen.

Norma always got her man. And, like in hugely successful THE WOMEN, she wasn’t above groveling to get him the lecherous ass back. In stark black & white contrast – Garbo was the vamp who found redemption through love, then died for it. She found truelove just before they shot her, like in MATA HARI, or, before she kicked the bucket in CAMILLE. These roles, inherently dramatic and romantic visions, couple with Garbo’s unbelievably gorgeous face – made her the queen of the silver screen without equal. Norma, beautiful and comedic – could never pull off such high drama even if she wanted to.

But this blog is about Norma Shearer. Taken by herself, she was an often wonderful actress opposite stars like Clark Gable in FREE SOUL. She was exuberant and shimmered an inner-glow that I believe she possessed in real life. Most attractive, however, was how she stuck by her man Irving in real life. Thalberg was a very sick man and died young. Norma truly loved him and protected his image long after he passed. Tragically, in her own life after Hollywood, Norma sought out seclusion (not unlike her arch-screen nemesis Garbo) and appeared frightened by the aging process we are all subjected to. It saddens me that we glorify our leading ladies at the height of their beauty, then toss them aside so easily once they hit 30, or younger. Are they not the same women we fell in love with at first sight in their 20’s?

Norma will always be remembered. Maybe not like Garbo. But even Garbo, while most know the name, has been relegated to a bygone era. Lost in the sea of technology, special effects and irrelevant, male-oriented storylines that disgrace our cinema screens today. I’m hoping for a resurgence of interest in golden age Hollywood stars as a result of this year’s silent screen Oscar-contender “The Artist”. The storyline of which was lifted from the very-real life love story between Garbo and John Gilbert. But that’s for another blog. Today I want to celebrate Norma. May she be remembered as a classy dame who knew how to have fun and hold her man.