Tag Archives: World War II

Tallulah: Mr. Hitchcock, We Have A Little Problem

25 Mar

Tallulah. She was one of a kind. The kind of irrepressible spirit that could not be repressed, oppressed or pressed to do anything she didn’t want to do. With Tallulah you saw what you got. And boy, did she show you a lot. On the set of Lifeboat, easily her greatest screen achievement (Tallulah was more of a stage actress and personality of her times – but she was a helluva actress on screen, too) she caused all manner of chaos. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock shot the entire film in a tank on the Paramount Pictures lot, which, if you’ve ever seen it, is huge. Anyway, Talullah would show up every day in character and ready to go. The plot was simple: It’s World War II and an English ocean liner is sunk by a German U-Boat which is also destroyed. The survivors of both ship and submarine end up in the same lifeboat. Hitch had hand picked Talullah to play a sob sister – a foreign correspondent from the English ship. Hard as nails, Talullah immediately clashes with almost everyone else on the ship (a shout out co-star Hume Cronyn, who was excellent in the film as well), both in character and out. But that was only for starters.

So Hollywood legend goes, one day a poor production assistant comes up to Mr. Hitchcock. The man is covered in flop sweat (i.e. nervous) and says:

“Excuse me, Mr. Hitchcock but we have a little problem.”
“What is it?”
“Miss Bankhead (pause) refuses to wear underwear, Sir, and it’s upsetting the crew.”

Hitch took a gander over to the set and it was true. Talullah was flashing her upskirt showing off her box office to everyone in her line of sight, both cast and crew. Knowing he would get nowhere with the obstinate and controversial star, Hitch replied:

“Well. I don’t know if I should inform the make-up or hair department.”

Talullah never did wear underwear on the set of Lifeboat – or anywhere else for that matter. And for that, I salute her!!

Hedy Lamarr: Beauty and Brains

4 Mar

By now the story of Hedy Lamarr having invented the technology that would become the basis for all cellular phones, smart phones and defense department guided weapons systems should be common knowledge. What? You say you didn’t know that the Hollywood Goddess was also an inventor? That’s right, Hedy was pure and simple, a genius. Not only that, but she knew a thing or two about science and military weaponry. That’s because before she came to Hollywood and shined on the silver screen, she was married to a wealthy arms merchant who sold weapons to anyone who could afford them. And the highest-selling weaponry, then or now, was the latest, greatest bomb, bullet or torpedo that could not be stopped! Enter, Hedy Lamarr’s invention.

Put plainly, Hedy had the idea of creating a guidance system based on a broad-spectrum technology, one in which the frequency of the signal for said bomb, bullet or torpedo would change in sync with the system guiding it. So, if both the gun and the bullet having shot it are in sync, the signal sent and received changing frequency every second or so – it would be impossible for an outside force to disrupt that signal. Now think that a movie star invented this technology in the early 1940’s and you’ll begin to understand the importance of Hedy Lamarr’s discovery.

Now here’s the sad part of the story. Hedy patented her cellular technology but it lapsed before the military application fully took hold – after World War II. Even more distressing was the commercial application of the technology, found in every cellular and smart phone walking around today. By rights, Hedy should have been a billionaire several times over by the late ’90s. Instead she was broke, and no one cared that the woman who once was one of the world’s most beautiful and sought after movie stars had been ripped off for an invention that would change the world and make telecommunication companies the monsters they are today.

Dear Hedy is gone now, and the story I just told you is yet to become common knowledge. She was recognized for her invention late in her life by a field of appreciative scientists, if not the corporate honchos who made billions of her invention – and still do today. But what I’d like to remember Hedy for was the beauty and brains who dared to think outside the box and, in her own way, help democracy and freedom spread throughout the entire world. See, it’s not always the one invention that changes the world, but all the applications, ideas and subsequent inventions that come after it. Hedy’s revolution in cellular technology paved the way for a lot of the gadgets we rely upon in our daily lives today. And while we may still admire her beauty in movies such as ALGIERS and WHITE CARGO, the Hedy I really admire is the little bit of her that fits into the palm of my hand. The one who dared to use her brains in addition to her beauty and changed the world forever.

Garbo’s Last Stand

20 Feb

I wrote my first novel about my favorite leading lady of all-time, Greta Garbo. It’s inspired by a shocking statement The Swedish Sphinx uttered herself at a cocktail party in the 1960’s. “Hitler was a big fan of mine. He kept writing and invited me to come to Germany. And If the war didn’t start when it did,” she went on, “I would have gone and I would have pulled a gun out of my purse and shot him, because no one would dare search me.” I created the book trailer above with the help of my brother, the extremely-talented Tom Sylvan. You can check out Tom’s other amazing work at his website, http://www.tomsylvan.com


11 Jan

I haven’t seen the new documentary “Garbo The Spy” about WWII double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, now in limited release. But I knew from research who Garcia was and what an amazing role he played in helping the Allies win. Less known are the espionage exploits of Greta Garbo, the movie star Garcia’s handlers saw fit to code-name him, supposedly for his “great acting” ability. Unlike Garcia, Garbo’s wartime efforts remain shrouded in mystery to this day. Nevertheless, what little is known of Garbo’s clandestine life is fascinating stuff.


At a private dinner party in the mid-1960’s, reclusive and normally taciturn movie star Greta Garbo dropped a bombshell on her friend Sam Green:

“Mr. Hitler was big on me. He kept writing and inviting me to come to Germany, and if the war hadn’t started when it did, I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him, because I’m the only person who would not have been searched.’
Stunned, Green went on to say this about Garbo’s revelation:

“That’s a direct quote. She said it to me over dinner, and it was so out of character. It wasn’t her habit to make up such a story to stop a dinner party. Or maybe not so out of character. As a child, she had had fantasies that ‘I might shorten the life of a cruel king and replace him by a romantic knight’”.

What I find fascinating and intriguing about the quote is how Garbo expressed concern over the timing of the war, yet her ability to dispose of the despot she never questioned. That got me thinking, what if Garbo had embarked on her secret mission and simply ran out of time en route? What would have happened to her trapped on the open sea? I knew I had a great premise for a book. And after extensive research, there was ample evidence to believe the movie star who once played Mata Hari was not only serious about her secret plot to pre-empt World War II, but actually volunteered to spy for the Allies in Europe and personally saved Jews in Denmark.

Garbo was shaping up to be a very real hero, not unlike the roles she had portrayed on film. The movie queen and fashion icon’s influence over pre-war Europe was turning every head of state, including Hitler, who owned a personal copy of “Camille” and obsessively watched Garbo’s courtesan die over and over onscreen. Hitler wrote her fan letters and considered Garbo his ideal Aryan Goddess. But Hitler wasn’t the only one obsessed with Garbo. She was also the first international star to be hounded by paparazzi, decades before the phrase was coined, her every movement recorded daily in the tabloids. The more Garbo sought privacy, the more insatiable the public’s desire to know about her. Garbo’s refusal to give interviews in the mid-thirties only fueled the public’s interest and the paparazzo’s efforts to catch her in candid moments. Not good when you’re a famous movie star trying to be a spy. But to this day, we don’t know to what lengths she went to save the world from evil precisely because she was so private. So, maybe the real Garbo was a better spy than anyone ever imagined.