She was more than just a movie star.
Smithsonian.com published an in-depth story yesterday about Austrian born Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, and how her technical genius helped bring the world Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cell phones. Hah! Get with it Smithsonian. We talked about this under discussed aspect of her life years ago.
It's curious that no matter how many times people write about Lamarr's technological exploits it never seems to become a generally known aspect of her personality. Maybe people want to see her as a beautiful actress, and much of the interest stops there. The Smithsonian piece will probably help change that a bit, and it's well written also (though considering what digital technology has wrought we'd probably add the phrase "for better and worse").
Yesterday's piece comes in tandem with the Smithsonian's Washington D.C. based National Portrait Gallery acquiring a rare original Luigi Martinati poster painted to promote Lamarr's 1944 thriller The Conspirators. We have no idea what it cost, but certainly a pile of money, since Martinati was not just a great artist, but one who tended to focus more on portraiture in his promos. You can see what we mean just below, and by clicking here and scrolling. As for Lamarr, we'll doubtless get back to her—and all her interesting facets—later.
What's gloves got to do with it?
Austrian born actress Marisa Mell made this photo when she was starring in the 1966 Italian thriller New York chiama Superdrago, aka Secret Agent Superdragon, and what it shows is that opera gloves are the female spy's equivalent to James Bond's bow ties. Shooting someone is an important occasion, and the least you can do is dress formally when you do it. The title of this movie alone—we seriously must watch it. We'll report back.
A textbook case of pianist envy leads to serious trouble.
This poster was made for Strange Fascination, a film put together by triple threat Hugo Haas, who wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred. It premiered this month in 1952. Plotwise a rich widow traveling in Europe meets a brilliant pianist who wants to leave the continent to get away from its “recent misfortunes.” She sponsors him and brings him to New York City, where he has immediate success, but his head is soon turned by platinum blonde showgirl Cleo Moore. She's got show business ambitions but no avenues, so she hitches herself to the rising pianist and proceeds to make his career go limp.
Hugo Haas headlined scores of movies and accumulated more than forty credits directing and writing, so Strange Fascination was no vanity project. In fact we suspect it was uniquely important to him because of its autobiographical elements. For instance, like the pianist he plays Haas left eastern Europe—Brno, Austria-Hungary, which is now part of the Czech Republic—and became respected in his chosen industry. And his given name was Pavel Haas, while his lead character here is named Paul, the Anglicization of Pavel.
In Strange Fascination Haas crafted a solid movie but don't let the online reviews fool you—it isn't film noir. These days any movie that's mid-century, black and white, and dramatic gets the noir stamp on crowd sourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia. Strange Fascination contains bits of noir iconography, but films of the period have no choice about that—after all, rain falls even in musicals and neon signs occur even in comedies. Strange Fascination is really a straight melodrama. Go into this little b-movie with that expectation and it may prove satisfying.
So when I sign this I'm giving you permission to turn my life into an unrelenting hell?
Rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated.
We've featured the Canadian tabloid Midnight numerous times. This one appeared on newsstands today in 1968. On the cover readers get a headline referring to Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the previous month. His name is accompanied by a prediction that his killer, Jordanian nationalist Sirhan Sirhan, would in turn be assassinated. It wasn't an outrageous prediction—during the late 1960s newsworthy figures were being dropped like three foot putts. Sirhan was never murdered, though, and he's still around today, languishing at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California.
Sirhan is an interesting character, but it's the story on Susan Denberg we're interested in today. Denberg, née Dietlinde Zechner, is a German born beauty who became a Playboy Playmate of the Year and screen actress, was a desired Hollywood party girl who had relationships with Hugh Hefner and Jim Brown, and was generally regarded as one of the major sex symbols of her time. But she also became a drug addict. After making the 1968 film Frankenstein Created Woman Denberg returned to Europe and shunned the movie business. In fact, she kept such a low profile that for years sources incorrectly reported that she had died.
Midnight journo John Wilson claims to have visited Denberg in a Vienna mental hospital near the beginning of her self-imposed exile, and his article is basically a recounting of his chat with her. He describes her depressing surroundings and portrays her as a sort of broken bird, quoting her as saying, “I was a real party girl, going out every night, dating one man after another, running around doing wild things like getting drunk and dancing nude at parties. And then someone got me started on LSD and it made everything seem so clear. It was wonderful. Only I couldn't keep away from it, and after a while that was all I was doing, staying in my room and dropping LSD.”
In 1971 Denberg had a child, and by 1972 was making her living on the nudie bar circuit, working as a topless server at the adult cinema Rondell in Vienna, and later dancing fully nude at another Vienna nightspot called Renz. She also worked elsewhere in Europe, including Geneva, where in 1974 she tried to commit suicide by swallowing a reported 200 sleeping pills, an amount that surely would have been fatal had she not been quickly found and sped to a hospital. In 1976 she became a mother again and retired from nude dancing. Today she lives quietly in Vienna.
Denberg's story is filled with twists and turns, and yet it isn't unique in a place like Hollywood. As she makes clear, once enough power brokers, modeling agents, and studio types tell a woman she's special she's probably going to believe them, but once she believes them it's hard for her to keep her head on straight. She sums up her journey to Midnight, “They told me I was beautiful enough to go all the way to the top. They told me about all the fun up there, the kicks. They never told me about the booze and the drugs, the long slide down.”
There's nothing better than a memorable Win.
Win Min Than was born in what was then known as Rangoon, Burma, and became known to the world when she co-starred in the war drama The Purple Plain with Gregory Peck. Ethnically, Than was actually only half Burmese. Her father was Austrian, and she was born Helga Johnson. The movie, obscure today, was successful, but it turned out to be Than's only role. In 1957 she married the Burmese politician Bo Setkya and spent some years in her home country, but today she lives in Austria. This very nice shot was made the year her film came out, 1954.
If she tries to pressure you into getting a haircut there's an ulterior motive.
In 1933 Austrian born actress Hedy Lamarr, née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler starred in the Czech-Austrian silent film Ecstase, aka Ecstasy, a landmark production notable for its nude scenes. Lamarr was unhappy with the result, but it made her enormously famous and helped pave her way to Hollywood, where she made numerous films, including the cheesy but highly enjoyable swords and sandals epic Samson & Delilah, from which the above image comes. In the Biblical legend, Delilah cuts off Samson's magic hair to weaken him. In real life Lamarr weakened plenty of male fans and didn't have to do anything but appear on a movie screen. This photo shows her circa 1949.
Wild time leaves man with splitting headache.
The cover of this September 1970 issue of Australia's Adam magazine illustrates W. A. Harbinson's story “The Swinging Hep-Cat,” in which a man and woman spend most of their brief marriage fighting. He eventually strangles her. Or thinks he does. She actually survives and he only learns of this fact in jail from the cops who arrested him, as they laugh about it and reveal that she's fled for Paris—and the arms of another man. Much of the fiction in men's adventure magazines is disposable, for lack of a kinder term. We love it, of course. Men's magazine fiction would be nothing without hack writing. But Harbinson actually shows some skills in “The Swinging Hep-Cat,” as well as a muscular style. A sample:
We fought considerably during those early days of our marriage, bouts of most regal proportions, plates, knives, hair-brushes and antiques flying across the bedroom on fierce winds of abuse, she raging naked against the French windows in full view of the tourists below, me crouching back toward the door wondering how to tackle this bitch who had eaten my peace—a farce, a pantomime, a lunatic performance on both sides, always dissolving in the bed.
Or this little description:
Francisco Antonio D'Costa Pegado, a glorious dark beast of a man, rich as sin, tight as a drum, an incredible neurotic lover.
We checked after finishing the story, fully expecting Harbinson to have an extensive bibliography and we were right. He's written several dozen novels, mostly sci-fi, under his own name and that of Shaun Clarke. Not every good wordsmith manages to carve out a strong career—or any career, for that matter—so we were pleased Harbinson did well, because he actually knows how to use language in a way that brings it to three-dimensional life. At least he did in “The Swinging Hep-Cat.” He's still around and was last published in 2012, but we'll probably mine his earlier material, his stuff from the 1970s. We have high hopes. Elsewhere in Adam is fiction from Jack Ritchie, Austrian actress Senta Berger on the table-of-contents page, and plenty of cartoons. We have twenty-eight scans below, including a mega Berger in the final panel for your enjoyment.
Mid-century tabloid hits all the familiar tabloid notes.
Lowdown makes the rounds in this issue published in May 1965. Inside, Ann-Margret claims she doesn't want to be a tease (fail), editors ask if women are more immoral than men (which they really are, once you take war, genocide, faithlessness, and generally violent tendencies off the table), and June Wilkinson's photo is among those used in a story about women supposedly receiving insurance covered breast implants from Britain's National Health Service.
Probably the most interesting story concerns Swedish actress Inger Stevens disappearing for a week. Lowdown hints at an alcohol binge, which is nothing special (hell, we do those) but while there are plenty of sources citing a 1960 suicide attempt, we found no other mention anywhere of Lowdown's missing week. The story is notable because Stevens would die at age thirty-five of a drug overdose.
Elsewhere you get nude skiing in Austria, Richard Chamberlain and his hit television show Dr. Kildare, the sex powers of mandrake root, and Belgian born actress and dancer Monique Van Vooren endorsing regular exercise. Scans below—oh, and sorry about the quality. Lowdown's printing process caused scanner problems. It's never happened before, so hopefully we won't encounter the issue again.
Horwitz uses another rising celebrity as a cover star.
Last month we shared a reprint-by-demand Horwitz cover for Carter Brown’s Death of Doll that featured a young Elke Sommer. We got to wondering if other celebs had been used on Horwitz covers and decided to have a look. Above you see Brown’s Swan Song for a Siren, which Horwitz printed in 1958, and the face staring out at you is that of Austrian actress Senta Berger. That’s her, right? Full lips. Sensuous eyes. Hawk eyebrows. Gotta be. Like they had with Sommer, Australia-based Horwitz appropriated Berger’s image when she was barely famous, having appeared in only four films to that point, none in starring roles. We have a photo of Berger below for comparison, and we think you’ll agree it’s her. We’ll dig up a few more of these Horwitz celebrity covers later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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