Competition for mates gets vicious in the Hollywood jungle.
This poster really catches the eye. It was made for The Female Animal, Hedy Lamarr's last motion picture, filmed when she was forty-four. It's the story of an aging star who finds herself a younger man, but watches him immediately become the target of her sexpot daughter.
The age issues strain credulity a bit. The younger man is played by George Nader, who's only seven years Lamarr's junior, while twenty-nine year old Jane Powell plays Lamarr's adopted daughter. But okay, they were the ones cast, so we have to go with it. And really, who's going to complain? Nader is a muscular uberhunk who'd fill out a Marvel superhero costume no problem, and Powell is dangerously cute straining the seams of a form fitting swimsuit.
And incidentally, speaking of casting weirdness, Powell—yeah, that's her in the polka dots—had three children of her own by the time she played this troublesome stepdaughter role. Yes, three. There's no substitute for lucky genes, an adage doubly proved by the fact that Powell is still kicking around today at age 90.
Moving on to the performances, Lamarr does fine in a sort of detached way, and Nader is solid enough, but it's Powell who's asked to spark the movie as the daughter determined to steal her mom's man. She's required at turns to be blind drunk, violently angry, coquettish, sexually predatory, and disconsolate. She mostly hauls that heavy load, but in the end the movie is still pretty lightweight. Probably part of the problem is the scripting by Robert Hill. Some of his other screenplays include Sex Kittens Go to College and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, so his insights into the female animal are negligible. You may want to seek your own, though frankly, we personally have never figured them out and have abandoned any expectations that we ever will. To be fair, they probably feel the same way about us. The Female Animal premiered in New York City today in 1958.
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
Above is shot of cinematic girl-next-door Jane Powell, who rose to fame in Hollywood musicals such as Holiday in Mexico, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Royal Wedding. While Powell is fondly remembered for those and similar roles, she found it ridiculous that she played teenagers into her mid-twenties even though she had children of her own by that point. Under the studio system she had little choice, but later she did manage to expand her repertoire, co-starring in the Hedy Lamarr melodrama The Female Animal. Afterward she turned her attentions mainly to television, with guest slots on everything from Goodyear Theatre to Fantasy Island. She also had stage and singing careers, and scored a top 20 hit with 1956's “True Love.” The photo you see here was made to promote her 1957 musical The Girl Most Likely, and a shot from the same session appeared on the cover of the soundtrack album, which you see below. We don't generally do musicals here, but we will certainly check out her dramatic turn in The Female Animal. Meanwhile you may want to check out this rare photo we shared a couple of years ago.
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.
Hedy Lamarr finds the fashion industry intolerably cruel.
We can't think of Hedy Lamarr as any movie character except the native girl Tondeleyo from the cheeseball jungle classic White Cargo, but here she is in 1947's Dishonored Lady, which came five years after her famed tropical potboiler and presents a more mature Lamarr playing Madeleine Damien, take-no-shit Manhattan fashion editor by day, popular party girl by night. The movie presents a far less benign fashion industry than yesterday's Fashioned for Murder, as job pressures, difficult romances, and evil male colleagues drive Lamarr nearly out of her mind. She's finally pushed out of her job and leaves Manhattan to build a new life. Only her psychiatrist knows where she went. He tells a persistent interlocutor:
“Miss Damien is living under a different name in a different world. She told me to tell you, if you inquired, that she was busy growing a new soul. Now would you please keep off the grass?”
Lamarr is off in the country painting, relaxing, and finding true love. The past isn't that easy to avoid, though, and it finally catches up with her in the form of her awful ex-boyfriend, who ends up dead, leading to Lamarr being arrested for murder. Did she do it? Of course not. But she's too depressed to care what happens, so prison or worse looms. Madeleine Damien is no Tondeleyo, but Lamarr is good in the role. It's interesting how often we run across these meaty dramatic parts for women in mid-century cinema. Were high profile roles for serious actresses more common back then? Probably not, but sometimes it sure seems like it. Dishonored Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
They say even bad publicity is good publicity.
In this March 1957 issue of the tabloid Behind the Scene editors take swipes at assorted Hollywood icons, among them Yul Brenner, John Wayne, and others. Highlights include the allegation that Elvis Presley's career is mob controlled, that camera clubs are just fronts for porn peddlers, that Hedy Lamarr used Linda Lombard as a body double for Samson & Delilah, and that Lucrezia Borgia is the sexiest movie ever made. Also Mamie Van Doren's “secret weapon” is that anywhere she goes she always wears the least clothing of any woman present.
The shocking tales about Brynner have mainly to do with his claims of being a real life man of action, born on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Mongol ancestors. The truth was more mundane, but the lies helped Brynner establish himself as a star. As far as Elvis goes, he was dogged by rumors of Mafia ties later in his career, but this mention of a connection as far back as 1957 was a surprise to us. As always, people on both sides of the issue are willing to shout their version of the facts to the mountaintops, but nobody really knows who’s telling the truth. We’ll check with Elvis himself on this, since he lives just over in the next town since faking his death in 1977.
The interesting story here is the one about Gail Russell and John Wayne. Their acquaintanceship began when they starred in Angel and the Badman together in 1947, and continued when they reunited for Wake of the Red Witch in 1949. Whether they were more than just friends, nobody really knows. At the time Wayne was married to Esperanza Baur Díaz, and the relationship was marred by drinking and fighting, including one incident when Baur shot at Wayne. When the divorce inevitably came, it turned into one of the nastiest splits in years, with Baur accusing Wayne of being a violent drunk who beat her and fucked around with various women, including Russell, and Wayne accusing Baur of hanging around sleazy dive bars in Mexico, hooking up with strange men, and spending his money to entertain them.
The divorce was in 1953, but Behind the Scene, with this cover, is offering its readership dirt from an event that was still fresh in the public’s minds because it had been such a knock-down-drag-out spectacle. Russell had never weathered the limelight well, and she used booze to cope. Her long term drinking problem was exacerbated by the turbulence surrounding the Wayne-Baur split. Two weeks after the divorce she was arrested for drunk driving. It caused Paramount to decline renewing her contract, and she kind of floated around for a few years, trying to hook on with a new studio but drinking steadily all the while. In 1955 she crashed her car and fled the scene, and in early 1957 she drove though the plate glass windows of Jan’s Restaurant in Hollywood.
With hindsight, it’s clear Russell was in a death spiral, but in the Tinseltown of that day the situation was perhaps not so obvious. In August 1957, Russell was found unconscious in her home, passed out after a drinking binge. Even in Hollywood, she had now crossed the line from being merely a party girl to having a problem. She was persuaded to join AA, but couldn't stop drinking, and in August 1961 was found in her L.A. apartment, having died from liver damage, aged 36, another beautiful star that flamed out. All that and more, in thirty-plus scans below.
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.
Hapless colonialists in Africa? Bad things are bound to happen.
We had no idea when we watched 1942’s White Cargo that the movie had caused such a stir, but in its day it was more than just a film—it was a cultural phenomenon. The public quoted the dialogue, comedians referenced it in their acts, and journalists used the name of Hedy Lamarr’s character Tondelayo as a descriptive. So what was the movie about? Basically it’s Americans learning that Africa will corrupt them, and Africa plus Hedy Lamarr will corrupt them absolutely. In the original novel Hell’s Playground, Tondelayo was black, but because the American censorship regime known as the Hays Code banned sexualized interaction between black and white characters, she was changed to Arab for the movie. So there’s Hedy Lamarr done up in shoe polish and a sarong she borrowed from Dorothy Lamour, driving the American colonialists batty withdesire. Most transcendent movie characters have a memorable entrance, and when Lamarr emerges from the shadows and torpidly delivers her first line—“I am Tondelayo”—as the camera lingers on her preternaturally glowing eyes, it’s certainly not something you’d easily forget. Nor would you forget her sinuous dance number or the way she slithers in and out of various scenes like an Egyptian cobra. We don’t have to get deeply into the plot. It’s boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, boy is ruined by girl as all the other boys say, “Told you so, dumbass.” It’s pretty funny stuff, but highly charged for the time. Think of it as 1942’s Fatal Attraction—a sexually themed cautionary tale that everyone saw and had an opinion about. More than seventy years later—if you can get past the shoe polish, the ridiculous dialogue, and the needless moralizing—it’s still a fun movie. Is it good? We wouldn’t go that far.
Even if it was only half true, it was still 100% shocking.
This National Enquirer published today in 1967 features cover star Hedy Lemarr promoting her 1967 autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman. The title is taken from the 1933 Austrian film Ekstase, in which she appeared nude, shocking audiences of the time. Enquirer describes her book as shocking, as well, and indeed there are some surprising revelations. An example: while still living in her native Austria, she ran away from her husband and hid in an empty room in a brothel. A man came into the room and she had sex with him rather than let her husband find her. Lamarr claims to have had hundreds of lovers, male and female, and depicts herself variously as both a nymphomaniac and a kleptomaniac. But all of this comes with a caveat—her ghostwriter, the notorious Leo Guild, wrote various celeb biographies that played fast and loose with the truth. That said, even Guild was not imaginative enough to have fabricated everything in Ecstasy and Me.
As a side note, we should mention that Lamarr, along with George Anthiel, invented and patented an advanced frequency switching system that they envisioned for usage guiding torpedoes (the constant switching of frequencies would make them difficult to jam, thus more likely to reach their targets). Now, if you read other websites, most of them praise Lamarr as a military genius, and it’s true she had a highly developed technical mind, but the system she helped pioneer actually grew out of an idea to remotely control player pianos. In fact, the guidance system used eighty-eight frequencies, which is of course the number of keys on a standard piano. We think knowing that she applied a musical idea to military usage gives a somewhat fuller appreciation of how ingenious she actually was, rather than just picturing her as some kind of Oppenheimer type.
Ingenious or not, the U.S. Navy declined to purchase Lamarr and Anthiel’s system, but the moment the patent expired two decades later the military was all over it. We can’t discern with our limited resources whether this sudden decision to use the technology was coincidental or not, but certainly the result was that Lamarr got screwed out of probably millions of dollars. Or perhaps even more, when you consider that her and Anthiel’s frequency switching is closely related to that used today for global positioning systems and Bluetooth. Since Lamarr claimed in her book to have blown through more than thirty million dollars in her life, the fun and creative ways she might have spent a massive military windfall makes the mind boggle. We’ll get back to Hedy Lamarr a bit later, because she certainly deserves a more detailed treatment.
A new tabloid hits the newsstands with a twist on the usual formula.
In our continuing search for rare magazines of high entertainment value (if sometimes dubious quality), we stumbled across the above gem—the first issue of the self-described sexploitation film graphic Flick. Published in the U.S. out of Libertyville, Illinois, it was basically just reviews of x-rated films in tabloid form. The publishers admit in their introductory editorial that the tabloid market is glutted, but insist America needs a magazine that helps porn consumers separate the wheat from the chaff. They do it with utter seriousness and, as a bonus, also throw in some musings on film history, with discussions of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Theda Bara, Jean Harlow, and Hedy Lamarr, who all had pre-Hays Code flirtations with screen nudity.
It might be difficult to imagine actors appearing nude on screen during the 1920s and 1930s, but the idea back then was that, because the medium was considered an art form, motion picture nudity was no different from nudity in sculpture, photography or painting. Theda Bara's and Jean Harlow’s screen nudity was merely implied, but Hedy Lamarr went all the way in her 1933 Czech-made romance Ekstase, aka Ecstasy, in which she ran starkers through the woods, giving audiences a gander at her backside and breasts. She was known at the time as Hedy Kiesler, but it’s her.
There’s also a non-nude love scene containing what some critics believe is the first cinematic depiction of an orgasm. As you can imagine, Ekstase was controversial. Only four-hundred prints were ever made, and most of those were butchered by censors. By the 1940s, the only complete copy known to exist was in Russia. It had first been Hungarian property and had been exhibited in Budapest in ’33, but because the Hungarians had fought alongside Nazi Germany and helped conquer swaths of Russian territory in the early 1940s, when the Russians reversed those gains and occupied Budapest in 1944, they sort of helped themselves to a few choice cultural treasures.
Elsewhere in this inaugural Flick you get reviews of the adult films A Hard Man’s Good To Get, Sisters in Leather, College Girls, and Jack Hill’s first full-length effort Mondo Keyhole. The editors remind readers that their magazine is a collector’s item. At the time—January 1970—they probably imagined it would be quite valuable in forty-one years. Well, we got it for $4.00. But just for the hell of it, maybe we’ll hang onto it for another forty-one years. You never know. By the way, if you’re curious, you can actually see that famous Hedy Lamarr nude scene here. It is not a complete version, though. We doubt a complete one exists. See ten scans from Flick below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
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