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“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid”*…

 

By the time American audiences were introduced to Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr in the 1938 film Algiers, she had already lived an eventful life. She got her scandalous start in film in Czechoslovakia (her first role was in the erotic Ecstasy). She was married at 19 in pre-World War II Europe to Fritz Mandl, a paranoid, overly protective arms dealer linked with fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany. After her father’s sudden death and as the war approached, she fled Mandl’s country estate in the middle of the night and escaped to London. Unable to return home to Vienna where her mother lived,  and determined to get into the movies, she booked passage to the States on the same ship as mogul Louis B. Mayer. Flaunting herself, she drew his attention and signed with his MGM Studios before they docked.

Arriving in Hollywood brought her a new name (Lamarr was originally Kiesler), fame, multiple marriages and divorces and a foray into groundbreaking work as a producer, before she eventually became a recluse. But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Lamarr’s life isn’t as well known: during WWII, when she was 27the movie star invented and patented an ingenious forerunner of current high-tech communications…

The story of the movie star who invented spread-spectrum radio, the secure signal technology that helped the Allies avoid having their radio communications intercepted by the Axis forces, and that lies at the heart of the cellular phone system that we all use today: “Why Hedy Lamarr Was Hollywood’s Secret Weapon.”

* Hedy Lamarr, who was decidedly not stupid

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As we give overdue credit where credit is due, we might send adventurous birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista Belzoni; he was born on this date in 1778.  The 14th child of a poor barber in Padua, he was a barber, a Capuchin monk, a magician, and a circus strongman before finding his true calling– explorer (and plunderer) of Egyptian antiquities.

Belzoni’s call to action came when he met a British Consul-General named Henry Salt who persuaded him to gather Egyptian treasures to send back to the British Museum.  Under extremely adverse conditions he transported the colossal granite head of Rameses II from Thebes to England, where it is now one of the treasures of the British Museum. Later, he discovered six major royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, including that of Seti I, and brought to the British Museum a spectacular collection of Egyptian antiquities. He was the first person to penetrate the heart of the second pyramid at Giza and the first European to visit the oasis of Siwah and discover the ruined city of Berenice on the Red Sea. He stumbled into the tomb of King Ay, but only noted a wall painting of 12 baboons, leading him to name the chamber ‘Tomb of the 12 Monkeys” (because hieroglyphs had not yet been deciphered, he usually had no idea who or what he had found).

Belzoni had two habits that have contributed to his legacy:  he was a lover of graffiti signatures, and inscribed “Belzoni” on many of Egypt’s antique treasures, where the carvings survive to this day.  And he carried a whip: which, given that he was one of the models for Indiana Jones, became one of that character’s hallmarks.

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Written by LW

November 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

It’s the *pictures* that got small…

Hedy Lamarr, actress and pioneer of spread-spectrum radio transmission

Virginia Postrel reports in Deep Glamour:

A beautiful exhibit of classic Hollywood portraits is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. (In December, it moves to the Bendigo Art Gallery in Victoria, Australia.) The exhibit, which draws its photos from the John Kobal Collection, originated at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which provided the images for this slideshow, which originally ran on DG in 2008.

The photos all present idealized versions of the stars–but what a range of ideals they represent, from the refined elegance of Grace Kelly to the sultry seductiveness of Rita Hayworth’s Gilda, from Vivian Leigh in hyperfeminine white ruffles to Marlene Dietrich tough and dominant in a crisp blouse and slacks. And those are just (a few of) the women…

Like Debbie Reynolds’s late-lamented costume collection, the John Kobal Collection originated with MGM’s mother of all garage sales. In the ’60s and ’70s, when Golden Age glamour was out of fashion and studios were dumping their archives, Kobal bought and preserved prints and negatives, befriended aging stars and photographers, and documented their stories. Most of the classic images you see reproduced today come from his archives…

Marlon Brando, actor and activist

More images at Deep Glamour.

As we strike our poses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that High Society opened in movie theaters across the U.S.  It was the last film made by Grace Kelly, who had married Prince Ranier of Monaco months before the premiere.  It was a questionable note– a remake (of The Philadelphia Story)– on which to retire… but it did feature music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

Grace Kelly, just before she became Princess Consort of Monaco

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