Liz Smith: Come with Me to the Casbah and Remember Hedy Lamarr


the great film star Hedy Lamarr

As the year comes to an end, our Gossip Girl revisits a fascinating bit of movie star trivia

“MOVIE STARS – they’re just like us!” write the weekly tabloid magazines.

Are they really?  Well, today, we’re doing something that is motion picture history — and we’ve taken it from a remarkable press agent named Bob Edison. (We have tried to find Bob to tell him we are stealing his stuff, but we can’t find him — not even when we Google.)

In the year 2000, when Hedy Lamarr died, Bob wrote me a letter that was so unusual it went into the files. It just surfaced, and tells the tale of what happened after the most beautiful star in 1940’s Hollywood had enjoyed her heyday and was, more or less, on her uppers in New York City. I hope we do Mr. Edison justice.

Here goes — (and just for background: Hedy was discovered in 1933 after she fled naked through the Austrian woods in a foreign film called “Ecstasy.” Hollywood grabbed Hedy, taught her English, after a fashion, and made her the leading lady to stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer, and Victor Mature. Her big hits were “Algiers” …“Boom Town”…”Comrade X”…” “Ziegfeld Girl” … “White Cargo” … “Sampson and Delilah.” )

EDISON KNEW Hedy in the Seventies ,when MGM was through with her. She’d had six marriages and three children. So, here is Bob’s take on a star who was really big, reduced to nothingness. He writes:

“I am amused by diverse takes on Hedy Lamarr who went to her Maker at age 85. All those reports on her being some sort of a rocket scientist who ‘invented’ a sensitive, anti-jamming device for submarines in World War II – well, the stories are hilarious. She was the greatest beauty ever seen in Hollywood. She was brainy, yes – but an inventor? She was actually delightfully scatterbrained and could barely turn on the faucet for herself. She was, however, an expert chess player and the novels personally inscribed to her came from the likes of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. She had this knack for appreciating the ideas of others and taking credit for them.

“She was still world famous but a ‘has been’ when she was taken up by a New York doctor who placed her in a tiny maid’s basement room and trotted her out for parties upstairs. Hedy was very much her own person, funny at that, playing her role with wit and a visible show of condescension.

“Her autobiography ‘Ecstasy and Me’ was so embarrassing to her that she ultimately decided she hadn’t written it and remained  humorously detached from what went on around her. She was a mistress at creating turmoil; ‘just call me Eloise. I’m really a naughty little girl who doesn’t know her way around.’

“She was tall and her once-famous ebony hair was then worn in auburn pigtails. In blue jeans, a T shirt and barefoot she’d say, ‘I was never a real brunette. Joan Bennett tried to imitate me, but she had a potato nose while mine was classic. Why do I have it? Why do people always tells me how beautiful I am?’ She would fluctuate from vixen to naïf. In her fruity Viennese accent, she’d say of co-stars ‘I loved Chudy (Judy) Garland but not Lana Turner who thought she was a queen.’ Edison reports he once took Hedy out for coffee; she ordered a Coke. But insisted the drink she got was Pepsi and she referred to the softdrink spokeswoman Joan Crawford as ‘a bitch,’ so she wouldn’t drink it.

“‘Chean (Gene) Tierney, Vivien Leigh and even Snow White were made to look like me,’ she told Edison — but when all made up as her screen persona, she’d complain. “I think I’ll just have a nap. I don’t feel very sultry today.’ Hedy called herself, privately, Mimsy Farmer, saying, ‘What kind of name is that for an actress?’

She’d go on: ‘I was self-conscious about my hands in Hollywood, but Cecile B. DeMille thought I had lovely feet and in ‘Samson and Delilah’ he said I was much braver than Victor Mature. Victor was afraid of that old lion. You know, sometimes I wish my hands were on my feet and vice versa!’

“Hedy would phone Edison when her movies were on TV saying, “That hair’s a fall, this was a wig. Spencer Tracy was mean to me. Chimmy (Jimmy) Stewart was a good friend, helped me with my lines. Greer Garson was fun. Louella and Hedda were just two peas in the cabbage patch. Clark Gable was a practical joker but a friend!

“She said that Howard Hughes bought her a house in Benedict Canyon and was possessive and always checking up on her but was self-conscious about his penis size. She claimed she went out with him, though he ‘never laid a hand on me.’

“‘I loved Rita Hayworth, she was so shy if you went to a party, she’d be in a closet with a magazine. What was so pretty about Marlene Dietrich anyway? You know, Louis B. Mayer wanted me to remake all of Garbo’s films, but I only did ‘Comrade X’ with Gable. Listen, I turned down the Bergman role in ‘Casablanca.’ I also didn’t like ‘Laura’ when they sent me the script. Maybe they should have messengered over the sheet music. I did my own singing in ‘My Favorite Spy.’ When you’re rich and beautiful, you’d be surprised at how well you can sing.’”

Thanks, Bob, for this look at a true star!

11 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Bill Smith says:

    In the mid seventies a friend would bring Hedy to my apartment.  She would watch television and tell me how I should rearrange the furniture.  She looked good but it was evident hard times and loneliness were taking a toll.  Her dream was to have a clothing line in her name.  She was never without her treasured Kelly bag and was convinced Hermes would do the same for her.  I felt sorry and gave her my phone number-a mistake!  She called without any sense of time, a quiet stream of conciousness that could last hours until I could try kindly to hang up.  New York for many can be lonely, but for Hedy it was toxic.

  2. avatar SMALL TOWN GIRL says:

    WOW how sad

  3. avatar Paul Smith says:

    A late night viewing of “Calling Hedy Lamarr” was an eerie documetary, by the son if I recall.  Singular beauty in her days, but tragi-comedy in her last days while beauty and Hollywood have left the room. The candor is refreshing. Have a look.

  4. avatar Barbara says:

    Liz, I think you are trying to use up all your letters for 2011. You put a “p” in Samson and Delilah.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    One gets the impression Liz Smth didn’t care for Hedy Lamarr. Quite a few didn’t. But facts are facts and she held a patent for the technology known as spread spectrum. She and composer George Antheil conceived the ability to “jam” signals and held the patent together. She in fact was acknowledged for it a number of times. Among other things, it has made quite a few of our “modern conveniences” possible including wireless phones and GPS tracking.  I forget the story but she and Antheil were never allowed royalties on the patent, if I recall correctly it had to do with our being at war, but of course if she had redeived royalties she wouldn’t have been reduced to living in a maid’s room in the basement.  Gossip columnists always, it seems, always manage to reach new lows.  Sometimes when there is nothing else to write about. Sometimes when they feel the urge to pull out the knives. This is one of those days when Liz Smith reached a new low. God forbid what some will write about Liz Smith one day.

    • avatar O E says:

      Sadly, I agree with you, Baby. Looks like our Liz had something to get off her chest and came out sounding mean spirited, albeit by quoting someone else who didn’t reign in the vitriol. It would’ve been nicer to do that away from the keyboard. Sometimes the immediacy of the media, the availability to reporters and gossip columnists, is not a good thing.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        The whole column today seems to be “slash-and-trash” which is fine I suppose if you want to become known as a “slash-and-trash” columnist.  Whoever this pr person was or is, I suspect he was not the best source for factual information. Among other things she wasn’t signed by Louis B Mayer until many years after Ecstasy was released. After she fled an abusive husband and moved to London. And it was just one of many films she had made in Europe. Louis B Mayer hired an actress. Not a porn star.  And the autobiography was written by someone else. Hedy Lamarr in fact sued the publisher. And probably would sue wowOwow at this point. 

    • avatar TheRudeDog says:

      Oh, my holy GOD, BS…can’t you lay off the vitriol for a minute or two?  Insufferable.  Just insufferable.

  6. avatar Frannie says:

    Isn’t there a new biography coming out about Hedy Lamar which supposedly documents some of the things that Baby Snooks said above about Lamar’s accomplishments? I don’t agree with Snooks about the comment about you Liz. I didn’t find Edison’s remarks about Lamar’s abilities as gospel, just opinion drawn from his frustration over “stream of consciousness” and lonely telephone calls. I felt like I learned more about Lamar from reading her comments about others.

    I worked for Eve Arden for several years and she was always very circumspect about what she said about Joan Crawford because Crawford helped Eve adopt her first child. I think she said they got along okay on the set of Mildred Pierce but got a kick out of Oscar night when Crawford didn’t attend so the cameras had to go out to her house and she appeared with dramatic flourish in her doorway with full make-up and I think a beautiful dressing gown to accept her Oscar and had plenty of time to talk about it.

    My mother and father also knew Crawford and I believe they had the same opinion about Crawford as Hedy and many others in Hollywood. I think I heard it said that Crawford would love to find vulnerable women at parties and tear them apart. No one would intervene in these “dress downs” fearing they would be the next victim.

    I don’t remember my parents talking about Lamar much, but she was certainly beautiful.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I don’t agree with Snooks about the comment about you Liz. I didn’t find Edison’s remarks about Lamar’s abilities as gospel, just opinion drawn from his frustration over “stream of consciousness” and lonely telephone calls. I felt like I learned more about Lamar from reading her comments about others.


      But Liz Smith obviously did take them as gospel and printed them as such. As for Hedy Lamarr’s comments about others, we have no way of knowing whether she said them or not. This is what you call “dinner table” gossip. Although not at my dinner table. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I don’t think anyone really liked Joan Crawford except for Joan Crawford. During one of her “Evenings with Bette Davis” someone asked her how she could have pushed that pot over the balcony on Olivia de Havilland in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.  Not missing a beat, Bette Davis replied she just imagined she was pushing it over the balcony on Joan Crawford. But everyoe did fear her. No one ever really figured out how she wielded so much power. Except that of course she had slept with most everyone and knew where the bodies were so they did her bidding so to speak.  People who knew her really weren’t that shocked by Mommie Dearest.

      I could write a book about what someone said about someone else in Hollywood. Much of it “tit for tat” which I have always found a little disconcerting. But then some of them could a write abook about what I said. Sooooooooooo.  But I do discuss things at the dinner table. And expect them to remain there. Which is where all of this belonged. Although not, again, at mine. Sounds like this pr person didn’t like Hedy Lamarr either.