Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr
We begin with a clever, short video in which Heather Massie is seen as Lamar posing in several iconic films. This is followed by actual scenes from Algiers with amusing subtitles. Brava for these.
The woman we know as movie star Hedy Lamar 1914-2000 (correct pronunciation: HADEE, long A), was born Hedwig Eva Maria. According to author/artist Heather Massie, both parents told the actress eventually considered one of the world’s great beauties she was an ugly child. Mama wanted Hedy to be cultured, marry, and bear children. Papa encouraged her to use her mind, to ask questions and learn about how things work.
Massie, in a good wig and grotesque eyebrows, offers a credible Austrian accent but speaks harshly and often in singsong manner. Neither this nor her movement channels the thoughtful response and measured tenor of her subject. While Lamarr was decidedly graceful and ladylike, this performer shows us someone who is not. (Director-Joan Kane)
While still a student, Lamarr set her sights on the film business, quickly rising from script girl to small and then large roles. Her breakout appearance was in Ecstasy (Gustav Machaty 1933). Naively believing cameras, as promised, would show her at a distance, she ran naked out of a wood and jumped into a lake. Scandal! More work followed.
The young woman regretted marriage to her controlling second husband, a powerful munitions dealer who sold to both Mussolini and Hitler. (Lamarr would have six spouses plus one adopted and two biological children.) She escaped, Massie tells us quoting the book Ecstasy and Me, by hiring a maid who resembled her, drugging the woman, and escaping to Paris. Lamarr vehemently denied this, stating it was the fabrication of a ghostwriter. In Paris, she was introduced to Louis B. Mayer whom she outsmarted in negotiating a contract, and then welcomed her to Hollywood despite skepticism about “small tits.”
Massie is engaging with an intimate audience, effectively drawing us in with command of the stage. We’re with her when she loses her place and – adapts.
Lines of dialogue I found as broad as parody (abetted by the eyebrows) were admittedly met with laughter (abetted by friends and family?) Unfortunately, the actress leaves her created persona too often as she represents people in the star’s life. This is always dramatically difficult and could have easily been avoided with the choice to remain at least mostly in as Hedy. A gimmick of “conjuring” several ex-leading men, bookended with whoo whoo music, doesn’t work.
Lamarr apparently tolerated Tinsel Town’s parties and publicity, though glad of the work. Desperate to help with war efforts, she enlisted the equally unlikely George Antheil (composer), who had once briefly been a munitions inspector. The two developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes using spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming. (Evidently, she had accompanied her last husband to business meetings where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. One presumes he considered her arm candy.)
Hedy Kiesler Markey, her married name at the time, and George Antheil, made a gift of the patent to the U.S. Navy who superciliously wrote back Do something useful, go sell war bonds. She did. (The system, which might’ve shortened World War II, was not adopted until the 1960s.)
This surprising invention appears to be a centerpiece here. Explanation of both the way it works and the circumstances in which it was conceived are offered. Intriguing and well researched, the section is not balanced by a litany of unmemorable film titles. Choosing those more important and embroidering with colorful anecdotes would’ve been far more successful than cramming in a resume. Lamar’s third husband is reduced to a meeting, her last three are condensed as “them” without even a descriptive sentence.
For the record, Hedy Lamar withdrew from the business, had an excess of plastic surgery and retired to Florida a recluse. We close this piece with the ghost’s thanks.
It’s easy to understand interest in the subject’s fascinating story, but except for material on “secret systems,” Heather Massie’s script bears the burden of insufficient character portrayal.
Publicity Photos courtesy of the show
United Solo presents
Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr
Written & Performed by Heather Massie
Directed by John Kane
Projection Design-Jim Marlowe & Charles Marlowe
Additional performances November 11 & Nov 15
410 West 42nd Street
United Solo –the World’s Largest Solo Theater Festival continues through November 20, 2016