Hedy Lamarr: 'Casablanca' & Private Life

Charles Boyer, Hedy Lamarr in Algiers
Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer in Algiers

See previous post: Hedy Lamarr: Q&A with Author Patrick Agan: Part II

Is it true that Hedy Lamarr refused the lead roles in Casablanca, Gaslight, and Saratoga Trunk? If so, do you know what her reaction was after those three films became huge hits for Ingrid Bergman?

Let's get one thing straight off the bat. Hedy Lamarr never turned down Casablanca.

L. B. had her solidly booked for several movies, two of which, I think, defined both her talent and her image. True, [producer] Hal Wallis wanted her for it, but Mayer said no as he had Tortilla Flat, Crossroads, and White Cargo already lined up.

Why should L. B. have loaned her over to [Warner Bros. in] the [San Fernando] Valley for what at the time was just a run-of-the-mill wartime romance? Hollywood was a very small town and the studio system was even smaller and thus more important. Loaning Hedy at that point wasn't a good idea for anybody.

Hedy was always a magnet for gossip, which over the years has had her looking down her aristocratic nose at the script of Casablanca and waving it in a negative direction. Considering there was no firm script when the film was announced that would have been quite a feat. And Hedy and George Raft? An unlikely pairing, but it might have been interesting. It's a stupid story, but it's been out there for years, even in her obituaries!

Hedy's work at MGM was better anyway. In Tortilla Flat, she broke new ground as the fiery Dolores and got a Box Office Blue Ribbon for it. True, Crossroads wasn't much, but her playing Tondelayo in White Cargo was something else. It was a major departure from Metro's family-friendly films, but it paid off handsomely for L. B. and for Hedy. It may not have been Oscar-worthy, but it sure was a cure for the wartime blues.

Gaslight was another story. It was Metro's plan to reunite Hedy with [her Algiers co-star] Charles Boyer, but things were quite different from when they had made Algiers. Now Hedy was a big star and she wanted to be treated as such, which didn't include second billing at her home studio. Boyer was adamantly against that, so the reunion never happened. Bergman said, “Who cares about billing? I just want to work with Boyer,” and took over the part. Hedy never mentioned any regrets over it.

Hedy Lamarr in The ConspiratorsAs for Saratoga Trunk, that was a movie she did want to make but, as we know, it didn't happen even though [Lamarr said] “I had my heart set on it from the moment I read the book.” According to Hedda Hopper, Jack Warner wanted to sign Hedy to a contract, as hers at MGM was ending. He had been very pleased with the box office for The Conspirators [right photo, which Lamarr had made on loan-out to Warners in 1944] and maybe he wanted another [former] MGM star a la Joan Crawford on his roster.

Hedy was increasingly leery of the studio contract system by that time, and turned him down. Warner didn't like no for an answer so when it came to casting Saratoga Trunk, he seemed to studiously avoid offering it to Hedy. Instead, he offered it to Bette Davis, no, Vivien Leigh, no, and, finally Bergman, who said yes. Hedy was sad about it, but told Louella Parsons that she was charmed that Bergman had taken such pains to look like her in the movie. Ouch. A pity, as Hedy would have been terrific in the part of the Creole adventuress.

 

Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah
Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah

 

Georg Misch's documentary Calling Hedy Lamarr depicts the actress as a woman without strong maternal feelings. During your research, did you find any information about that side of Lamarr's personality?

Hedy always spoke very lovingly about her children Denise and Anthony Loder [their father was actor John Loder]. At the time I met her, she was no longer a money-making star and often hinted that they were somewhat resentful of the fact that the money train wasn't stopping at her house anymore. Nonetheless, she was always talking about them; Tony had a cold, Denise's daughter was adorable, etc.

You have to remember that Hedy was an only child who was privately brought up and acquired a strikingly independent personality at an early age. She learned self-reliance as a survivor skill and that, coupled with a canny intelligence, made for a determined young lady. The first chance she got, she bolted toward a public existence, as, at an early age, she knew what she wanted did not include an early marriage and children. She made her opportunity to become an actress and acted on it.

Her parents weren't happy about her becoming an actress, but she won them over by sheer determination. When Hedy spoke of her mother, Gertrude, which wasn't often, she painted her as being a rather cold and aloof woman, and felt personally cheated of a major maternal role model. Nonetheless, she worked hard to get Gertrude out of Europe and treated her lavishly when she arrived in Hollywood during World War II.

Frankly, I think Hedy thought of children as “instant people” – little adults to a great degree – and expected them to not only be intelligent but to also make intelligent decisions. When her adopted son chose to leave her house to live with one of his teachers and her husband, she let him, but then he had to live with his choice. She said he'd become jealous of Tony and Denise, and she felt he'd be happier with his decision. By the way, she set up a trust fund for him at that time, and did not just let him float away as has been suggested.

Hedy was always mentioning Tony and Denise with pride and was especially taken with her granddaughter Wendy Colton. If anything, she felt sad that she could no longer indulge them in the movie star luxuries she'd showered on them as children, and maybe felt a little guilty that she hadn't prepared them better to handle a world when [those perks] would stop.

Hedy Lamarr

Did you know Hedy Lamarr personally? If so, what was your impression of her? Of those you've spoken with about Lamarr, what did they have to say about her as a person?

Yes, I did know Hedy and she was delightful, a bit demanding at times but also very charming and always ready to laugh. And despite the fact that she always had to be “Hedy Lamarr” in public, she was a very human person. She always felt her looks kept her at a disadvantage when meeting new people. Her beauty undeniably opened many doors, but it also closed many another. I admit that when I first met her I wanted to meet “Hedy Lamarr” like everybody else, but after chatting with her for a while I was taken by her sense of humor about herself and the way she was perceived.

[That happened] at a party at my literary agent Jay Garon's penthouse on Central Park West in 1973, and from the minute she walked in every eye in the place was riveted on her – and that all expected Delilah or Tondelayo or whoever. She may have been sixty and there was no Harry Stradling or James Wong Howe to light her entrance, but Hedy didn't need one that night. People wanted to see a movie queen and see one they did. She took over the room by pure aura and nobody was disappointed.

Standing in the doorway in the cocktail party light, pausing long enough for everyone to get a good look at her, she flipped her long hair back with one hand – and all questions about her fading beauty, her acting talent, her rumored facelifts, her eccentric ways, her serial divorces, her shoplifting scandal, her bankruptcies, her eviction notices, that rotten book Ecstasy and Me which had painted her as a selfish, sex-crazed bisexual … that was all gone when she was there in person.

She seemed to know that in this room full of strangers, they would all recognize her as a friendly, sexy memory, and that a smile from her would make all that bad publicity fade away. Everybody seemed to recognize, seeing her in the flesh, that she was just as vulnerable as anyone to temptations and desires, and to surviving them. Hedy was an honest lady and she understood what the public wanted, and, with a sigh more often than not, she gave it to them.

She sat on a small couch and everyone came over to be introduced, me included. As I bent over her hand, her eyes met mine and were filled with humor. I wasn't the first writer to fall for her. She patted the cushion beside her and I sat down and she began to chat asides like “will he ever get over this you think?” as another flustered gentleman walked away. I admit I became an instant eunuch, listening to every dulcet comment about that woman's dress or that “awful” canapé. Hey, I came in a hungry writer kid and here was Delilah asking my opinion.

I began to understand that she had finally recognized it was her sex appeal that had brought the customers in. In a way, she was like her great friend Errol Flynn in that people expected a startling sex symbol and the person came later. He had approached her to co-star with him in 1953 in his aborted William Tell picture, and it would have been fascinating to see what on-screen chemistry these two great beauties might have ignited.

Some people loved her, others didn't. Hedy was a Scorpio and she believed every line of that sign's interpretation, especially Linda Goldman's interpretation in her Star Signs. “If you want to know me, read that,” she said shortly after we began talking almost nightly several years later about a possible book. I thought that was either a warning, or an insight to a working relationship.

Hedy Lamarr, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable in Boom Town
Hedy Lamarr, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable in Boom Town

I remember having lunch with MGM's master hair stylist Sidney Guilaroff and he was very guarded. It was a rainy afternoon in Hollywood, and he pulled up to my apartment in a vintage pink Thunderbird to take me to a 3rd Street steakhouse. Hedy had me get in touch with him and it was almost like she was lurking over his shoulder, there to censor his every word. They only did two pictures together, Boom Town and A Lady Without Passport, but she must have made a hell of an impression. When he finally coughed up his memoir and took credit for Hedy's Boom Town short hair, she called him up and asked for a free copy. (Hedy told me she'd chopped off her hair to begin with, but that he saved the results for her new look in Boom Town.)

Hedy gave me Ann Sothern's number also, and Ann started laughing as soon as I mentioned her name. “MGM's acting coach somehow thought we'd be great friends and I said I couldn't handle a glamour girl and Hedy said she didn't want to know Maisie! Once we met, though, we both laughed and became very close. She was stuck with an image and so was I, neither of which was the real us, so once we established that, it was all funny. When I divorced Roger Pryor she was there for me just as I was when she got rid of Gene Markey [a movie writer/producer who was Hedy's first Hollywood husband.] What a time that was.”

So I'm answering your question and giving my whole book away! OK with me. Hedy was a very generous person so I will be too. Plus there's so very much more to her story.

P. S. I went home from that party and wrote a story about it for Movie World magazine, and used a marvelous unseen before close-up of Hedy which will be in my book.

 

Patrick Agan is a survivor of the last days of the movie magazines and the author of over half a dozen books on Hollywood, including biographies of Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert De Niro. He's interviewed hundreds of celebrities during his career, mostly for his book series Is That Who I Think It Is? Research for his book The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses enabled him to handle and understand the many hours of late-night talking with the legendary Hedy Lamarr. “No Man Leaves Delilah,” the title of Agan's Lamarr manuscript, will be a full exploration of the life of “The Most Beautiful Woman on the Screen.”

The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses (1979) covers Rita Hayworth, Jayne Mansfield, Betty Hutton, Linda Darnell, Veronica Lake, Betty Grable, Susan Hayward, Dorothy Dandridge, Frances Farmer, and Marilyn Monroe.

Patrick Agan can be reached at pagan100@comcast.net.

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3 Comments to Hedy Lamarr: 'Casablanca' & Private Life

  1. Michael Weaver

    I have always been smitten by the absolute perfection and gorgeousness of Hedy Lamarr. It happened about 1942 and I was in second grade. I tried to see as many movies with her starring as I could. when I knew she was making “The Strange Woman” (Ben Ames Williams novel) I quickly read the book and when I saw it fairly swooned, loving it very much indeed. I'd imagined her pretty much the way she looked in this role. I liked her co-stars too. But the two main complaints I've had about the studios handling her were these: (1) They never let us hear her beautiful alto voice ever speak her native German/Austrian tongue. I assume it was because we were at war with Nazi Germany and they would want to disassociate her from that country and her fame there. MGM never allowed many color photographs of Hedy out for the press, either. We would see color photos in Photoplay or screen magazines, yes. But she did not appear in technicolor until late in her career and rarely at that. She was a natural. lastly, Ishould like to say that I kept a scrapbook of the pictures and article that I could find about the time I was in 7th grade onward (1947) and many of the clipped photos I have not seen on the internet. Is there someone tht might be interested in having a look at those pics? thank you for the wonderful job and writing about Hedy, especially without all the usual braickbats thrown at her about her acting skills. she was not treated fairly, I think. Turner classic Movies host agrees and has given us a much better picture of her and her life. that is, until I read this article this evening. Thanks forma lifelong fan. I sent her birthday greetings and Christmas greetings without fail and never wrote anything but tasteful and respectful greetings. I finally was rewarded a month before he death with a Hallmark Card. I nearly fainted. Tears came to my eyes. I really loved that face, that woman, and those wonderful old movies! Michael Weaver in Pennsylvania

  2. Andre

    @Pat

    The orangutan in question was very protective of Barbara La Marr, not Hedy Lamarr.

    That was during the making of Rex Ingram's “Trifling Women” in 1922.

    Louis B. Mayer, producer Paul Bern (later Jean Harlow's husband), and the orangutan were all in love with La Marr.

  3. Pat O'Lynne

    Great article! Love the photos, where do you find those?
    I have several of her movies.

    Legend says that there used to be an orangutan on her studio set, who was very protective of her, threatening to bite most people who who get too close to her! He was no fool, she was gorgeous.