Ecstasy and Me
Hedy Lamarr

Film's first nude scene and first fake orgasm were the work of the Viennese actress Hedy Lamarr in the Czech film Ecstasy. She went on to Hollywood success, usually playing as a cool, classy European beauty, and along the way received a patent for a high-tech procedure which is in use today. Her acquaintances included Mussolini, Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, and many more. Her book Ecstasy and Me was one of the earliest frank books about the Hollywood scene, and while there's lots of red meat in there (one spurned lover had a custom plastic blowup doll made in the exact image of Hedy, and arranged for her to witness his intimate relations with it), by and large she doesn't name names or give graphic physical details.

There are several serious questions about the "author function" of Ecstasy and Me. Lamarr sued the ghostwriters, accusing them of sensationalism and inaccuracy. Lamarr believed that the frankness of her book ended her film career -- though she was past 50 when it was published and hadn't made a movie in eight years -- and she may have sued just to shift blame to the ghosts. Furthermore, the book's two introductions (one medical and one psychiatric) probably represent a survival of the Fifties prudishness, which demanded that non-marital sex always be presented as a problem. (Cf. the medical introduction to Nabokov's Lolita) .

I am going to assume, however, that most of the anecdotes are pretty much true -- they're just too good for me to believe that they were invented by nonentities like Leo Guild and Sy Rice (the latter of whom doesn't even seem to have a Google presence).

Lamarr (real name Hedy Keisler) was born into a wealthy, more-or-less-Jewish Viennese family, and in her story can be organized around a contrast between the sophisticated decadence of Vienna and Hollywood's crude, prudish crypto-porn. (Lamarr frequently comments on the American boob fetish and the general crassness of the people she dealt with.) 

Here are some quotations from the book that I don't think that a ghost-writer could have faked:

I have lifted the veil of sexual expression which exists everywhere but is usually most notorious in the Hollywood mystique. (p. 12)

I don't think that anyone would call me a lesbian, it's just that I seem to be the type that other women get queer ideas about. (p. 13)

I had a spinal block because Denise was a breech baby. I knew everything that was going on. It was like a modern tranquilizer commercial. Everything was pain... pain... pain. I saw through pain. No one had ever had a baby before. This was the first. How famous I would be, mother of the first baby born on earth....(p. 128)

I didn't press charges [against a peeping Tom]  because he was young and frankly -- this was my secret until now -- he told the press that mine was a perfect body". (p. 146)

Judy [Garland] said no men were permitted [in rehab]. I contemplate the predicament of nor relationship with any man for a month. (p. 178)

He said, "Hedy, you know I love you and I know you love me" (Men have this quaint cause-and-effect notion.) (p. 217)

I have now come to the conclusion that happiness has so many elements that it exceeds the combinations in a game of chess. Example: No one ever enjoyed a romp in the hay with a toothache. (p. 233)

There is more curiosity than sensuality in a girl's first love-sex experience. I was more interested in the biological and and even the designs in the cherry wood ceiling than the thrills. (p. 310)


There's lots more: the details of how she faked orgasm in Ecstasy, her six husbands, many crass movie-biz guys, some naked girls "reforming" a gay man who wants to get married, Lamarr's venture into film production, and her unsuccessful attempts to look trashy (after researching the girls down by the docks, who seemed "too normal").

This isn't really a very good book, mostly because of the Hollywood conventions and ghosting clichés, but it has lots of good stuff in it, and a lot of people should enjoy it.

(Lamarr's most amazing story -- the high-tech patent she shared with the avant-garde musician George Antheil for technology which still in use -- is not even mentioned in her book, presumably because of its Hollywood sex-goddess format. I'm saving that story for Part II.)


I am emersonj at gmail dot com.

Original materials copyright John J Emerson

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