Hedy Lamarr: Ecstasy And The Needle
by Manuel Vicent (translated by Louis S. Bedrock), July 5, 2017
In her time, Hedvig Eva Maria Kiesler, known as Hedy Lamarr, was believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She has gone down in history as the first actress to be shown completely nude on screen and the first actress to feign an orgasm with her facial expression in a close up.
The movie was called Ecstasy. It was filmed in Prague by the director Gustav Machaty in 1932. Hedwig was 16 years old.
Ecstasy and I is also the title of Hedy Lamarr’s erotic memoirs. It is a book written from the intelligent and amoral perspective of a fascinating woman, beyond the realm of good or evil, in which she recounts, one by one, the number of male bodies—splendid, drunk, idiotic, that encroached upon her soul over the course of her lifetime.
Hedy Lamarr was born in Vienna in November of 1914. Her father was a banker and her mother was a pianist. Both were Jews. She was an extremely gifted child who studied engineering but was lured away by her fascination for the theater. At the age of 16, she abandoned the sciences and went to Berlin to work with the famous director Max Reinhardt.
Very early in her life her extraordinary beauty began to cause her more problems than advantages. When the child left her house to go to school, every morning there was a different exhibitionist waiting for her with his cloak open. As an adolescent, she suffered several rape attempts. Some of these attempts were successful: for example, the attempt by the boyfriend of one of her friends that her friend herself had incited so she could contemplate the rape while smoking an Egyptian cigarette.
She had a hyper-sexual soul according to her own confession: pleasure didn’t cause her any guilt. However, she never understood why she stirred such urgent carnal desire in men yet inspired no admiration for her talent which seemed to exceed her physical beauty. Although she hated him until her death, Hedy Lamarr always remembered that Hitler was the only one to kiss her delicately on the tips of her fingers in the corridors through which this unsettling Jewish girl passed in the 1930s.
The filming of the movie Ecstasy includes a ten minute sequence in which the heroine passes through the verdant grove of a forest completely nude until immersing herself in a lake. The director had promised that the cameras would photograph her from a distance—from the top of a hill, with a blurred image. After some hesitation, Hedwig Kessler acquiesced. However, her body was captured with a telephoto lens and appears to be a mere few meters away from the screen.
Afterwards, she had to simulate an orgasm while the actor Aribert was on top of her kissing her. In this scene, the director was only able to achieve an acceptable outcome by sticking a needle into the girl’s buttocks so that the pain caused her to emit a scream and suffer a facial spasm that the spectator mistook for an orgasm. This orgasm made her world famous.
Magnate Fritz Mandl was one of the richest men in the world. He was the owner of Hirtenberger Patronenfabrik Industries—an ironworks which manufactured war munitions, comparable to Krupp. He was captivated by the beauty of Hedwig and asked her father for permission to court her. Actually, he bought her with an erotic spending spree on jewels and solid gold.
A short time later, Ecstasy made an appearance at the Vienna Festival. Mussolini demanded to see it in a private showing because of the morbid fascination that surrounded it. Preceded by scandal, it later debuted in Vienna before an audience filled with celebrities. In orchestra seats were the parents of the star and Fritz Mandl, her brand new husband. When the screening began, none of them could believe what they saw with their own eyes.
Surrounded by friends from the upper stratosphere of Austrian society, Lamarr’s parents beheld their adored child running naked through a forest toward a lake into which she dived and then began swimming on her back exposing her breasts through the surface of the water.
Her husband, whose arrogance was as toxic as his pretensions, attended the performance encircled by associates from his business with the heroine of the movie seated next to him. All of them were able to see his young, beautiful wife performing the role of a 17 year old girl named Eve who had married an older man who had not been able to consummate the marriage on their wedding night.
One morning, a young engineer named Adam spots Eve while she is swimming in the lake. Eve had left her clothes on the saddle of a mare standing next to another horse. Suddenly a thunderstorm breaks out and the two animals run away. Adam tries to help Eve and both take refuge in a cabin. They make love and in the middle of orgasm she symbolically breaks her pearl necklace, smoke from a cigarette traces a spiral around her neck, and she feigns a shriek of pleasure because at that moment the director was sticking a safety pin into her buttocks.
Her parents left their orchestra seats. From that moment on, her husband locked Hedwig up in the house and the maid kept the key. He only allowed her to swim when he was present. When he wasn’t taking her to parties or social gatherings where he exhibited her like a hunting trophy, he left her tied to the foot of the bed like a dog.
During the two years that this abduction lasted, Hedwig Eva Maria had time to resume her engineering studies and since she assisted her husband at meetings, dinners, and business trips dealing with new technologies for weapon systems, she developed, on her own, a formula — the so called “frequency hopping” system — a technique for switching frequencies that would later be used for protecting the control of missiles.
This invention by Hedy Lamarr was patented in 1940 and is still used today. It made possible for the first time the transmission of secret signals without interference and was utilized in Vietnam and during the Cuban missile crisis.
To escape her imprisonment, Hedwig had to seduce and sleep with the maid, who helped her escape from the palace one evening while the self-important Mr. Fritz Mandl was traveling.
She got to Paris by automobile with only one dress and her pockets filled with jewels. She was pursued by the bodyguards of her husband. She managed to slip away and hide out in London and set sail for New York aboard the ocean liner Normandie. During the crossing, she met and seduced the Hollywood producer Louis B. Mayer, from Metro Studios, and made a deal with him concerning her future. He protected her, baptized her with a new name, Hedy Lamarr, and made her into a star.
Many remember her for the movie Samson and Delilah, the only movie that gave her fame. She had bad luck. She rejected the role of the heroine in the movies Gaslight and Casablanca. She was on the verge of appearing in Gone With The Wind.
Although she always appeared onscreen wrapped in silks, she was the first woman that movie goers always saw nude.
She married three times. She had three children. She passed through countless male and female bodies of husbands and lovers, leading men and producers. One lover fired shots over her earrings with a revolver while he was drunk; another forged an inflatable doll in her image and used it when she refused to gratify him; another went to bed with the maid while Hedy slept in the same bed.
She was always more intelligent than the man who accompanied her and always more beautiful than the wife of his friend. She was the richest and most beautiful woman of Vienna and became the most desired creature of Hollywood. But she was not the best actress due to the burden of her beauty.
Her kleptomania landed her in jail several times. She had all the millionaires of the world at her feet but she could not resist stealing a toothbrush in a department store.
To this day, missiles are fired off day bearing her name. She’s the girl who cut off Samson’s hair.
(Drawing by Fernando Vicente)