Lamarr, Hedy: Hollywood Career

After escaping her estranged husband, Hedy Lamarr fled to Paris in 1937, where she met MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, who was the scouting for talent in Europe.

Mayer hired her, and persuaded her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr , choosing the surname in homage to the silent film star, Barbara La Marr. He brought Hedy to Hollywood in 1938 and began promoting her as the “world’s most beautiful woman.”

Lamarr’s American film debut was in Algiers (1938), opposite Charles Boyer, created a “national sensation,” says Shearer.  She was billed as an unknown, but well-publicized Austrian actress, which created anticipation in audiences. Mayer hoped she would become another Garbo or Dietrich. According to one viewer, when her face first appeared on the screen, “everyone gasped…Lamarr’s beauty literally took one’s breath away.”

Lamarr was typecast as the archetypal, glamorous seductress of exotic origin. But her career was boosted from playing opposite the era’s most popular leading men.

Her many films include the smash hit Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, Comrade X with Gable, White Cargo (1942), Tortilla Flat (1942) with Tracy and John Garfield, and Dishonored Lady (1947).

White Cargo, one of Lamarr’s biggest hits at MGM, contains, arguably, her most memorable film quote, delivered with provocative invitation: “I am Tondelayo. I make tiffin for you?” This line reflects many of Lamarr’s roles, which emphasized her beauty and sexuality, while giving her few lines of any significance.

In 1941, Lamarr was cast alongside Lana Turner and Judy Garland in Ziegfeld Girl, but it’s Turner who got the best role and the most critical attention.

Lamarr made 18 films from 1940 to 1949 even though she had two children during that time (in 1945 and 1947).

After leaving MGM in 1945, she enjoyed her biggest success as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, the highest-grossing film of 1949, with Victor Mature as the strongman.

However, after a comedic role opposite Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951), her career went into decline. She appeared only sporadically in films after 1950.

One of her last roles was that of Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen’s critically panned epic, The Story of Mankind (1957).

The lack of acting challenges bored Lamarr. She reportedly took up inventing to relieve her boredom.