Amy EbersoleCTCS 510 FinalProfessor Jewell17 December 2013
(1933) Hedwig Kiesler to
(1938) Hedy Lamarr:Ethnic Femininity, Censorship, and Classic Hollywood Stardom
Please forget and let the ‘Ecstasy’ girl be buried. She has made life seem not worth living. —
I. Why Hedy Kiesler/Lamarr:
The rise of Hedwig Kiesler in the early-1930s and the fall of Hedy Lamarr in the1950s approximately mirror that of the rise and fall of Classical Hollywood Cinema, both bookended by the beginning of the Depression in 1929 and the end of World War II(WWII) in 1945. During the height of her stardom, Hedy was known internationally asthe most beautiful woman in the world. Married and divorced six times, Hedy isremembered for her salacious love stories and for co-inventing a technology that is nowthe modern basis for wireless mobile communication. Beautiful, provocative, persistent,and smart, Hedy grabbed the world’s attention because of her starring role in the banned1933-Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy.
Shortly after, she fled her European aristocratic roots to America to actualize her dream of becoming a Hollywood star. Signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Hedy became an icon of continental glamour. Despite often being typecast, like other ethnic female Hollywood stars, into the roles of dark, vamp, seductive, ethnic archetypal characters,her representation in the media and publicity paradoxically simultaneously reinforced both her ethnic sexuality as well as her domesticated American patriotism, especially during WWII. Situating Hedy within the historical and social context surrounding the Hollywood Studio System Era, I will chronologically tackle her history, focusing my research on the
time period from the production of
(1933) to her first American film,
(1938). My intention is to go into the most detail about the history of Ecstasy
as researched in the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) Production CodeAdministration (PCA) Files viewed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts andSciences’s (AMPAS) Margaret Herrick Library to illuminate the discourse of sexualcensorship and the shifts in Joseph Breen’s power as the director of the PCA during this period. I also spend some time visually decoding some of the publicity images from theConstance McCormick Collection in University of Southern California’s (USC’s)Cinematic Arts Library to discover how popular culture discourse framed Hedy’s ethnicfemininity.
One can trace the rise and fall of both the PCA and the Classical HollywoodStudio System against the backdrop of Hedy Kiesler/Lamarr’s career. By mapping herstar career, it is “possible to gain a greater understanding of both cultural history and filmhistory … (as) stars are cultural barometers whose popularity speaks volumes about theirtimes and the psychological needs of the fans who worshiped them.”
By focusing on theyears between Hedy Kiesler’s 1933 role in
and Hedy Lamarr’s first film as anMGM-contract star in
, one sees how her career was affected by the 1930szeitgeist characterized by the tightened enforcement of Hollywood’s self-imposedcensorship code, a return to traditional family values post-Roaring 20s, an increase in thecommodification of ethnic stars used to amplify foreign sales, a rejection of aristocraticfashion and ideals, a shift in the roles of women against the backdrop of the depression,
and an escalation of American isolationism that morphs into post-war interventionalistdiscourse.
III. Hedwig Kiesler: The Birth of the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World”
Hedy Lamarr was born into a well-connected aristocratic Jewish family asHedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna. As a child, people frequently praised Hedy’s parents for her good looks, a trend that would continue throughout herlife. However, her mother, Gertrude Kiesler, “underemphasized praise and flattery,hoping in this way, to balance the scales for her.”
Despite Gertrude’s resolve for herdaughter to focus on nurturing her intellect versus her beauty, Hedy independentlyentered and won multiple beauty contests in her youth. At 12 years old she bought herfirst fur coat with beauty-contest winnings and even snuck away from her finishingschool in Switzerland back to Vienna for a beauty contest, persuading “a friend to cablethe school in her parents’ names and request that she be allowed to return home.”
Thiswould not be the last time she lied or forged a call or note for her pursuits.After starting acting classes despite her parent’s demands, she “forged ahandwritten note to the school from her mother and slipped off one day to Austria’slargest film studio, Sascha Film Studios, where she talked herself into a job as a scriptclerk.”
Soon after, she boldly asked the assistant director to cast her in a film, laterleading to her first role on
Gold on the Street
(1930). It was both this bold persistence andher beauty that would be the determining characteristics that would make Hedy a star.Her reputation as an ambitious and beautiful actress brought her to MaxReinhardt’s attention. This great Viennese-born director cast her in a role as the FirstAmerican in
The Weaker Sex.
Reinhardt was the first to yell to reporters, “Hedy Kiesler