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Obituaries

Hedy Lamarr; Screen Star Called Her Beauty a Curse

January 20, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Using knowledge gained from Mandl's dinner table conversations with munitions customers, she helped Antheil diagram the communication system.

Ironically, the two Hollywood inventors earned nothing from their 1942 patent. The sophisticated anti-jamming device was not implemented by the Defense Department until 1962, when Sylvania installed it on ships sent to blockade Cuba. The patent had expired, with the rights to the invention falling into the public domain.

Lamarr never tried to promote her invention, considering it merely her contribution to the war effort.

When she was 75, she agreed to discuss the invention with Forbes magazine. She refused to pose for pictures, however, or grant a face-to-face interview. "I still look good, though," she said by phone.

At the time of the 1990 interview, she was retired and living alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Miami, supporting herself modestly with a Social Security check and a Screen Actors Guild pension. She later moved to Alamonte Springs near Orlando.

Chiefly through lawsuits, Lamarr staunchly fought any image of her as a recluse in poverty in her retirement years. She was acquitted of shoplifting charges in Los Angeles, and charges that she stole eyedrops and laxatives in Florida were dropped after her promise that she would not break the law.

"I have no idea where my next meal is coming from, and some days I go hungry," she told a curious fan without bitterness as early as 1965.

A year later in her autobiography she clearly stated her carefree philosophy about wealth: "I figured out that I had made--and spent--some $30 million. . . . I advise everybody not to save; spend your money. Most people save all their lives and give it to somebody else. Money is to be enjoyed."

She took marriage more seriously than her string of six divorces might indicate. Twice she abandoned her career to move to husbands' homes, in Mexico and Houston, and she never sought a major share of her husbands' fortunes.

After her divorce from the industrialist Mandl, Lamarr married two Hollywood personalities: producer and writer Gene Markey, with whom she adopted a son, James Lamarr, and then actor John Loder. Loder adopted James and fathered her two other children, Denise Hedwig and Anthony (Tony) John.

When she married her fourth husband, Acapulco nightclub owner Ernest (Ted) Stauffer, Lamarr publicly sold much of the furniture and Hollywood mementos from her Beverly Hills home and moved to Mexico. But she claimed that Stauffer ignored her, when he wasn't flying into jealous rages, and they separated after only six months.

Lamarr also moved to Houston, the home of her fifth husband, Texas oilman W. Howard Lee. That marriage lasted seven years, during which Lamarr made her final films, "The Loves of Three Queens" in 1954, "The Story of Mankind" in 1957 and "The Female Animal" in 1958. With Lee's financial backing, she produced a film in Italy that was never released.

Lamarr also continued her hobby of painting, and hung many of her works in their sumptuous home.

But her efforts to fit into Houston society were frustrated, and she and Lee divorced in 1960.

Lamarr's sixth and final marriage, to attorney Lewis W. Boies Jr., who was six years her junior, lasted from March 4, 1963, until their separation on Oct. 15, 1964, after several physical battles.

In addition to the six marriages, there were affairs along the way, with women as well as men.

"Yes, occasionally I have gone for a woman," Lamarr wrote in her autobiography. "But not for love, only excitement and thrill. I have always preferred men to women."

"In a way, I really had a nymphomania," she reflected in her book. "I don't believe man was made for one woman and woman for one man."

Lamarr appeared to live her life on her own terms and without regret. She often joked about such flaws as her inability to choose good scripts. She had turned down "Casablanca," for example, which became a hit for Ingrid Bergman.

"When I die," Lamarr once told a friend, summing up her devil-may-care life, "I want on my gravestone: 'Thank you very much for a colorful life.' "

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