Hedy Lamarr: An Incred­i­ble Life

William Roy; Syl­vain Dor­ange, illus.

  • Review
By – December 17, 2018

To read about the life of Hedy Lamarr is to wade into the moral ambi­gu­i­ty of the celebri­ty mys­tique. Lamarr was a bois­ter­ous pres­ence suf­fused with sub­tle­ty, one of the most famous stars of Hollywood’s Gold­en Age — and one of the great­est exam­ples of Hollywood’s effects on soul and psy­che. Her jour­ney from chained woman and refugee, to sex sym­bol, and final­ly to her last, her­met­ic years is the stuff of Tin­sel­town leg­end. Tak­ing a broad view of Lamarr’s life reveals the poles of human intrigue: the highs and lows of a life filled with promise that wasn’t rec­og­nized until after her death.

Lamarr’s jour­ney from bomb­shell to respect­ed inno­va­tor lies at the heart of the new graph­ic biog­ra­phy Hedy Lamarr: An Incred­i­ble Life. A semi-chrono­log­i­cal explo­ration of her life, the book details the extra­or­di­nary events that cat­a­pult­ed Lamarr from aspir­ing actress to star­let in pre­war Europe, her love­less mar­riage to a Ger­man weapons deal­er, her dar­ing escape to and suc­cess in Amer­i­ca, and her need to cling to the aura of beau­ty and suc­cess when oth­ers thought her unwor­thy of atten­tion. Make no mis­take — this sto­ry is a trag­ic one. But there are also more than enough scenes of triumph.

William Roy doesn’t skimp on his­tor­i­cal detail. He por­trays Lamarr as a sym­pa­thet­ic fig­ure who was often treat­ed unfair­ly because of her gen­der, and who some­times used her fem­i­nine charms to get what she want­ed. Nev­er sat­is­fied with the sta­tus quo, Lamarr pushed ahead in her career and per­son­al life. Roy doesn’t flinch from writ­ing about these real­i­ties, just as he doesn’t focus undue atten­tion on Lamarr’s inven­tions in the field of tech­nol­o­gy; every aspect of the book is evenhanded.

What should real­ly draw read­ers in, how­ev­er, is the superb art by Syl­vain Dor­ange, drawn in a lush style typ­i­cal of the French approach to comics. Every turn of the page is an excuse to exam­ine the soft edges and some­times sur­re­al, Art Deco-ish approach to char­ac­ter design. The almost car­toon­ish illus­tra­tions are a nice jux­ta­po­si­tion to the often dark ele­ments of the sto­ry, and help keep the edge off at the tens­est moments. Like Lamarr her­self, the art­work in this book is a tour de force of inge­nu­ity and creativity.

For the lover of yesteryear’s block­busters and pop cul­ture, this book is a won­der­ful read. A rich, mul­ti­fac­eted, and uncom­pro­mis­ing inspec­tion of a star’s life of glam­our and seclu­sion, Hedy Lamarr: An Incred­i­ble Life eschews the fetishiza­tion of celebri­ty and instead presents a clear, human­is­tic por­trait of its sub­ject, leav­ing read­ers both amazed by her feats and crushed by her losses.

Discussion Questions