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.