During her lifetime, even personal friends were unaware that film star Hedy Lamarr was Jewish. Now two new biographies — “Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer, due out in September from St Martin’s Press and “Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film” by Ruth Barton, just out from The University Press of Kentucky — both detail how Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna to a Jewish family, her mother originally from Budapest, and her father from Lvov.
Of the two new books, by far the better written one is by Barton, a Lecturer in Film Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. Shearer, a Las Vegas-based former actor, journalist, and friend/biographer of Patricia Neal, absent-mindedly describes the first marriage of one of Lamarr’s husbands in this amusingly redundant way: “They were married by a Jewish rabbi.”
Lamarr’s earliest work was in Berlin with the Russian Jewish director Alexis Granowsky, whose 1925 silent hit “Jewish Luck,” an adaptation of Sholom Aleichem with titles by Isaak Babel, starred the great Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels.