Monday, October 26, 2009

Hedy Lamarr and Sharon Tate: A Contrast in Glamorous Beauty

I'm always looking through magazines at the check out stands at grocery and book stores.  I now find myself looking for articles that remind me of Sharon or something related to her.  This week I found one article that is somewhat opposite of Sharon but about a woman with almost as much beauty and glamour. 

The novelist Dana Spiotta has written an article for Vogue Magazine for the November issue called: The Glamour Geek in the Nostalgia section of the magazine.  It takes a look back at star Hedy Lamarr and her beauty and brains in equal measure. 

Even though Sharon and Hedy are very different there are some things that resonate between the two.  The first part of the article discusses Lamarr's shoplifting trial in 1966 in comparison with Winona Ryder's in 2002.  This, of course, would be very opposite of Sharon.  I can't see Sharon doing that. 

However, in the second paragraph of the article, the author says: "I started to collect Hedy photos and stories partially because Hedy presented such a challenge."  This reminded me of my own fascination with Sharon.  I began collecting magazine articles and photos shortly after I was about 11 years old and I first saw her in "The Fearless Vampire Killers."  I did not find out until afterwards that she had been sadly murdered.  But she was a challenge because at the time--around 1987-88--it was still relatively hard to find material on Sharon the person behind all of the misleading and ludicrous headlines that personified her in death.  As time has went on and the internet has became more available with books and magazines, I have been able to find and locate more articles on the real Sharon. 

Articles on both Sharon and Hedy could not go without mentioning their standout looks.  Spiotta calls Hedy "a beauty of nearly sidereal incandescence."  I can picture Sharon in that same but different luminous light.  Sharon was one of light features: blonde hair, hazel eyes, suntaned skin.  Hedy was more of darker features: dark hair, dark blue eyes and painted red lips with porcelain skin.

Both could be considered what Spiotta calls "fallen star"s.  Sharon because her life was cut short too soon and Hedy because as she got older the roles were harder to come by.  Of course, the article could not go on without mentioning Hedy's brainy brillance.  How she invented what is known as spread-spectrum technology or frequency-hopping.  These days this is used for wireless communications.  In this way, Sharon often found she was misjudged by many because they didn't consider her smart.  Sharon herself commented that people often misinterpreted her shyness and considered her to be aloof until they came to know her better.  I could also argue that Sharon made some very intelligent statements in interviews.  That is, when the reporter saw beyond her beauty, some making her look like the classic dumb blonde.  For instance, Look magazine's article on Valley of the Dolls did not put her in the most flattering light and she knew it.  I've heard that Sharon quit doing magazine interviews for a time after a few like that hit the newstands. 

The article goes back to mentioning Hedy's persona saying she was one of those "worldly European actresses."  Similarily, when Sharon went to Italy, at first people thought she was Italian.  She spoke it fluently and she had a sort of exotic look that many European women have.  Spiotta writes of Lamarr: "Her flawless, impenetrable beauty should have been icy except for a magnetic unseemly quality that lent her a complicated, quicksilver sexiness.  She was desirable without being at all comely. She must have seemed very exotic to American audiences."  I think this could also be said about Sharon. 

The article pinpoints a vintage Vogue magazine photograph by Toni Frissell describing Lamarr in "it radiates her foreignness: she's more or less in drag, with trousers, jacket and monogrammed shirt.  She is hardly mannish, but in the thirties it was still considered outre, even rebellious, for women to wear pants... When Europeans like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich cross-dressed, it acquired a certain kink, a titillating hint of transgression that only added to their mystique.  I've always thought this early era of cross-dressing was tremendously sexy.  In most of her films and photos, Hedy had a sleek, shiny, almost electroplated look.  But in this photo, she shows us her significant foreign misery.  The caption says: 'fatal Sunday supplement beauty, somnambulistic and aloof.'  That's exactly it--a kind of sleepy fatality, a resignation."  To go along with this, I found a photo of Sharon by Jerry Schatzberg were she is wearing a suit and tie shown here and one other similiar photograph.

It goes on to say that Hedy did become a bonafide star with the film "Algiers" but, that over time, she "made one mediocre movie after another."  Critics and Sharon herself both found her films in this same light at the time.  (Now Sharon's films like "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and "Valley of the Dolls" have become cult hits with midnight audiences.)  Spiotta claims that Hedy lacked a certain something.  She writes: "Although she had an undeniable sexuality, she did seem to lack something.  Her face never expressed the kind of longing that Ingrid Bergman's did.  Maybe it was the roles she was given.  Maybe what people said was true: She was too  beautiful to play a real woman."  Even in Vincent Bugliosi's infamous book, "Helter Skelter" he admits that Sharon was never really given a role to prove or even to test her acting abilities for anyone to be able to significantly judge her for her performances.  Although, Sharon--to me--showed great potential in both comedy and drama, most critics wrote mixed reviews of her performances. 

I suppose in this way Sharon and Hedy both felt what Spiotta calls "discarded and unappreciated" by Hollywood.  They never got the respect and dignity that we can imagine these two beauties longed for as actresses and people.  Though, however, if Sharon had lived, I do think this would have changed with Polanski's help.  With him she would have been given roles that both tested and challenged her. 

The article ends discussing how Hedy became a 'wrecked beauty' not only in looks but in personality.  Not only the shoplifting made her look bad but some 'creepy plastic surgeries' and the bitterness of suing anyone and everyone over whom she thought was either taking advantage of her image (she sued Corel software for using her as art) or making fun of it (she sued Mel Brooks for making a joke about her name in "Blazing Saddles").

Sharon was nothing like the above paragraph.  She was the quintessential opposite of that.  Everyone who knew Sharon says the same thing about her that 'she was so kind and giving.  She could easily be taken advantage of for her good nature.'  So while Spiotta wonders if Hedy might have been "petty and vain" we know Sharon was not.  Spiotta goes on to say that Hedy 'lacked self-awareness, humor, irony.'  In contrast, I think Sharon did have an acute self-awareness, she did have a great sense of humor and I'm sure she could see the irony in life.

But Spiotta's last two sentences say alot about both women.  She writes, "So then how is it the woman in this photograph manages to look so vulnerable?  She still captivates me."

Both women are similiar and different in many ways.  I thought it would be nice to try and compare and contrast them here. 

Also, for trivia sake:  The mansion used in The Sound of Music (1965) belonged to Hedy Lamarr at the time.  Sharon could have met her had she gotten the part of Liesl in the same film.

More News:

A look back at Sharon and Roman's friend and producer of "Rosemary's Baby", William Castle:

And a look back at the year 1969 here:

1 comment:

  1. hmm have to tell you. that Vogue article on Hedy Lamarr is rubbish!