Review: Beautiful Invention by Margaret Porter


Hollywood Beauty. Brilliant inventor. The incredible story of a remarkable and misunderstood woman.Hedy Kiesler, Austrian actress of Jewish heritage, scandalizes Europe with her nudity in the art film Ecstasy. Her hasty marriage to a wealthy munitions merchant disintegrates as he grows increasingly controlling and possessive. Even worse—he supplies deadly weapons to Hitler’s regime.She flees husband and homeland for Hollywood, where Louis B. Mayer transforms her into Hedy Lamarr, an icon of exotic glamour. Professional success clashes with her personal life as marriage and motherhood compete with the demands of studio and stardom. Motivated by the atrocities of World War II, Hedy secretly invents a new technology intended for her adopted country’s defense—and unexpectedly changes the world.

My Review

Interesting title for a woman whose name and popular image became as much an invention as her famous contraptions. Emotional, restless, and frustrated that everyone assumed she was dumb because she was beautiful, Hedy apparently spent her whole life looking for the right partner. I say “apparently” because the novel only takes us through 1949 and the end of her third marriage; she died in 2000 after six marriages. Her first unfortunate film at the age of 18 called Ecstasy showed her running nude through the forest and having an orgasm. What a scandal! Unfortunately, this debacle almost ruined her career and it seems she never quite got over it. When Louis B Mayer took her on (after her first disastrous marriage), it seems he never really gave her the roles she craved and she got caught up in the whole Studio Era.

Throughout the meal, Bob entertained them with tales of Hollywood and its celebrated inhabitants.
Hedy, struggling to follow the conversational flow, retreated into silence, as she’d done so often during her husband’s dinner parties. She recognized similarities between Austria’s political and social hierarchy and that of the moviemaking realm. Power was everything—gaining it, holding on to it, and wielding it against competitors and enemies alike. Success ensured it. Failure threatened it. Repeated failure destroyed it.

This is a sad story about a frustrated life. Although Hedy seems to come out ahead in her career, her personal life never rises to her expectations. We know she is brilliant and mechanically inclined, and we do see her working on a torpedo design for the war effort, but that, too, is rejected by the government. Although I was really interested to hear about her inventions, I admit this sideline does not make for exciting prose and the author kept it to a minimum. I had a bit of trouble following all her relationships because the transitions were awkward and sometimes nonexistent. But overall the book kept me turning the pages and I got a pretty good feeling for this star-crossed beauty.

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