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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, April 8, 2019

Spring Book Tour & Update

I've just returned from the Southern leg of my spring tour, sandwiched between New England events.

It was wonderful meeting readers and signing books.

And I had the opportunity to discuss Hedy Lamarr and Beautiful Invention with an energetic and enthusiastic book club.

Also, the weather was warm, and so many flowers were blooming!

Upcoming activities include taping a television program, another book club visit, a presentation at a library, a public event in the Lakes Region, and two writers' conferences.

I'm glad to have emerged from wintertime hibernation, during which I was devoted to my work-in-progress. It is still progressing....

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hedy Lamarr as Actress, Inventor, Artisan--and Artifact

As a result of writing Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, and as a collector of antique and vintage items, I've acquired several original artifacts associated with my protagonist.

One of the most intriguing is this metal boot- or shoe-jack. The letters of Hedy’s name are soldered to the frame, and each support bears half the year of its creation, 1940—the 19 on one side and the 40 on the other.

Although the provenance isn’t specific, it reportedly was made for the actress, who by 1940 had attained the peak of fame. But by whom?

One candidate for its creation is Hedy herself, because she was a maker. She designed her own jewellery and clothing, and mixed her own perfume by combining scenes she liked. Knitting and needlepoint were ways to keep occupied between scenes in her dressing room or trailer. She was a painter. She modeled in clay, making miniature animals to display in her dressing room. As described in the novel, she gave them to her Come Live with Me castmates as Christmas gift—Jimmy Stewart received a pig—and she accepted commissions. And she was a woodcarver, who specialised in making decorative doorstops covered in needlepoint or fabric. Her woodworking projects sometimes took place in the carpentry shop at her studio, MGM, where she could use a lathe.

Another even more likely candidate, and the one I chose for fictional purposes, is British actor Reginald “Reggie” Gardiner. He was her first Hollywood boyfriend and lover. 

Hedy with Reggie Gardiner
Hedy & Reggie at a film premiere

A skilled artist, he painted her portrait more than once, in oils and in watercolours. 

Reggie working on one of his Hedy portraits

After their initial romance ended, they remained very close before and after her various marriages, and they continued dating until he fell in love with the woman who became his wife. He built her coops for her flock of chickens and ducks, hutches for her rabbits, and constructed a swimming pool at one of her houses. Anyone who sees him portraying the quintessential, sophisticated, upper-crust Englishman in such films as Christmas in Connecticut or Everybody Sing! will be surprised by his non-theatrical pursuits. It would certainly not be out of character for him to have engaged in metal-work.

What was the significance of 1940?

It was a very busy year for Hedy, and not a happy one. She separated from her second husband, producer Gene Markey, and initiated a divorce—which had the potential to jeopardise the final adoption of their toddler son. In the midst of domestic turmoil, she was working on four major movies: Boom Town (with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable), Comrade X (with Clark Gable), Ziegfield Girl (with Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and Jimmy Stewart) and Come Live with Me (with Jimmy Stewart).

During the final months of that year, appalled by the tragic German U-Boat attack on the children’s transport ship City of Benares, evacuating British children to Canada, she decided to put her knowledge of munitions to use against Hitler and the Nazis. She embarked upon her now-famous collaboration with George Antheil on the wireless torpedo, and the development of “frequency hopping” and spread-spectrum technology for the National Inventors Council.

It's impossible to know the origin of the bootjack, or why it bears the particular date. But it is an attractive—and potentially useful—household item.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Hedy Lamarr and her Velvet Ballgown

On 16 January, 1937, the woman who became Hedy Lamarr—then Mrs. Fritz Mandl—attended the Vienna Opera Ball. On that occasion she wore a velvet gown with crossover bodice. Her jewels consisted of a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, a large brooch, and several gemstone bracelets.

Hedwig Kiesler Mandl, 16 January 1937

Hedy at the Vienna Opera Ball, 16 January 1937

One of many myths about Hedy—which she created and perpetuated—was her autumn 1937 “escape” from her native Vienna and her controlling, duplicitous husband. Fritz Mandl, an Austrian-born Jew, was a millionaire munitions manufacturer who provided European dictators with armaments in the years just prior to World War II. Hedy's disgust at his connections with Hitler, combined with his mistreatment of her, prompted her to leave her homeland.

In her quite lurid and much discredited (by her) ghostwritten autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, there is an exciting but highly dubious description of how she got away from her husband after various failed attempts. She claims to have hired a maid who resembled her. After sending money and jewelry to a friend in Paris, says Hedy:

…I put three sleeping pills in Laura’s coffee, packed her suitcase, left her some money, dressed in my maid’s costume with the collar turned up and sneaked out of the servants’ entrance. I had the keys to Laura’s battered car, and I reached the railway station unchallenged…I knew that once I was discovered, and alarm would go to Mandl in Germany just as quickly as if he were in the next room!

This subterfuge would not have been necessary. By that time, the marriage was no more than a sham.

The year before this supposedly occurred, in October, 1936, U.S. papers printed a story about the scandalous couple, declaring that Fritz Mandl

...has not only lost his five-year fight to suppress the movie Ecstasy, in which his beautiful wife stars in the nude, but he now stands in danger of losing his wife as well. At least, so the Viennese gossips say. And they add that his wife, famous Austrian cinema star, Hedy Kiesler, has also lost—her heart to Count Ferdinand von Starhemberg.

Ferdinand was a hereditary Austrian prince, not a count, and he tried to help free Hedy from Fritz, with disastrous results. By the following year, the Mandls were taking separate vacations, and both were involved in affairs with other people. Moreover, that summer the European press reported that divorce was already on the cards. On the 18th of September, 1937 it was reported:

A cousin of Mandl revealed today that Hedi [sic] and her husband had filed a mutual divorce action. It was reported, however, that they would not wait for a trial of the suit but would go to Riga, Latvia, the Reno of Europe. Hedi’s aspirations to return to the stage were blamed for the final rift, but although Vienna society has been talking for weeks about the public appearances of the actress with Count Max Hardegg.

When that paragraph was printed, Hedy had already left Austria and was in London, staying at the elegant Regent Palace Hotel.

Decades before Hedy's memoir was published, shortly after her arrival in Hollywood, she told journalists that she deserted Fritz while he was away on a hunting trip in Hungary. Here’s an early version of the escape story, a year after it occurred, as described in a 1938 Photoplay interview, the year after her departure from Austria:

She packed her luxurious clothes and with her tiny nest egg made ready for flight…and then quietly one night during her husband’s absence, she with the aid of a faithful maid, crept to the depot and caught the train.

No mention of drugging the maid. Or a single suitcase. The servant is an active assistant, no doubt helping to carefully pack those "luxurious clothes." She was not an unwitting victim.

In July, 1938, ten months after Hedy fled from Vienna, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper visited Hedy's home, reporting that, "She brought with her the finest jewels, which she keeps in a vault, and scads of beautiful clothes."

So Hedy did carry jewelry and couture gowns with her when she climbed aboard that train to Paris. From France she crossed the Channel to England. In London an MGM employee secured her a meeting—not her first—with Louis B. Mayer. She's believed to have sold some of her jewelry to pay for her passage on the S.S. Normandie, but much of her collection was intact when she sailed. She surely had more than limited amount of clothing she could have fitted into “Laura’s suitcase”. On disembarking in New York on September 30th, she possessed stacks of luggage. She had purchased clothing in the designer shops on board the ship—Mayer gave her carte blanche to buy anything she wanted and send the bill to MGM. But judging from her comments to Hedda Hopper and to Photoplay, she'd brought plenty of fine clothes on board.

Apparently that same velvet ballgown she'd worn 9 months earlier at the Vienna Opera Ball was carefully packed with others as she departed the ten-room Ofenheim Palace apartment where she lived with Fritz. Accumulated photographic evidence proves that it made the long journey with her from Vienna to Hollywood.

In one of her early MGM publicity stills, shot by photographer Clarence Bull, she wears that very garment.

Hedy Lamarr, MGM starlet

And in the final hours of 1938—the year she achieved Hollywood stardom as Gaby in Algiers—she wears it again. Seated with her at the New Year’s Eve party is her co-star, Charles Boyer, who was responsible for her getting that crucial role.

Hedy & Charles Boyer, 31 January 1938

The velvet gown had at least one other outing, paired with her famous chinchilla cape. She wears both in this photograph at an event with actor George Raft and Norma Shearer, at that time the Queen of MGM, Hedy’s studio. Some sources indicate that this was at the Academy Awards ceremony in February 1939.

After the Mandls' marriage was eventually dissolved, Fritz went on to marry nearly as many times as Hedy did. They remained on friendly terms. He telephoned her every birthday, and from time to time provided her with gifts of money—once as much as $10,000. Whatever had drawn them together when she was a teenaged actress never completely disintegrated. They met only once again, after both were remarried, she to producer/writer Gene Markey and he to an Austrian baroness. The reunion, noted in Hedy’s FBI file, probably occurred during the Markeys’ visit to New York in early 1940, when Fritz and his new bride were also there.

I doubt she wore the well-travelled velvet dress on that occasion. If she had, I'm sure her ex-husband would have remembered it, and he would have known the cost—because  he'd paid for it.

There's no proof of which couturier created the sleeveless and oft-worn gown. Hedy often purchased clothing in Paris. Madeline Vionnet created this very similar one in 1934, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. And purple was a favourite colour of Hedy's.

Vionnet gown, 1934, V&A

You can read about Hedy's married life with Fritz, her escape from him, and what happened afterwards in Hollywood and during World War II, in Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Guest Blogging at A Writer of History

Today I'm featured on M.K. Tod's wonderful historical fiction blog, sharing some of my process as i wrote about Hedy Lamarr's life and times.

Transported to Hedy Lamarr’s Time and Place

Always a pleasure to stop by Mary's blog.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Catch-Up, 2019 Beginning

The old year concluded with a burst of activity of all sorts.

After the launch of Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, I was delighted to appear in several bookstores, and talk to readers--friends and strangers--about the novel, its incredible protagonist, and the writing life. It's my thirteenth work of historical fiction to be published, but the thrill of a new release never fades.

Equally gratifying, the press attention the novel has received, and the wonderful reviews--in print and online publications locally, nationally, and internationally.

As all of this was happening, I was simultaneously participating in National Novel Writing Month, and successfully competed the challenge to write "50,000 Words in 30 Days." The next novel is off to a good start!

December was a time for fun and festivity--cutting and decorating our tree, which naturally included a Beautiful Invention ornament . . . as well as the cast of characters from A Pledge of Better Times

We hosted our annual Christmas Caroling party, welcoming 30+ friends and neighbours and local musicians for food and frolic.

Exactly a month after having to put down our dear and devoted 12-year old Border collie/black lab Jewel, we were fortunate to bring a mixed-breed puppy into our home as a companion for us and Ruth, our senior BC mix. Dot has settled in beautifully, and we're so grateful to the family that fostered her so well, and the rescue organisation from which we adopted her. Shortly after her arrival from a state in the southern part of the U.S., she experienced her first snowfall.

After a few weeks' break from writing, I'm resuming work on the next novel, and scheduling my 2019 speaking engagements, book club appearances, writers' conference presentations, and planning domestic and international travels. This year isn't very old, but it's already clear that it will be a very busy and productive one!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Publication Day: Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr

Now available in print and all digital formats, my latest novel.

I'm a guest on the Reading the Past blog for a release day interview about the book, the writing process, and my focus on biographical historical fiction: Reading the Past Interview with Margaret Porter.

Here is the book trailer--

Purchase buttons for online retailers--

And I'm sponsoring a Rafflecopter giveaway--

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Beautiful Invention Gift Package Giveaway on Rafflecopter

To mark the official October 16th release of  Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, I'm sponsoring a Rafflecopter giveaway from October 9-29.

Hedy was notable for wearing pearls--necklaces, bracelets, earrings, which are featured in many of her films and a majority of the glamour portraits of her created by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.

In a fan magazine
Making friends during her War Bond Tour
For this sweepstakes, I've sourced a 3-strand pearl necklace similar to one she often wore. The necklace is 19 inches in total length. The pearls are genuine, and large.

GOOD LUCK to all entrants!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hedy Lamarr returns to London: UK launch for BEAUTIFUL INVENTION

In 1937, Hedy Kiesler Mandl escaped from her husband and her beloved city of Vienna. She travelled first to Paris, and then crossed the Channel to England. In London, she checked into the Regency Palace Hotel, a few steps from Piccadilly Circus. At the time, it was the largest hotel in Europe--and quite luxurious.

Over time it grew increasingly rundown and even disreputable, but it remained a hotel until 2006, when the site was developed. Some of the original facade is intact.

The former Regent Palace Hotel in Piccadilly

Hedy returns to the hotel she occupied in 1937

Very little is left of the splendid interiors, but the site of the Atlantic Bar & Grill now houses Brasserie Zédel, and its Art Deco décor is restored to its former glory. On the day of the UK launch of Beautiful Invention, I was there for a celebratory lunch.

Entrance to the brasserie

Hedy probably dined here, when it was the hotel restaurant

Champagne on UK launch date

The celebration continued throughout the week, culminating at Fischer's in Marylebone, an Austrian restaurant. My meal there consisted of cuisine that Hedy knew and loved: wienderschitzel and Sacher torte!


Sacher torte, so named for Vienna's famous Hotel Sacher