Composer as book critic: Adams reviews new book on composer Antheil, movie star Lamarr

Posted on: December 21, 2011

In Sunday’s (12/18) New York Times, composer John Adams writes about the uproar caused by the premiere of George Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique, a title probably intended “to amplify the work’s emphatic embrace of Machine Age aesthetics.” Meanwhile, the young actress Hedwig Kiesler, who had created a scandal by appearing nude in the silent film “Ecstasy,” was changing her name to Hedy Lamarr at movie mogul Louis B. Mayer’s urging. Antheil and Lamarr would collide at a dinner party in 1940. “A friendship began that evening, kindled by the encounter of two imaginative and inventive minds, and it is the subject of Richard Rhodes’s new book, ‘Hedy’s Folly.’ … What drew Rhodes to the twin story of the Bad Boy of Music and ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ was their invention of a radio-controlled ‘spread spectrum’ torpedo-guidance system, for which they received a patent in 1942. … But persuading the Navy to take it seriously proved insurmountable. Pentagon bureaucracy, coupled with the fact that the design’s co-inventor was a movie star, resulted in their idea being ignored. Hedy’s folly may have been in assuming men in government might overcome their prejudice that a beautiful woman could not have brains and imagination.”

Posted December 21, 2011