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Will Hedy Lamarr Take To Texas?

There was great consternation in Madeline’s, one of Houston’s swankiest cafes when Howard Lee, native of Texas, asked for a wine list so that his beautiful wife, Hedy Lamarr, could follow her usual continental custom of wine with her meals. The waiter looked askance, the Texas Big Rich customers at nearby tables were shocked. Surely Mr. Lee knew the state’s liquor law that no mixed drinks may be served any place save in private clubs, where members have the makings stashed away in lockers, and no wines except the “light” type with mild alcoholic content may be ordered at restaurants.

Nonetheless, Howard requested a wine list, while Hedy waited expectantly. Finally, Madeline Bigelow, the chic owner, offered to give the Lees a bottle of wine from her own private stock. Even an attempt at joking about the fact that the cafe was housed in the mansion in which Howard had grown up, and that Hedy was the new landlady, did not restore serenity. Hedy asked her husband “who she must see” to get the wines with her meals which she has enjoyed always in Europe, in Beverly Hills, in Acapulco, in New York, in any of the international gathering spots where she has long twinkled as a leading luminary. Mixed drinks? She wouldn’t touch them. But wines! They were civilization itself!

To many, the incident was amusing. To some, annoying. But to a few perceptive souls, it is significant in that it poses an important question—“Will Hedy take to Texas?”

Will this beautiful woman, whose life and loves have for two decades told a tumultuous story to an ever-fascinated public, really find the happiness she has sought so long, in this fifth marriage to a man rated a “No. One Eligible” by the glitter sets across the country—a man who, despite this, is a fixture in one of the brand-newest areas of this New World of ours?

Can Hedy’s Old World culture, plus her continued ambition to shine on the movie screen, blend with plans to make a home and family life in the roistering, boisterous, albeit luxurious, background of one of America’s last golden frontiers?

Hedy thinks that indeed she can.

Shortly after she had stepped from the plane onto Texas soil, she said that the first thing she had to do was to “find a nice lovely home so the children could come from the West Coast.”

Those who watched Hedy and Howard together remembered the other beauties with whom Howard had dazzled-the citizens not so long ago . . . June Haver, Dorothy Malone, singers Margaret Phelan and Betty George, Georgette Windsor. Born to one of the state’s largest fortunes, his good looks, enhanced by deep-set hazel eyes and silver-black hair, have made him a natural for highly headlined romances.

But the aura of adoration and rare happiness in the Shamrock Hotel apartment where Mr. and Mrs. Lee lived until they found a house, told at once that this was “different.” This tall girl with the once black, now russet, hair cut in casual Italian style, wearing the equally casual sports clothes, talking in the husky, accented voice, was someone very, very special in his life. And an observer could see that he was hoping, praying almost, that his beloved new wife and his beloved Texas would get along—famously.

When talk turns to Hedy’s plans for movie making, she neatly: side-steps by saying that settling down into her new home is her major and immediate problem. But she never denies that she hopes to star again, either. She smiles radiantly, and says that Howard has given her a beautiful diamond bracelet and a stunning new auto, and that the children “adore” their new stepfather.

“I had a good time in Europe last summer. But when you are so far from the one you love, it is not so good,” she confides with an honest candor.

“I left Rome the day my picture was finished. It’s as yet untitled, and I play three famous women of history in it, a blonde, a redhead, and brunette. I flew back in one of the worst crossings in years. I couldn’t wait. But when the plane landed in Boston, when it couldn’t get into New York, there was Howard to meet me, and everything was wonderful!”

A week later, on December 22, they were married in a Queens County judge’s chambers, en route to Idlewild Airport and a Hollywood-bound plane. Apparently by mutual agreement, they went on to spend Howard’s first Yuletide away from Texas, amidst Hedy’s friends and family.

And then, less than a month later, they moved to Houston, to Howard’s sumptuous suite in the Shamrock Hotel, then to the house they found together.

Hedy and Howard had first met a year and a half before when she had visited Houston as the guest celebrity at the town’s elaborate horse show. She was separated from her fourth husband, Ted Stauffer, Mexico’s resort hotel owner. Howard had tiffed with the local beauty whom he’d been seriously dating. And before anyone could say “Howdy, pal,” he was beauing Hedy to all the fancy “do’s” attendant to the annual event.

Then each went separate ways. Columnists noted they were together intermittently—in New York’s cafe society circuit; at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel where Hedy made her home after the final split-up with husband No. Four; even, once, in Houston, where she paid an unannounced visit. But then, in the Spring of ’53, Hedy went to Europe to make a picture, her first since 1951. And everyone said, “It’s all over.”

And besides, said “everyone,” how could they have possibly considered marriage?

There was Howard, member of a family singularly conservative for Texas, a man who loved good times, yet who tended to his vast oil and hotel interests faithfully, a man who had never been sufficiently interested in international gayety to make even one trip to Europe—though his unlimited bank account could have afforded it as readily as Mr. Average Man can plan a jaunt to a nearby beach.

Hedy’s background, “they” continued, was completely at odds with Howard’s. Married in her teens to the far older Fritz Mandl, immensely wealthy European manufacturer, she had early learned the ropes of life in top social and cultural circles of the Continent. Coming to Hollywood in 1938, she had had three unhappy marriages, with writer Gene Markey, with actor John Loder, with Ted Stauffer. She had become a big star, a symbol of unearthly beauty. She had, also, become a symbol of unhappy beauty. The widely chronicled auction of all her possessions, including old wedding rings, had seemed to say, “This girl has suffered. This girl wants to forget . . .”

Yet, early in 1954, there she was in Houston, Texas, breathlessly happy and married to the “man of her dreams.”

True to her promise, shortly after that arrival, Hedy and Howard set out to find a home. Daily, delighted citizens saw them driving through the streets of River Oaks, most exclusive of the residential districts. They saw them strolling through the nearby shopping center, as if sizing up shops where Hedy could buy clothes and children’s togs and groceries and household goods.

They dined in out-of-the-way spots. One night, they chose a small spot far out on the highway called Charcoal House. As they shared a sizzling steak, an old friend of Howard’s, apparently one who seldom read the daily papers, stopped to say “Hi.” If he knew the woman with his childhood pal was a famous screen star, he didn’t let on. They were completely unmolested. The owner spent the evening wondering if Hedy liked it, or whether her calm manner concealed a touch of, maybe, yearning for the recognition she knows so well. Here was another strange phase of her new life in Texas.

Then, soon after, came an incident which pointed up in a different manner, that question of, “Will Hedy, can Hedy possibly take to Texas?”

Hedy and Howard had slipped into a small movie theatre to see one of the rare European films which the town exhibits. Onto the screen flashed a trailer for the forthcoming picture.

“The most daring scenes since ‘Ecstacy’ ” the trailer fairly shouted. And the keen-eyed members of the audience who had spotted them wondered how Hedy felt, remembering that picture of so long ago, the notoriety that followed her nude bathing scenes in it, the break-up of her first marriage that came soon after.

About the time “Ecstacy” was filmed, Howard was a young beau gaining the nickname of “Sheik” which old friends still use; courting the rich Texas girl whom he eventually married and who is the mother of his lovely 16-year-old daughter.

Would the hot light of publicity in a “home town” sort of city that considers his ex-wife and family “their own,” prove uncomfortable for the Lees? Or, would time temper things, lead them into pathways of peace and contentment, make them “part of the regular crowd.”

In answer to questions which might have a bearing on this very matter, Hedy asks her own question, “Why do you ask me if I am going to make more pictures?” with a slight edge to her voice. “Why would I come all the way to Texas, if I were planning to go right away again?

“We will go to Europe, together, in the Spring. Howard has never been there, and we will have a beautiful time! But before that, I must get my new Texas home in order . . . in perfect order!”

Hedy’s husband smiles briefly. He squeezes the hand with the exquisite new diamond on the third finger, left.

“Don’t you think I’ll have a wonderful guide?” he asks, apparently referring to the proposed trip across the Atlantic.

But one wonders. A lovely guide—to Europe? Or through a life in an oil well-studded, cowboy populated, rollicking, frolicking section of America’s great Southwest—as strange to Hedy as the Riviera and the ancient museums will be to Howard . . . yet with a bright glowing prospect of bliss . . . if Hedy can really “take to Texas.”





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