Heather Massie is back. The Blacksburg native is a professional actress who’s been living in New York, but a fringe theater-festival in Staunton caught her eye – the perfect place for her one-woman show about a beautiful and brilliant Hollywood star.
As a child, Healther Massie wanted to be a scientist, and years later she majored in astro-physics at the University of Virginia, taking a couple of electives in theater.
“And that summer, after my sophomore year, I got cast in the lead role of Mary Draper Ingall’s The Long Way Home in Radford, Virginia, and that was the turning point,” Massie recalls.
She spent years laboring in the trenches of regional theater before moving to New York, and all the while she thought about science – hoping, somehow, to re-connect. When she learned about Hedy Lamarr, she knew she had made that connection.
“People would most likely know her as a Hollywood film siren of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s," Massie says. "She was most known for her role in Cecil B Demille’s Samson and Delilah.”
But Lamarr was no ordinary starlet. A native of Vienna, she starred in a racy Czech film at the age of 19.
“She ran through a field naked and swam in a lake, and then the most notorious scene was where she portrayed the very first female orgasm on screen. That’s how it got its name -- Ecstasy,” says Massie.
She left the movies to marry a wealthy arms merchant – then escaped from her unhappy marriage and the arrival of the Nazis. She was a hit in Hollywood, skillfully negotiating her own contracts with Louie B. Mayer, but Massie says she led a very different life from her contemporaries.
“Instead of spending all her time at Hollywood parties, she preferred to stay home at her drafting table and invent things to make the world a better place.”
In partnership with an avant-garde composer, Lamarr came up with a technology that could have helped the allies at sea – a means of secure wireless communication that is, today, essential to cell phones, wifi and GPS.
“Hedy had intimate knowledge of munitions, because she was there at dinner parties with all the European leaders who were buying arms – Nazi generals who were buying arms, so she had knowledge of munitions,” says Massie.
Massie loved the story of Hedy Lamarr and made her the subject of a one-woman show.
“I can step into her life and embody her and share her story with others and inspire everyone to look for ways each day to make the world a better place and to inspire young women to go into the sciences.”
Massie will perform Sunday and Monday at the Shenandoah Fringe festival in Staunton. Then she’ll take the show to New York and hopes it will get a bump from Susan Sarandon’s documentary about Lamarr that premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month.