Beauty was a burden for Hedy Lamarr. As a Hollywood star, she was once dubbed "the most beautiful girl in the world," a label that stuck. Even as a cosseted young girl in between-wars Austria, young Lamarr developed such a terror of ugliness she was plagued by nightmares.

She dreamt of holding fancy tea parties for her beloved dolls, but when "she would pour the hot water into their mouths, their plastic doll faces would become soft and begin to melt," Stephen Michael Shearer writes in his biography "Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr."

Shearer, a Woodbury author, allows readers to draw their own conclusions, but these nightmares clearly presaged Lamarr's later discomfiture as an aging Hollywood star. The author deftly reveals the extent to which beauty was a waking nightmare for the much-married actress; it didn't prevent abuse at the hands of men, and it ensured neither happiness nor enduring success, even in the wake of her legendary role in the Czech film "Ecstasy."

Beauty couldn't shield Lamarr from late-in-life notoriety for her shoplifting stints or her litigious protection of her image. Her brains, on the other hand, ultimately proved far more useful than her fleeting good looks.

Movie buffs can only hope Shearer's addictively readable biography will ensure Hedy Lamarr's legacy expands to include her important wartime co-invention of the same spread-spectrum technology used in today's cell phones.