Hedy Lamarr, whose real name was HedwigKiesler, was the most excellent example of beautiful and brilliant of her time. The tales of her life were extremely eventful with six marriages, several silver screen milestones, and a ground-breaking invention. As a highly accomplished actress after a brief film career in Czechoslovakia, she came under MGM and was considered a woman of utmost beauty in her days as an actress. But she was unlike any ordinary pretty face. Along with a successful career in films with hits like Lady of the Tropics and White Cargo, she was also an inventor who went on to become a trailblazer in the field of wireless communication and developed a frequency-hopping signal for radio-controlled torpedoes during the World War II along with her friend, composer George Antheil. While she did not receive instant recognition for the innovation she had contributed to science as the invention’s impact was not understood earlier and she was very underestimated throughout her life due to her appearance and gender, she was honored at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, 14 years after her death due to a diseased heart.
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Hedy Lamarr, whose real name was Hedwig Eva Kiesler was born on November 9, 1914 (although some sources say 1913) in Vienna, Austria (then Austria-Hungary) to well-off Jewish parents Emil Kiesler, who was a bank director and Gertrude Kiesler, who was a pianist. After studying at various schools in Vienna, she was sent to study in Switzerland. She won a beauty pageant at the very young age of 12 years and also displayed interest in acting from a very young age and was extremely enthralled by film and theatre. Her beauty started attracting the attention of both prospective producers and lovers when she was a teenager. Lamarr took acting lessons under the mentorship of Max Reinhardt who selected her to perform in some of his stage productions in Vienna but she never appeared in any of his productions in Berlin. She got married at the age of 19 to a 33-year-old industrialist Friedrich Mandl who did not allow her to pursue her film career because of his jealous and domineering nature. They both converted to Catholicism on their wedding day where Lamarr was forced by her husband to do so to make him able to do business with Nazi Germany. She helped her mother get out of Austria after the country came under Nazi Germany’s rule and helped her move to the United States of America, where her mother became a US citizen and left her husband and divorced him in Paris.
Her first venture into the film industry was being hired for a job as a script girl in Sascha-Film after forging a note of permission from her mother. While working as a script girl, she managed to score a small role as an extra in Money on the Street and a tiny speaking role in Storm in a Water Glass. She was then cast in her mentor, Max Reinhardt’s play, The Weaker Sex. Later, she was approached by Russian producer Alexis Granowsky who chose her for his first film as a director, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. She then grabbed the leading part in the film No Money Needed which helped her gain success. Lamarr went on to star in a film called Ecstasy at the age of 18 where she played the role of a young wife on a negligent elder man. While the film was considered an artistic work in Europe, the film garnered much controversy in America and was banned there. She also portrayed the character of Sissy in a theatre production about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, which won many praises from critics and had admirers lining up for Lamarr.
After Lamarr left her husband and arrived at London on 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro – Goldwyn – Mayor or MGM Studios Inc. while he was searching for new personalities in Europe for an exotic looking actress like Greta Garbo. This was the kickstart to her successful silver screen career. It was Mayer who persuaded her to take on the surname Lamarr, a homage to MGM actress Barbara La Marr to distance from the reputation she made for herself through her film Ecstasy. MGM gave her the title of the most beautiful woman in the world and started promoting her as such and introduced her to Walter Wagner, whose film called Algiers she starred in. It was her first Hollywood success and was said to create a “national sensation”. While initially unknown, she was very well promoted which made the public anticipate her performance more. She later starred in hits like I Take This Woman, Lady of the Tropics, Boom Town, Comrade X, Come Live With Me, Ziegfeld Girl, H. M. Pulham, Esq., White Cargo, and Her Highness and the Bellboy, which was her last film under her contract with MGM. She was most typically cast as the archetype of a glamorous woman of an exotic origin at her early and peak career. Lamarr earned a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd for her exceptional work in the motion picture industry.
While Hedy Lamarr had a flourishing career in the 1940s, her time in Hollywood did not serve her that well in the 1950s where she began to lose some popularity. She had set up her own production company in 1946 to take on more substantial roles as compared to the superficial personas she had been portraying in the part but returned to it with her role as Delilah in the film Samson and Delilah, which happened to be the biggest success of her career, even though it was not really her decade of fame. She later came back to MGM for a noir film, A Lady Without Passport which was a commercial failure. With her career in decline, she traveled to Italy and played multiple roles in Loves of Three Queens which she also directed. However, this also flopped as she was fairly inexperienced in making a production of this scale a success. Her last on-screen appearance was in the film, The Female Animal, a thriller.
Hedy Lamarr: The inventor
Hedy Lamarr worked on several inventions and hobbies in her free time even though she had no actual training and was primarily self-taught. Some of her inventive endeavors included an improved traffic spotlight and a tablet that would dissolve into water to make a carbonated drink – the latter however failed and Lamarr remarked that it tasted like an antacid. She had also recommended aviation tycoon Howard Hughes to change the squared design of his aeroplanes to a streamlined one on the basis of the pictures of the fastest fish and birds she could find, a suggestion Hughes took well and implemented. In an audio recording, Lamarr discussed her love for science, her failed experiments, and her success. Her greatest scientific achievement was coming out as a trailblazer in the area of wireless communication. Along with George Antheil, Lamarr developed a Secret Communications System at the time of the Second World War for the US Navy that used frequency hopping to guide radio-controlled missiles underwater in a manner that the enemy could not detect it after discovering that torpedoes used were susceptible to being easily stopped or set off course. It was Lamarr’s brain that came up with the idea and later together with George Antheil, they sketch a model for this and were granted a patent on 1942. However, the US navy did not adopt it at that time as it was hard to adopt technology and an updated version of their design was used by the navy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and after that in many subsequent missions. This “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped develop would later become a communications boom as it helped form the backbone of many technologies that we use today like Bluetooth, cellular phones, fax machines, and Wi-Fi. Like many women inventors of her time, Lamarr received little to no credit and recognition for her work, and some even took to ridicule her. However, from the late 90s onwards, Lamarr has been given accolades such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award (Lamarr was the first recipient of this award). Much later, 14 years after her death, Lamarr was honored in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. A true visionary whose technical acumen was far ahead of its time, Lamarr managed to shatter stereotypes and earned her place rightfully among 20th century’s most prominent and influential women.
Hedy Lamarr’s offscreen personality was noted to be extremely different from her on-screen persona. At the top of her acting career, she felt very lonely and homesick most of the times and actively avoided crowds. She regularly questioned why people would want her autograph when fans came up to her to ask her for one. She was said to have both a kind of warmth with magnetism, qualities that even Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo lacked by writer Howard Sharpe. Lamarr got married and divorced six times. Her first husband was Friedrich Mandl, an industrialist from Vienna. They married in 1933 when Lamarr was 19 and divorced in 1937 because of his overbearingly jealous and dominating nature. Lamarr has also written about how she felt like a prisoner in this marriage as he refused to let her pursue a career in acting. Her second husband was screenwriter and producer Gene Markey with whom she got married on 1939. The couple adopted a child named James and divorced after two years of marriage. Her third husband was actor John Loder, who also became the father of her child from her previous marriage through adoption. They had two other children together, Denise and Anthony. The couple split after three years of marriage. Her fourth marriage was to a nightclub owner Ernest Stauffer to whom she was married to for 2 years. They had no children together. Her fifth marriage to W. Howard Lee, an oilman from Texas, was her longest-running marriage; the couple was married for seven years. It was also during her fifth marriage that she became a naturalised US citizen on1953. Her last husband was her divorce lawyer, Lewis J. Boies, whom she was married to from 1963-65. The end of her last marriage was followed by 35 years of an unmarried life for Lamarr.
Later years and death
The later years of Hedy Lamarr were one of seclusion. Telephone became the only form of communication in her life and while she spoke to her close friends and family over the phone for six to seven hours a day, she never really went out to meet them. She was also offered several scripts, stage productions, and commercials but she rejected all of them as they did not intrigue her. On 1981, she settled in Miami and retreated from the public due to her eyesight failing. Her adopted son James became estranged from his mother and Lamarr did not include him in her will. She died of heart disease in Casselberry, Florida when she was 85 years old. On 2014, she was given a grave at the Vienna’s Central Cemetery to honor her in her hometown.
Samson and Delilah – Lamarr plays Delilah, a beautiful woman who wanted to uncover the secret of a strongman Samson and then betrayed him.
Algiers – Hedy Lamarr plays Gaby, the love interest of Pepe who was a thief escaping from France after a big heist.
H.M Pulham, Esq. – Lamarr plays the role of an independent working woman Marvin Myles who refused to fit into the role of a traditional conservative wife for the main lead, Harry Pulham.
Comrade X – She plays the role of Theodore, a car conductor who wished to spread the message about the benefits of communism.
A Lady Without Passport – She portrayed the character of a poor Austrian refugee, Marianne Lorress.
Her Highness and the Bellboy– Lamarr plays the role of a princess named Veronica who traveled to New York to search for a famous column writer but instead was confused for a maid by a good-natured bellboy.
I Take This Woman – Hedy plays the role of Georgie Decker in this film who was met with a doctor while she attempted to commit suicide after a failed relationship.