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Salute to Hedy Lamarr

A pop culture addict who loves to talk about movies, music, books, comics, and all of the other things that move and entertain us.

Hedy Lamarr was smokin'

Hedy Lamarr was smokin'

Who Was Hedy Lamarr?

Hedy Lamarr has long been recognized as one of the most beautiful women of the classic Hollywood era. It hasn't been until more recently, however, that she was also recognized her inventive mind that helped shape the modern world.

Hedy was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914. This had her coming of age in the '30s, which was a dark time for central Europe. She started working in movies when she was 16, gaining international notoriety for the film, Ecstasy (1933).

Not only was she nude in Ecstasy, she had a simulated orgasm, possibly the first in movies! She was credited in the film as Hedy Kiesler, her real name. After she came to Hollywood, though, she changed her name to Lamarr, in part to distance herself from that scandalous movie.

Married Austrian Arms Dealer at 18

Before the lights and glamour of Tinseltown came calling, though, she married an Austrian named Friedrich Mandl. Seven months after the release of Ecstasy, in August 1933, the 18-year-old Lamarr wed the 33-year-old Mandl. He was charming and fabulously wealthy. He was also an arms dealer doing business with Mussolini and Hitler.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this tool of fascism was controlling in his marriage. I have seen it alleged that he recorded her conversations in order to capture her attempts to escape. This part of Hedy's life seems almost like a movie itself.

Married to an obvious villain, a man who armed Italy and Germany in the ramp-up to World War II, Hedy finally escaped by dressing up like a maid and taking off for Paris, and then London.

Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah" (1949)

Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah" (1949)

Louis B. Mayer and MGM

In London she met famed studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer. He offered her a contract with MGM, but she turned it down. It wasn't a rash decision on her part, though. She booked herself on the same ship to America as Mayer, and by the end of that trip, he gave Lamarr a contract paying her four times the amount he initially offered.

Hedy started getting parts in movies like Algiers (1938), an American version of the 1937 French film, Pépé le Moko, and Lady of the Tropics (1938). She was cast as the exotic beauty because that's what she was.

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Unfortunately, many could not see past Lamarr's stunning good looks. She wanted to join the National Council of Inventors to help with the war effort, but was told she would be more useful pimping her celebrity to sell war bonds.

Godmother of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth

Hedy was not completely deterred by this. She heard that torpedoes were having their radio control signals jammed and were going off course. She came up with the idea of frequency hopping and worked with composer George Antheil to figure out how to make it work. They got a patent, but the military wasn't interested at the time. Her idea is now considered to be the basis for Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth technologies.

Antheil wasn't the only one who recognized Lamarr's genius. Howard Hughes respected and admired her gift of invention and innovation as well. She continued making movies into the late 1950's, and even helped develop a ski resort with one of her husbands—who later got the resort in the divorce.

For all of her beauty, Hedy Lamarr's greatest contribution was scientific. She co-invented a frequency hopping system which became critical to the development of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth technologies.

For all of her beauty, Hedy Lamarr's greatest contribution was scientific. She co-invented a frequency hopping system which became critical to the development of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth technologies.

Reclusive Later Years

Hedy was married five more times, the final time to her divorce lawyer. After that, she remained single for the remainder of her life. She became reclusive, and while she was offered work she didn't take it.

She was arrested for shoplifting in 1966 and again in 1996. She sued Mel Brooks for a character in Blazing Saddles with the name Hedley Lamarr. Brooks took it in stride and settled. She sued Corel for using her likeness without permission, and also sued the publisher of her autobiography, which she said was largely fictionalized.

One gets the sense that Lamarr's final years were lonely and sad, as she rarely spent time with anyone in person and communicated almost exclusively by phone. This may be just the way she wanted things though, who's to say?

Brains and Beauty Personified

In the final analysis, Hedy Lamarr had a dramatic and exciting life in which she contributed to pop culture through her movies, and to the broader culture through her scientific invention. It's rare for someone to get one of those achievements, let alone both.

Rather than an eccentric, old woman who wanted to be alone, Hedy Lamarr should be remembered as one of Hollywood's most beautiful screen goddesses, who helped change the world with her innovative mind.

© 2022 Gracchus Gruad

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