Hedwig “Hedy” Eva Maria Kiesler was born November 9, 1913 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary.
By the age of 17, Hedy’s dream of becoming an actress became a reality when she was cast as a young girl in the 1930 film “Gold on the Street.”
Her beauty opened doors in 1931 as she was cast in “Storm in a Water Glass” as a secretary and “The Trunks of Mr. O.F.” in the role of Helene.
In 1932, Hedy played Kathe Brandt in the film “No Money Needed.”
Her film roles and beauty attracted many men including the third richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl.
Mandl was the chairman of Hirtenberger Patronen-Fabrik, a leading Austrian armaments firm founded by his father.
So on August 10, 1933, the 19 year old Hedy married the 33 year old Friedrich Mandl.
Then against her husband’s wishes, Hedy auditioned for director and screenwriter Gustav Machaty.
Gustav cast Hedy in the role of a neglected young wife married to an indifferent older man in his 1933 film “Ecstasy.”
Hedy’s nude scenes and facial expressions during the throes of orgasm filmed up close were controversial for the time and propelled the young actress into international fame.
When her husband Mandl learned of these scenes, he objected to what he felt was the exploitation of his wife, and the “expression on her face.” He purportedly bought up as many copies of the movie as he could find in an attempt to restrict its viewing.
Although half-Jewish, Mandl had close social and business ties to the fascist governments of Italy and Germany, selling munitions to Mussolini. In an effort to keep his wife out of the public eye, Mandl had Hedy accompany him to business meetings where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. There were even reports that Mussolini and Adolf Hitler attended lavish parties at his castle home “Schloss Schwarzenau.” Ironically, these meetings introduced Hedy to the field of applied science and nurtured her talent in the scientific field.
Hedy’s marriage became unbearable to her and she devised a ruse to separate herself from both the marriage and the fascist country.
Later, in her biography “Ecstasy and Me,” Hedy reportedly said that she hired a maid that resembled her in 1937, put on all of her jewelry for a dinner party, drugged the maid and used her uniform as a disguise to escape and fled to Paris.
After Paris, Hedy went to London where she met Louis B. Mayer.
Mayer suggested she go to Hollywood, however he insisted she change her name to Hedy Lamarr. The world viewed Hedy Mandl as “the Ecstasy Lady.”
The surname Lamarr gave homage to another beautiful film star, Barbara La Marr who had died in 1926 from tuberculosis.
In Hollywood, Hedy met leading man actor Charles Boyer at a party. Boyer asked John Cromwell to cast her as Gaby in his upcoming 1938 film “Algiers.”
Hedy received good reviews for this American film debut.
Hollywood invariably began casting her as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origins.
In 1939, Hedy married author and screenwriter Gene Markey, but the couple divorced in 1941.
Hedy Lamarr went on to play opposite the era’s most popular leading men, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Robert Young and Jimmy Stewart.
In 1941, Hedy was cast alongside Lana Turner and Judy Garland in Ziegfeld Girl.
Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention
Composer George Antheil, a son of German immigrants and a neighbor of Hedy Lamarr in California after her divorce, had experimented with automated control of musical instruments.
Mathematically talented, Hedy and George Antheil invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, necessary for wireless communication.
Together, they submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June of 1941.
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey”, Lamarr’s real last name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.
Although a presentation of the technique was soon made to the U.S. Navy, it met with opposition and was not adopted.
During World War II, Hedy Lamarr reportedly wanted to join the National Inventors Council but was told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds.
So Hedy went on to give her most memorable line in the 1942 film “White Cargo” with hints of a provocative invitation: “I am Tondelayo. I make tiffin for you?”
Hedy Lamarr made 18 films between 1940 and 1949 even though she married actor John Loder in 1943 and had 2 children (1945 and 1947).
Hedy and John Loder divorced in 1947.
She enjoyed her biggest success as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, the highest-grossing film of 1949.
However, following her comedic turn opposite Bob Hope in the 1951 film My Favorite Spy , her career went into decline.
Also in 1951, Hedy married Teddy Stauffer, a Swiss bandleader dubbed the “Swing-King.” The couple divorced in 1952.
Then on April 10, 1953, Hedy Lamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Hedy married Texas oilman W. Howard Lee in 1953. The couple divorced in 1960.
Hedy appeared only sporadically in films after 1950, one of her last roles being that of Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen’s critically panned 1957 epic, The Story of Mankind .
Ironically, their frequency-hopping spread-spectrum idea from 1942 was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired.
In 1963, Hedy married her own divorce lawyer Lewis Boies. The couple divorced in 1965.
Then in 1966, Hedy Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting in Los Angeles. The charges were eventually dropped.
The 1970s were a decade of increasing seclusion for Hedy Lamarr. She was offered several scripts, television commercials, and stage projects, but none inspired her interest.
In 1974, Hedy filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit to the tune of $10 million for the unauthorized use of her name in the Mel Brooks satire Blazing Saddles; the case was settled out of court.
Tired of the life of a celebrity and with her eyesight failing, Hedy retreated from public life and settled in Miami Beach, Florida in 1981.
For several years beginning in 1997, the boxes of CorelDRAW’s software suites were graced by a large Corel-drawn image of Hedy Lamarr.
The picture won CorelDRAW’s yearly software suite cover design contest in 1996. Lamarr sued Corel for using the image without her permission. Corel countered that she did not own rights to the image. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement in 1998.
In 1991, Hedy was arrested on the same charge in Florida, this time for $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops.
Hedy pleaded “no contest” to avoid a court appearance, and in return for a promise to refrain from breaking any laws for a year, the charges were once again dropped.
Perhaps owing to the lag in development of her frequency-hopping spread-spectrum, Hedy’s patent was little known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Hedy Lamarr a belated award for her contributions.
In 1998, an Ottawa wireless technology developer, Wi-LAN Inc., acquired a 49% claim to the patent from Hedy Lamarr for an undisclosed amount of stock (Eliza Schmidkunz, Inside GNSS).
Today, Hedy Lamarr’s and Antheil’s frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as Bluetooth, COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections, and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.
And for her contribution to the motion picture industry, Hedy Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd.
Hedy Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida on January 19, 2000, at the age of 86, from natural causes.
Her death coincided with her daughter Denise’s 55th birthday.
Her son Anthony Loder took her ashes to Austria and spread them in the Vienna Woods, in accordance with her last wishes.
In 2003, the Boeing corporation ran a series of recruitment ads featuring Hedy Lamarr as a woman of science. No reference to her film career was made in the ads.
The story of Lamarr’s frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention was explored in an episode of the Science Channel show Dark Matters: Twisted But True, a series which explores the darker side of scientific discovery and experimentation, which premiered on 7 September 2011.
Her story was also featured in the premiere episode of the Discovery Channel show “How We Invented the World”.
Now WE know em