Salute to 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 her inventive mind that ended up helping shape the modern world. She was born in Austria in 1914, which had her coming of age in the 30's, which you may know was a dark time for that part of the world. She was starting to work in movies by the time she was 16, and gained some international notoriety for a movie she did titles Ecstasy. In this film she was not only nude, but had a simulated orgasm scene, possibly the first in movies. She made this movie under the name Hedy Kiesler, her real name. After she came to Hollywood she changed her name to Lamarr in part to distance herself from that scandalous movie.

Before the lights and glamour of Tinseltown though, she married an arms dealer in Austria. Her husband of course was doing business with Mussolini and the Nazis. He didn't want her acting and was very controlling. I have seen it alleged that he went as far as to record her conversations when he was not in the room in order to trap her in her attempts to escape him. This part of Hedy's life seems almost like a movie itself. Married to an obvious villain, an arms dealer who kept the fascist thugs armed just before the start of World War II, Hedy devised an escape plan where she dressed up like a maid and smuggled out her jewelry to make a break for Paris and then London.

In London she met famed studio mogul Lois B. Mayer. He made her an offer for a movie contract but she turned it down. It was no rash decision on her part though. She booked herself on the same ship to America that he was on and by the end of that trip she had a contract that paid her 4 times the amount he initially had offered her. She started getting parts in movies like Algiers and Lady of the Tropics. She was cast as the exotic beauty, because that's what she was. Unfortunately many could not see that that was not all she was. 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.

Hedy was not completely deterred by this. She heard of a problem of torpedoes were having their signal for their radio controls jammed and were going off course. She came up with the idea of frequency hopping and worked with George Antheil to figure out how to make it work. They got a patent, but the military wasn't interested at the time. They did hold on to the idea though, and began using the technology in 1957. Her idea is considered now to be the basis for wi-fi 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. She continued making movies as well, into the late 1950's. And she helped develop a ski resort with one of her husbands, who later got the resort in the divorce.

She was married 5 more times in the U.S., the final time to her divorce lawyer. After that divorce 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 also sued Corel for using her likeness without permission, and the publisher of her auto-biography which she said was largely fictionalized. One gets the sense that her final years may have been 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? 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 invention. It's rare for someone to get one or the other of those achievements, let alone both. So 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 inventive mind.


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