Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was born in 1914 in Austria-Hungary and died in 2000 aged 85. Today her name has been brought back into the spotlight because, despite being a famous Hollywood actress, not many people knew that she was an inventor and her inventions paved the way for technologies that we use today!
Lamarr began her film career in Europe with a role in a controversial film 'Ecstasy' which involved nude scenes of her. She was strongly against doing the scenes and threatened to quit production over them. The director said she would have to pay for all her scenes if she quit but reassured her that no intimate areas would be shown. However, at the preview, the director had taken close ups of her and she was infuriated. The film was banned in Germany and Americans took a strong dislike to the film although it won an award in Rome.
She continued her acting with stage roles and was bombarded with male affection and gifts. One man in particular, Friedrich Mandl was obsessed with her but despite turning him away, Hedy fell for him and they were married in 1933. She was 18 and he was 33 and an Austrian manufacturer, reportedly the third richest man in Austria at the time. It was her marriage with Mandl that allowed her to learn about munitions and secret weapons.
Mandl had connections with the Nazi government, even though his own father and Lamarr's father were Jewish, and Hitler and Mussolini often had meetings at Mandl's home. Lamarr later fled the marriage, saying that Mandl treated her like a doll and she felt imprisoned. She disguised herself as a maid and escaped to Paris.
There she met Russian born American film producer Louis Mayer, who was scouting for European talent. He took her to America where she starred in numerous film roles, working with the likes of Judy Garland and Clark Gable.
In her spare time, she worked on various inventions and one man who knew of her inventiveness was Howard Hughes, an aviation tycoon. He supported her hobbies and gave her a team of scientists who would do/make whatever she wanted. Hughes was trying to make planes faster so Lamarr looked at the aerodynamics of birds and fish and shared her ideas that plane wings should be less square and more fitting to the natural design of the fasted birds and fish. Hughes told her that she was a genius and created plane wings that were in line with her drawings.
In 1940, Lamarr said to her friend and pianist George Antheil that she did not feel comfortable to sit around making money whilst the country was in such a state, so during World War II, she developed a device, with the help of Antheil, that could cause radio-controlled torpedoes to go off track by jamming their frequencies. The invention was granted a patent in 1942 and their work led to the development of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth! They were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall Of Fame in 2014 and Lamarr won two awards for her contribution to the arts and invention. She also helped to raise funds for the war effort.
Lamarr seemed to be quite an odd and troubled character. She stated that she often felt lonely and indicated that she didn't like being in public places where people would stare at her. She wondered why anyone would have wanted her autograph. An 'autobiography' called 'Ecstasy and Me' was published in 1966 but she shared that she didn't write it and most of it was fictitious. Near the end of her life she would rarely speak to anyone in person, but would talk on the telephone several hours a day.
In 1966 she was arrested for shoplifting but the charges were dropped. In later years, she started to use plastic surgery as a desperate attempt to maintain her beauty but she ended up only making herself look worse and she was reported to have been addicted to pills.
Lamarr would get married and divorced six times in total during her life time and she had three children. She remained unmarried for the final 35 years of her life. She became estranged with one son, James, when he was 12 years old. When she died, she left him out of the will but he sued for the right to have a share of her $3.3 million estate. Her ashes were taken and spread in Austria in accordance to her last wishes.
It seems that Hedy Lamarr was a very intelligent and a modern woman for her time. Her ideas and inventions led to faster planes and for modern technologies that are still in use today. Despite her fairly turbulent life, she achieved tremendous things and for that, I think she should be commended!