Hedy Lamarr an Austrian-born American actress who got her start in a little-known Czech erotic film called Ecstasy. After moving to Paris with her affluent Austrian husband who made his wealth in the ammunition manufacturing business. Dealing with some rather unsavory clientele. We might add -, she eventually found her way over to London where she had a chance encounter with MGM head Louis B. Meyer who after impressed with her acting chops, gave her a chance to be a Hollywood film star.
After signing a contract with MGM, Lamarr’s first big break was in the 1938 film. Algiers, and for the next two decades; she starred in quite a few hit films including 1939s Lady of the Tropics, 1942s White Cargo, and Cecil B. Demile’s 1949 epic biblical blockbuster Samson and Delilah – which is widely consider her biggest movie career success.
Hedy Lamarr Biggest Contribution
But even though she had a fairly prolific Hollywood film career. Perhaps her biggest contribution to the world was inventing something that we can almost guarantee that you use on a daily basis. In fact, there is a really strong chance that you’re using her now-ubiquitous invention at this very moment. Sadly, Lamarr would never really receive the full credit she rightfully due within her lifetime; nor she appropriately compensated for her revolutionary invention.
Keep watching to find out what exactly Lamarr’s groundbreaking was, how it helped the US military post-World War II. And more details about her life story in which she basically given the short end of the stick despite being the genius behind one of the most influential inventions of the 20th century.
Hedy Lamarr’s Early Life
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914, in Vienna, Austria. Lamarr grew up as a Christian despite the fact that both of her parents had Jewish heritage. Her father was a bank director from Lemberg while her mother was a pianist who hailed from Budapest.
As a child, Lamarr took an interest in acting and obsessed with theater and film. When she was 12, she won a beauty contest in Vienna, thus getting her first taste of the spotlight. She also had a love for learning about how things work. And her father, who likewise dabbled in inventing. Would often take her out on walks where he would explain how technology and society functions.
Lamarr would discovered by an Austrian filmmaker when she was still just a teen. She recognized by the international film community after starring in the sexually provocative Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy in 1933.
After having a brief and turbulent marriage with Fritz Mandy. A rich Austrian ammunition manufacturer who put guns into the hands of literal Nazis. Lamarr traveled to London where she met MGM big-wig, Louis B. Meyer. After revealing her previous film work in Ecstasy; he invited her to come out to America. And once she arrived in Hollywood, she signed a contract with Meyer’s film studio. This would be the point where she would adopt her stage name and leave her old Austrian name behind.
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Hedy Lamarr Was A Very Unique Breed Of Hollywood Star
After Lamarr’s first American film, Algiers, hit theaters, she immediately became a box-office sensation of sorts. Almost overnight, she had become the new Hollywood ‘it girl’.
Lamarr would go on to appear in quite a few notable and well-received films throughout the 1930s and 1940s. And was reportedly even producer Hal Wallis’s first choice for the female lead in his 1943 classic, Casablanca, although that role would ultimately go to Ingrid Bergman.
Lamarr often referred to in the media at the time as one of the most beautiful and exotic leading ladies in Tinseltown. And her name also started getting associated with some of the most famous men of her time as well. One of these eligible bachelors was the obscenely wealthy and eccentric business tycoon and pilot Howard Hughes.
Hughes and Lamarr dated for a spell but instead of being attracted merely to his wealth and prestige. Lamarr more interested in his desire for innovation. Her interest in the sciences, which her father helped cultivate; had repressed by her burgeoning Hollywood career, but Hughes helped reignite that flame within her mind. He gave her a small set of scientific lap equipment that she would use in her trailer while on the sets of her films.
While Lamarr had an inventing table and workshop set up at her home, this small set that Hughes gifted her allowed her to work on her inventions while taking breaking in between shots.
Knowing that she had a passion for engineering, Hughes took her to his airplane manufacturing facilities and gave her a behind-the-scenes look at how these aircraft built while introducing her to scientists and engineers.
Lamarr very inspired by all of this and especially intrigued by Hughes’s desire to create faster planes that could marketed to the United States Military. After buying a book covering the aerodynamics of birds and fish, she took that knowledge and crafted a new kind of wing design for Hughes’ airplanes. After she showed her work to Hughes, he declared her to be a genius.
And A Genius She Was
In 1942, at the peak of Lamarr’s Hollywood career, she met a composer named George Antheil at a dinner party. Antheil and Lamarr would hit it off and started to swap invention ideas, as they both shared an interest in science and technology. Eventually, they awarded a patent on August 11, 1942, for a novel type of radio signaling device called a “Secret Communications System” which used an ever-changing set of radio frequencies to keep enemy intelligence operatives from decoding covert messages.
Originally this tech, which technically called a frequency-hopping spread system, designed to outwit the Nazis by guiding allied torpedos in World War II, but later this system would become a crucial stepping stone in the development of technology for both military communications systems as well as cellular phones. Eventually, this tech would give rise to technologies such as Wi-Fi, GPS, CDMA, and Bluetooth.
But since the wide range of applications of that tech wouldn’t be understood fully until decades later, Lamarr and Antheil sadly wouldn’t get the recognition that they fully deserved for their invention right off the bat. In fact, it would be many years later until anyone outside of the military even knew what they had developed.
Hedy Lamarr’s Invention
The Navy initially shelved their invention and wouldn’t dust it off again and realize it’s profound importance until much later. What Lamarr and her cohort had presented to them so far advanced and beyond their comprehension, that the military didn’t even know what to do with it. Plus, it didn’t help that it was something that a musician and movie star had come up with. What could a composer and buxom starlet possibly know about such things?
Beyond that, their invention was also technically difficult to implement. Two decades later, however, an updated version of Lamarr and Antheil’s design began to appear on Navy ships during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It wasn’t until 1997 that Lamarr was honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award. That same year, she would also become the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award – an honor that is often regarded as the Oscar award of inventing.
In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil inducted, albeit posthumously, into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Lamarr’s Later Film Career
Seven years after inventing the tech that would eventually earn her the nickname of ‘The Mother of WIFI”, Lamarr appeared in her most successful Hollywood film, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Biblical drama Samson and Deliah. The film ended up winning two Oscars and scored big marks with critics.
Lamarr would go on to appear in films like 1950s A Lady Without Passport which ended up being a flop, and the more successful films Canyon and My Favorite Spy, which respectively hit theaters in 1950 and 1951.
Her film career then began to decline. After trying her hand out as a producer and playing multiple roles in 1954s Loves of Three Queens, she ended up losing millions of dollars when the project failed to impress critics and audiences alike.
In 1957, she played Joan of Arc in the film The Story of Mankind – yet another commercial flop. Her last film was the 1958 thriller The Female Animal. She supposed to appear in the 1966 film Picture Mommy Dead, but she replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor after collapsing from nervous exhaustion during filming.
Hedy Lamarr Never Received Compensation For Her Inventions
After leaving Hollywood behind, Lamarr designed a ski resort in the late 50s in Aspen, Colorado with her then-husband W. Howard Lee. After that project failed to be profitable, Lamarr found herself broke and somewhat desperate despite the fact that she had previously invented technologies that would eventually become universally implemented.
In 1966, she arrested in LA for shoplifting. Although those charges eventually dropped. In 1991, she arrested on similar charges in Florida for stealing $21.48 worth of eye drops and laxatives. She ended up pleading no contest to avoid having to appear in court and the charges were also ultimately dropped.
In the 70s, Lamarr spent most of her time in seclusion. Although she was offered several film, television, and theatrical roles, none of them interested her. In 1974, she filed a $10 million lawsuit against Warner Brothers claiming that Mel Brook’s parody of her name in the film Blazing Saddles was infringing on her privacy.
Brooks responded to her suit by saying that he felt flattered and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
In 1981, after her eyesight had begun to fail, Lamarr retreated from the spotlight and settled in Miami Beach, Florida.
For the last few decades of her life, Lamarr continued to live in seclusion with her only connection to the outside world being her telephone. She reportedly wouldn’t even meet with her children or close friends in person. While she would talk on the phone for up to seven hours a day, she would hardly ever meet with anyone face to face.
On January 19, 2000, Lamarr Died in Casselberry, Florida, of heart disease at the age of 85.