Hedy Lamarr (, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler; September or 9 November 1914[a] – 19 January 2000) was an Austrian-born American actress, inventor, and film producer. She appeared in 30 films over a 28-year career in Europe and the United States, and co-invented an early version of frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication, originally intended for torpedo guidance.
Lamarr was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and acted in a number of Austrian, German, and Czech films in her brief early film career, including the controversial Ecstasy (1933). In 1937, she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, secretly moving to Paris and then on to London. There, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio, who offered her a Hollywood movie contract, where he began promoting her as "the world's most beautiful woman".
She became a star through her performance in Algiers (1938), her first American film. She starred opposite Clark Gable in Boom Town and Comrade X (both 1940), and James Stewart in Come Live with Me and Ziegfeld Girl (both 1941). Her other MGM films include Lady of the Tropics (1939), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), as well as Crossroads and White Cargo (both 1942); she was also borrowed by Warner Bros. for The Conspirators, and by RKO for Experiment Perilous (both 1944). Dismayed by being typecast, Lamarr co-founded a new production studio and starred in its films: The Strange Woman (1946), and Dishonored Lady (1947).(c. 50m35s–52m40s) Probably her best known role was playing Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949). She also acted on television, before the release of her final film, The Female Animal (1958). She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
At the beginning of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system using frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology for Allied torpedoes, intended to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. She also helped improve aircraft aerodynamics for Howard Hughes while they dated during the war. Although the US Navy did not adopt Lamarr and Antheil's invention until 1957, various spread-spectrum techniques are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. Recognition of the value of their work resulted in the pair being posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, the only child of Emil Kiesler (1880–1935) and Gertrud "Trude" Kiesler (née Lichtwitz; 1894–1977). Her father was born to a Galician-Jewish family in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine), and was a bank director at the Creditanstalt-Bankverein. Her mother was a concert pianist, born in Budapest to an upper-class Hungarian-Jewish family. She converted to Catholicism as an adult, at the insistence of her first husband, and raised her daughter Hedy as a Catholic as well, though she was not formally baptized at the time.(p8)
As a child, Kiesler showed an interest in acting and was fascinated by theatre and film. At age 12, she won a beauty contest in Vienna.(pp12–13) She also began to associate invention with her father, who would take her out on walks, explaining how various technologies in society functioned.(c. 7m>05s–8m00s)
After the Anschluss, she helped get her mother out of Austria and to the United States, where Gertrud Kiesler later became an American citizen. She put "Hebrew" as her race on her petition for naturalization, a term that had been frequently used in Europe.
Still using her maiden name of Hedy Kiesler, she took acting classes in Vienna. One day, she forged a permission note from her mother and went to Sascha-Film, where she was hired at age 16 as a script girl. She gained a role as an extra in Money on the Street (1930), and then a small speaking part in Storm in a Water Glass (1931). Producer Max Reinhardt cast her in a play entitled The Weaker Sex, which was performed at the Theater in der Josefstadt. Reinhardt was so impressed with her that he arranged for her to return with him to Berlin, where he was based.(pp16–19)
Kiesler never trained with Reinhardt nor appeared in any of his Berlin productions. After meeting Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky, she was cast in his film directorial debut, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931), starring Walter Abel and Peter Lorre.(pp21–22) Granowsky soon moved to Paris, but Kiesler stayed in Berlin to work. She was given the lead role in No Money Needed (1932), a comedy directed by Carl Boese.(p25) Her next film brought her international fame.
In early 1933, at age 18, Hedy Kiesler, still working under her maiden name, was given the lead in Gustav Machatý's film Ecstasy (Ekstase in German, Extase in Czech). She played the neglected young wife of an indifferent older man.
The film became both celebrated and notorious for showing the actress's face in the throes of an orgasm. According to Marie Benedict's book The Only Woman In The Room, Kiesler's expression resulted from someone sticking her with a pin. She was also shown in closeups and brief nude scenes, the latter reportedly a result of the actress being "duped" by the director and producer, who used high-power telephoto lenses.[b]
Although Kiesler was dismayed and now disillusioned about taking other roles, Ecstasy gained world recognition after winning an award in Rome. Throughout Europe, the film was regarded as an artistic work. However, in the United States, it was banned, considered overly sexual, and made the target of negative publicity, especially among women's groups. The film was also banned in Nazi Germany, justified by Kiesler's Jewish heritage. It was not until 1935, after cuts made by the Nazis, that the film was shown under turmoil in a few German cinemas, with the warning: "This film offends the youth." Her husband, Fritz Mandl, reportedly spent over $300,000 buying up and destroying copies of the film.
Kiesler also played a number of stage roles, including a starring one in Sissy, a play about Empress Elisabeth of Austria produced in Vienna in early 1933, just as Ecstasy premiered. It won accolades from critics.
Admirers sent roses to her dressing room and tried to get backstage to meet Kiesler. She sent most of them away, including an insistent Friedrich Mandl. He became obsessed with getting to know her. Mandl was a Viennese arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who was reputedly the third-richest man in Austria. She fell for his charming and fascinating personality, partly due to his immense wealth. Her parents, both of Jewish descent, did not approve, as Mandl had ties to Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and, later, German Führer Adolf Hitler, but they could not stop their headstrong daughter.
On 10 August 1933, at the age of 18, Kiesler married Mandl, then 33. The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Mandl insisted that she convert to Catholicism before their wedding in Vienna Karlskirche. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Mandl is described as an extremely controlling husband. He strongly objected to her having been filmed in the simulated orgasm scene in Ecstasy and prevented her from pursuing her acting career. She claimed she was kept a virtual prisoner in their castle home, Castle Schwarzenau (Schloss Schwarzenau), in the remote Waldviertel region, near the Czech border.
Mandl had close social and business ties to the Italian government, selling munitions to the country,[page needed] and, despite his own part-Jewish descent, had ties to the Nazi regime of Germany. Kiesler accompanied Mandl to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and she became interested in nurturing her latent talent in science.
Eventually finding her marriage to Mandl unbearable, Kiesler decided to flee her husband as well as her country. According to her autobiography, she disguised herself as her maid and fled to Paris. Friedrich Otto's account says that she persuaded Mandl to let her wear all of her jewelry for a dinner party where the influential austrofascist Ernst Stahremberg attended, then disappeared afterward. She writes about her marriage:
I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. ... He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. ... I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded – and imprisoned – having no mind, no life of its own.:28–29
After arriving in London in 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was scouting for talent in Europe. She initially turned down the offer he made her (of $125 a week), but booked herself onto the same New York-bound liner as he. During the trip, she impressed him enough to secure a $500 a week contract. Mayer persuaded her to change her name from Hedwig Kiesler (to distance herself from "the Ecstasy lady" reputation associated with it). She chose the surname "Lamarr" in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr, on the suggestion of Mayer's wife, Margaret Shenberg.
When Mayer brought Lamarr to Hollywood in 1938, he began promoting her as the "world's most beautiful woman". He introduced her to producer Walter Wanger, who was making Algiers (1938), an American version of the noted French film, Pépé le Moko (1937).
Lamarr was cast in the lead opposite Charles Boyer. The film created a "national sensation", says Shearer.:77 Lamarr was billed as an unknown but well-publicized Austrian actress, which created anticipation in audiences. Mayer hoped she would become another Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich.:77 According to one viewer, when her face first appeared on the screen, "everyone gasped ... Lamarr's beauty literally took one's breath away.":2
In future Hollywood films, Lamarr was often typecast as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin. Her second American film was I Take This Woman (1940), co-starring with Spencer Tracy under the direction of regular Dietrich collaborator, Josef von Sternberg. Von Sternberg was fired during the shoot, and replaced by Frank Borzage. The film was put on hold, and Lamarr was put into Lady of the Tropics (1939), where she played a mixed-race seductress in Saigon opposite Robert Taylor. She returned to I Take This Woman, re-shot by W.S. van Dyke. The resulting film was a flop.
Far more popular was Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and Spencer Tracy; it made $5 million. MGM promptly reteamed Lamarr and Gable in Comrade X (1940), a comedy film in the vein of Ninotchka (1939), which was another hit.
She was teamed with James Stewart in Come Live with Me (1941), playing a Viennese refugee. Stewart was also featured in Ziegfeld Girl (1941), in which Lamarr, Judy Garland, and Lana Turner played aspiring showgirls; it was a big success.
Lamarr was top-billed in H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), although the film's protagonist was the title role played by Robert Young. She made a third film with Tracy, Tortilla Flat (1942). It was successful at the box office, as was Crossroads (1942) with William Powell.
She played the seductive native girl "Tondelayo" in White Cargo (1942), top-billed over Walter Pidgeon. It was a huge hit. White Cargo contains arguably her most memorable film quote, delivered with provocative invitation: "I am Tondelayo. I make tiffin for you?" This line typifies many of Lamarr's roles, which emphasized her beauty and sensuality while giving her relatively few lines. The lack of acting challenges bored Lamarr, and she reportedly took up inventing to relieve her boredom. In a 1970 interview, Lamarr also remarked that she was paid less because she would not sleep with Mayer.
Lamarr was reunited with Powell in a comedy, The Heavenly Body (1944). She was then borrowed by Warner Bros. for The Conspirators (1944), reuniting several of the actors of Casablanca (1942), which had been inspired in part by Algiers and written with Lamarr in mind as its female lead, though MGM would not lend her out. RKO later borrowed her for a melodrama, Experiment Perilous (1944), directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Back at MGM, Lamarr was teamed with Robert Walker in the romantic comedy Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945), playing a princess who falls in love with a New Yorker. It was very popular, but would be the last film she made under her MGM contract.
Her off-screen life and personality during those years was quite different from her screen image. She spent much of her time feeling lonely and homesick. She might swim at her agent's pool, but shunned the beaches and staring crowds. When asked for an autograph, she wondered why anyone would want it. Writer Howard Sharpe interviewed her and gave his impression:
Hedy has the most incredible personal sophistication. She knows the peculiarly European art of being womanly; she knows what men want in a beautiful woman, what attracts them, and she forces herself to be these things. She has magnetism with warmth, something that neither Dietrich nor Garbo has managed to achieve.
Of all the European émigrés who escaped Nazi Germany and Nazi Austria, she was one of the very few who succeeded in moving to another culture and becoming a full-fledged star herself. There were so very few who could make the transition linguistically or culturally. She really was a resourceful human being–I think because of her father's strong influence on her as a child.
Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but was reportedly 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.
She participated in a war bond-selling campaign with a sailor named Eddie Rhodes. Rhodes was in the crowd at each Lamarr appearance, and she would call him up on stage. She would briefly flirt with him before asking the audience if she should give him a kiss. The crowd would say yes, to which Hedy would reply that she would if enough people bought war bonds. After enough bonds were purchased, she would kiss Rhodes and he would head back into the audience. Then they would head off to the next war bond rally. In total, Lamarr sold approximately $25 million (over $350 million when adjusted for inflation in 2020) worth of war bonds during a period of 10 days.
After leaving MGM in 1945, Lamarr formed production company Mars Film Corporation with Jack Chertok and Hunt Stromberg, producing two film noir motion pictures which she also starred in: The Strange Woman (1946) as a seductress manipulating a son with the goal of convincing him to murder his father (her husband), and Dishonored Lady (1947) as a formerly suicidal fashion magazine editor trying to start a new life but getting accused of murder. Her initiative was unwelcomed by the Hollywood establishment, as they were against actors (especially female actors) producing their films independently. Both films grossed over their budgets, but were not large commercial successes.
Lamarr enjoyed her greatest success playing Delilah opposite Victor Mature as the biblical strongman in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949). A massive commercial success, it became the highest-grossing picture of 1950 and won two Academy Awards (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design) of its five nominations. Lamarr won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Delilah. Showmen's Trade Review previewed the film before its release and commended her performance:
Miss Lamarr is just about everyone's conception of the fair-skinned, dark-haired, beauteous Delilah, a role tailor-made for her, and her best acting chore to date.
As Delilah, Hedy Lamarr is treacherous and tantalizing, her charms enhanced by Technicolor.
Lamarr returned to MGM for a film noir with John Hodiak, A Lady Without Passport (1950), which flopped. More popular were two pictures she made at Paramount, a Western with Ray Milland, Copper Canyon (1950), and a Bob Hope spy-spoof, My Favorite Spy (1951).
As her career declined, she went to Italy to play multiple roles in Loves of Three Queens (1954), which she also produced. However she lacked the experience necessary to make a success of such an epic production, and lost millions of dollars when she was unable to secure distribution of the picture.
She was Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen's critically panned epic, 'The Story of Mankind (1957) and did episodes of Zane Grey Theatre ("Proud Woman") and Shower of Stars ("Cloak and Dagger"). Her last film was a thriller, The Female Animal (1958).
Lamarr was signed to act in the 1966 film Picture Mommy Dead, but was dismissed after she collapsed during filming, from nervous exhaustion. She was replaced in the role of Jessica Flagmore Shelley by Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Although Lamarr had no formal training and was primarily self-taught, she worked in her spare time on various hobbies and inventions, which included an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. The beverage was unsuccessful; Lamarr herself said it tasted like Alka-Seltzer.
Among the few who knew of Lamarr's inventiveness was aviation tycoon Howard Hughes. She suggested he change the rather square design of his aeroplanes (which she thought looked too slow) to a more streamlined shape, based on pictures of the fastest birds and fish she could find. Lamarr discussed her relationship with Hughes during an interview, saying that while they dated, he actively supported her inventive "tinkering" hobbies. He put his team of scientists and engineers at her disposal, saying they would do or make anything she asked for.
During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, an emerging technology in naval war, could easily be jammed and set off course. She thought of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. She conceived an idea and contacted her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, to help her implement it. Together they developed a device for doing that, when he succeeded by synchronizing a miniaturized player-piano mechanism with radio signals. They drafted designs for the frequency-hopping system, which they patented. Antheil recalled:
We began talking about the war, which, in the late summer of 1940, was looking most extremely black. Hedy said that she did not feel very comfortable, sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when things were in such a state. She said that she knew a good deal about munitions and various secret weapons ... and that she was thinking seriously of quitting MGM and going to Washington, D.C., to offer her services to the newly established National Inventors Council.
As quoted from a 1945 Stars and Stripes interview, "Hedy modestly admitted she did only 'creative work on the invention', while the composer and author George Antheil, 'did the really important chemical part'. Hedy was not too clear about how the device worked, but she remembered that she and Antheil sat down on her living room rug and were using a silver match box with the matches simulating the wiring of the invented 'thing'. She said that at the start of the war:"
British fliers were over hostile territory as soon as they crossed the channel, but German aviators were over friendly territory most of the way to England ... I got the idea for my invention when I tried to think of some way to even the balance for the British. A radio controlled torpedo, I thought would do it.
Their invention was granted a patent under on 11 August 1942 (filed using her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey). However, it was technologically difficult to implement, and at the time the US Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. Nevertheless, it was classified in the "red hot" category. It was first adapted in 1957 to develop a sonobuoy before the expiration of the patent, although this was denied by the Navy. At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, an updated version of their design was installed on Navy ships. Today, various spread-spectrum techniques are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. Lamarr and Antheil's contributions were formally recognized in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Following her sixth divorce in 1965, Lamarr was unmarried for the remaining 35 years of her life.
Lamarr became estranged from her first son, James Lamarr Loder, when he was 12 years old. Their relationship ended abruptly, and he moved in with another family c. 1950. They did not speak again for almost 50 years, and until 2001, he was unaware that he was in fact the natural child of his so-called adoptive parents, Lamar and John Loder.[c][d]
Lamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States at age 38 on 10 April 1953. Her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, was published in 1966. In a 1969 interview on The Merv Griffin Show, she said that she did not write it, and claimed that much was fictional. Lamarr sued the publisher in 1966 to halt publication, saying that many details were fabricated by its ghost writer, Leo Guild. She lost the suit. In 1967, Lamarr was sued by Gene Ringgold, who asserted that the book plagiarized material from an article he had written in 1965 for Screen Facts magazine.
In 1966, Lamarr was arrested in Los Angeles for shoplifting. The charges were eventually dropped. In 1991, she was arrested on the same charge in Florida, this time for stealing $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops. She pleaded no contest to avoid a court appearance, and the charges were dropped in return for her promise to refrain from breaking any laws for a year.
During the 1970s, Lamarr lived in increasing seclusion. She was offered several scripts, television commercials, and stage projects, but none piqued her interest. In 1974, she filed a $10 million lawsuit against Warner Bros., claiming that the running parody of her name ("Hedley Lamarr") featured in the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles infringed her right to privacy. Brooks said he was flattered; the studio settled out of court for an undisclosed nominal sum and an apology to Lamarr for "almost using her name". Brooks said that Lamarr "never got the joke".(p220) With her eyesight failing, Lamarr retreated from public life, and settled in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1981.[page needed]
In 1996, a large Corel-drawn image of Lamarr won the annual cover design contest for the CorelDRAW's yearly software suite. For several years, beginning in 1997, it was featured on boxes of the software suite. Lamarr sued the company for using her image without her permission. Corel countered that she did not own rights to the image. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement in 1998.
In 1997, Canadian company WiLAN signed an agreement with Lamarr to acquire 49% of the marketing rights of her patent, and a right of first refusal for the remaining 51% for ten quarterly payments. This was the only financial compensation she received for her frequency-hopping spread spectrum invention. A friendship ensued between her and the company's CEO, Hatim Zaghloul.
In the last decades of her life, Lamarr communicated only by telephone with the outside world, even with her children and close friends. She often talked up to six or seven hours a day on the phone, but she spent hardly any time with anyone in person in her final years. A documentary film, Calling Hedy Lamarr, was released in 2004 and features her children Anthony Loder and Denise Loder-deLuca.
Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida, on 19 January 2000, of heart disease, aged 85. According to her wishes, she was cremated and her son Anthony Loder spread her ashes in Austria's Vienna Woods.
In 1960, Lamarr was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the motion picture industry, at 6247 Hollywood Blvd, adjacent to Vine Street where the walk is centered.
Asteroid 32730 Lamarr, discovered by Karl Reinmuth at Heidelberg Observatory in 1951, was named in her memory. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 27 August 2019 (M.P.C. 115894).
On 6 November 2020, a satellite named after her (ÑuSat 14 or "Hedy", COSPAR 2020-079F) was launched into space.
The 2004 documentary film Calling Hedy Lamarr features her children, Anthony Loder and Denise Loder-DeLuca.
Also during 2010, the New York Public Library exhibit Thirty Years of Photography at the New York Public Library included a photo of a topless Lamarr (c. 1930) by Austrian-born American photographer Trude Fleischmann.
The 2017 documentary film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, written and directed by Alexandra Dean and produced by Susan Sarandon, about Lamarr's life and career as an actress and inventor, also featuring her children Anthony and Denise, among others, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. It was released in theaters on 24 November 2017, and aired on the PBS series American Masters in May 2018. As of April 2020, it is also available on Netflix.
During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services invented a pyrotechnic device meant to help agents operating behind enemy lines to escape if capture seemed imminent. When the pin was pulled, it made the whistle of a falling bomb followed by a loud explosion and a large cloud of smoke, enabling the agent to make his escape. It saved the life of at least one agent. The device was codenamed the Hedy Lamarr.
In the 1982 off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors and subsequent film adaptation (1986), Audrey II says to Seymour in the song "Feed Me" that he can get Seymour anything he wants, including "A date with Hedy Lamarr."
In 2008, an off-Broadway play, Frequency Hopping, features the lives of Lamarr and Antheil. The play was written and staged by Elyse Singer, and the script won a prize for best new play about science and technology from STAGE.
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 that explores the darker side of scientific discovery and experimentation, which premiered on 7 September 2011.
Batman co-creator Bob Kane was a great movie fan and his love for film provided the impetus for several Batman characters, among them, Catwoman. Among Kane's inspiration for Catwoman were Lamarr and actress Jean Harlow.(p97) Also in 2011, Anne Hathaway revealed that she had learned that the original Catwoman was based on Lamarr, so she studied all of Lamarr's films and incorporated some of her breathing techniques into her portrayal of Catwoman in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises.
Actress Celia Massingham portrayed Lamarr on The CW television series Legends of Tomorrow in the sixth episode of the third season, titled "Helen Hunt". The episode is set in 1937 "Hollywoodland" and references Lamarr's reputation as an inventor. The episode aired on 14 November 2017.
A novelization of her life, The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, was published in 2019.