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Publicity photo (c. 1944)
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler|
November 9, 1914[a]
January 19, 2000 (aged 85)|
Casselberry, Florida, U.S.
After a brief early film career in Czechoslovakia, including the controversial Ecstasy (1933), she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, and secretly moved to Paris. Traveling to London, she met Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio head Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood, where she became a film star from the late 1930s to the 1950s. Among Lamarr's best known films are Algiers (1938), Boom Town (1940), I Take This Woman (1940), Comrade X (1940), Come Live With Me (1941), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and Samson and Delilah (1949).
At the beginning of World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi. This work led to their induction 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 Gertrud "Trude" Kiesler (née Lichtwitz; 1894–1977) and Emil Kiesler (1880–1935). Her father was born to a Jewish family in Lemberg (now Lviv in Ukraine) and was a successful bank director.
Trude, her mother, a pianist and Budapest native, had come from an upper-class Jewish family. She had converted to Catholicism and was described as a "practicing Christian" who raised her daughter as a Christian.:8 Lamarr helped get her mother out of Austria after it had been absorbed by the Third Reich and to the United States, where Gertrude later became an American citizen. She put "Hebrew" as her race on her petition for naturalization, which was a term often used in Europe.
As a child, Lamarr showed an interest in acting and was fascinated by theatre and film. At the age of 12, she won a beauty contest in Vienna.
Lamarr was taking acting classes in Vienna when one day, she forged a note from her mother and went to Sascha-Film and was able to get herself hired as a script girl. While there, she was able to get 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 then 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 brought her with him back to Berlin.
However, she never actually trained with Reinhardt or appeared in any of his Berlin productions. Instead, she met the Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky, who cast her in his film directorial debut, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931), starring Walter Abel and Peter Lorre. Granowsky soon moved to Paris, but Lamarr stayed in Berlin and was given the lead role in No Money Needed (1932), a comedy directed by Carl Boese. Lamarr then starred in the film which made her internationally famous.
The film became both celebrated and notorious for showing Lamarr's face in the throes of orgasm as well as close-up and brief nude scenes, a result of her being "duped" by the director and producer, who used high-power telephoto lenses.[b]
Although she was dismayed and now disillusioned about taking other roles, the film gained world recognition after winning an award in Rome. Throughout Europe, it was regarded an artistic work. In America it was considered overly sexual and received negative publicity, especially among women's groups. It was banned there and in Germany.
Lamarr played a number of stage roles, including a starring one in Sissy, a play about Empress Elisabeth of Austria produced in Vienna. It won accolades from critics. Admirers sent roses to her dressing room and tried to get backstage to meet her. She sent most of them away, including a man who was more insistent, Friedrich Mandl. He became obsessed with getting to know her.
Mandl was an Austrian military 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 financial wealth. Her parents, both of Jewish descent, did not approve, due to Mandl's ties to Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, and later, German Führer Adolf Hitler, but they could not stop the headstrong Lamarr.
On August 10, 1933, Lamarr married Mandl. She was 18 years old and he was 33. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, she described Mandl as an extremely controlling husband who strongly objected to her 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, Schloss Schwarzenau.
Mandl had close social and business ties to the Italian government, selling munitions to the country, and although like Hedy, his own father was Jewish, had ties to the Nazi regime of Germany, as well. Lamarr wrote that the dictators of both countries attended lavish parties at the Mandl home. Lamarr 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 nurtured her latent talent in science.
Lamarr's marriage to Mandl eventually became unbearable, and she decided to separate herself from both her husband and country. In her autobiography, she wrote that she disguised herself as her maid and fled to Paris, but by other accounts, she persuaded Mandl to let her wear all of her jewelry for a dinner party, 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.
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 then booked herself onto the same New York bound liner as him, and managed to impress him enough to secure a $500 a week contract. Mayer persuaded her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr (to distance herself from her real identity, and "the Ecstasy lady" reputation associated with it), choosing the surname in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr, on the suggestion of his wife, who admired La Marr. He brought her to Hollywood in 1938 and began promoting her as the "world's most beautiful woman".
Mayer loaned Lamarr to producer Walter Wanger, who was making Algiers (1938), an American version of the French film, Pépé le Moko (1937). Lamarr was cast in the lead opposite Charles Boyer. The film created a "national sensation", says Shearer.:77 She 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, she was invariably typecast as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin. Her second American film was to be I Take This Woman, co-starring with Spencer Tracy under the direction of regular Dietrich collaborator, Josef von Sternberg. Von Sternberg was fired during the shoot, 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.
Lamarr was teamed with James Stewart in Come Live with Me (1941), playing a Viennese refugee. Stewart was also in Ziegfeld Girl (1941), where Lamarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner played aspiring showgirls - 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.
Lamarr 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. She reportedly took up inventing to relieve her boredom.
She was reunited with Powell in a comedy The Heavenly Body (1944), then was borrowed by Warner Bros for The Conspirators (1944). This was an attempt to repeat the success of Casablanca (1943), and RKO borrowed her for a melodrama Experiment Perilous (1944).
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.
She and Chertok then made Dishonored Lady (1947), another thriller starring Lamar, which also went over budget - but was not a commercial success. She tried a comedy with Robert Cummings, Let's Live a Little (1948).
Lamarr enjoyed her biggest success playing Delilah against Victor Mature as the Biblical strongman in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah, the highest-grossing film of 1949. The film also won two Oscars.
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).
Her career went into decline. 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).
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 "tinkering" hobbies. He put his team of science 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 contacted her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, to help her develop a device for doing that, and 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, DC, to offer her services to the newly established Inventors' Council.
Their invention was granted a patent under US Patent 2,292,387 on August 11, 1942 (filed using her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey). However, it was technologically difficult to implement, and at that time the U.S. Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. In 1962, (at the time of the Cuban missile crisis), an updated version of their design at last appeared on Navy ships.
In 1997, Lamarr and Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society. Lamarr was featured on the Science Channel and the Discovery Channel. In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Lamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States at age 38 on April 10, 1953. Her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, was published in 1966, although she said on TV that it was not written by her, and much of it was fictional. Lamarr later sued the publisher, saying that many details were fabricated by its ghost writer, Leo Guild. Lamarr, in turn, 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. The shoplifting charges coincided with a failed attempt to return to the screen.
The 1970s were a decade of increasing seclusion for Lamarr. 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") 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". With her eyesight failing, Lamarr retreated from public life and settled in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1981.
A large Corel-drawn image of Lamarr won CorelDRAW's yearly software suite cover design contest in 1996. 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 her later years, Lamarr turned to plastic surgery to preserve the looks she was terrified of losing, but the results were disastrous. "She had her breasts enlarged, her cheeks raised, her lips made bigger, and much, much more," said her son, Anthony. "She had plastic surgery thinking it could revive her looks and her career, but it backfired and distorted her beauty". Anthony Loder claimed that Lamarr was addicted to pills.
Lamarr became estranged from her other son, James Lamarr Loder, when he was 12 years old. Their relationship ended abruptly, and he moved in with another family. They did not speak again for almost 50 years. Lamarr left James Loder out of her will, and he sued for control of the US$3.3 million estate left by Lamarr in 2000. He eventually settled for US$50,000.
In the last decades of her life, the telephone became Lamarr's only means of communication 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, Calling Hedy Lamarr, was released in 2004 and featured her children, Anthony Loder and Denise Loder-DeLuca.
In 1939, Lamarr was selected the "most promising new actress" of 1938 in a poll of area voters conducted by Philadelphia Record film critic. British moviegoers voted Hedy Lamarr the year's 10th best actress, for her performance in Samson and Delilah in 1951.
In 1997, Lamarr and George Antheil were jointly honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award and Lamarr also was the first woman to receive the Invention Convention's BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, known as the "Oscars of inventing".
Lamarr was married and divorced six times:
Following her sixth and final divorce in 1965, Lamarr remained unmarried for the last 35 years of her life.
Throughout, she claimed that James Lamarr Markey/Loder was biologically unrelated and adopted during her marriage to Gene Markey. However, years later James found documentation that he was the out-of-wedlock son of Lamarr and actor John Loder, whom she later married as her third husband. She had two more children with him: Denise (born 1945) and Anthony (born 1947) during their marriage.
|1930||Money on the Street||Young Girl||Georg Alexander||Original title: Geld auf der Straße|
|1931||Storm in a Water Glass||Secretary||Paul Otto||Original title: Sturm im Wasserglas|
|1931||The Trunks of Mr. O.F.||Helene||Alfred Abel||Original title: Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.|
|1932||No Money Needed||Käthe Brandt||Heinz Rühmann||Original title: Man braucht kein Geld|
|1933||Ecstasy||Eva Hermann||Aribert Mog||Original title: Ekstase|
|1939||Lady of the Tropics||Manon deVargnes Carey||Robert Taylor|
|1940||I Take This Woman||Georgi Gragore Decker||Spencer Tracy|
|1940||Boom Town||Karen Vanmeer||Clark Gable|
|1940||Comrade X||Golubka/ Theodore Yahupitz/ Lizvanetchka "Lizzie"||Clark Gable|
|1941||Come Live With Me||Johnny Jones||James Stewart|
|1941||Ziegfeld Girl||Sandra Kolter||James Stewart|
|1941||H.M. Pulham, Esq.||Marvin Myles Ransome||Robert Young|
|1942||Tortilla Flat||Dolores Ramirez||Spencer Tracy|
|1942||Crossroads||Lucienne Talbot||William Powell|
|1942||White Cargo||Tondelayo||Walter Pidgeon|
|1944||The Heavenly Body||Vicky Whitley||William Powell|
|1944||The Conspirators||Irene Von Mohr||Paul Henreid|
|1944||Experiment Perilous||Allida Bederaux||George Brent|
|1945||Her Highness and the Bellboy||Princess Veronica||Robert Walker|
|1946||The Strange Woman||Jenny Hager||George Sanders||and Producer|
|1947||Dishonored Lady||Madeleine Damien||Dennis O'Keefe||and Producer|
|1948||Let's Live a Little||Dr. J.O. Loring||Robert Cummings||and Producer|
|1949||Samson and Delilah||Delilah||Victor Mature||Her first film in Technicolor|
|1950||A Lady Without Passport||Marianne Lorress||John Hodiak|
|1950||Copper Canyon||Lisa Roselle||Ray Milland|
|1951||My Favorite Spy||Lily Dalbray||Bob Hope|
|1954||Loves of Three Queens||Helen of Troy,
Joséphine de Beauharnais,
Genevieve of Brabant
|Original title: L'amante di Paride|
|1957||The Story of Mankind||Joan of Arc||Ronald Colman|
|1958||The Female Animal||Vanessa Windsor||George Nader|
|1941||Lux Radio Theatre||The Bride Came C.O.D.|
The Mel Brooks 1974 western parody Blazing Saddles features a villain named "Hedley Lamarr". As a running gag, various characters mistakenly refer to him as "Hedy Lamarr" prompting him to testily reply "That's Hedley."
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.
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.
In 2011, 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 September 7. Her work in improving wireless security was part of the premiere episode of the Discovery Channel show How We Invented the World.
Also during 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.
In 2015, on November 9, the 101st anniversary of Lamarr's birth, Google paid tribute to Hedy Lamarr's work in film and her contributions to scientific advancement with an animated Google Doodle.
In 2017, 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. The episode aired on November 14, 2017.
Also during 2017, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, written and directed by Alexandra Dean and produced by Susan Sarandon, a documentary about Lamarr's career as an actress and later as an inventor, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. It was released in theaters on November 24, 2017, and aired on PBS American Masters in May 2018.
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