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About Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr (November 9, 1914 – January 19, 2000) was an Austrian-born American actress of Jewish descent. Though known primarily for her film career as a major contract star of MGM's "Golden Age", she also co-invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications, a key to many forms of wireless communication. She made a valuable contribution to the intelligence division by co-producing an anti-jamming device for torpedoes. She also devised a clever way of "frequency hopping" that prevented the interception of American military messages. Antheil played an important role in Lamarr's life in another way as well—as a collaborator on an important electronics innovation. Lamarr was slightly dismissive of her glamorous image, saying (according to her U.S. News & World Report obituary), "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." Lamar, by contrast, had been astute enough to pick up a good deal of practical knowledge pertaining to munitions engineering during her marriage to Mandl. In 1940 she had the idea for a solution to the problem of controlling a radio-guided torpedo. At that time, electronic data broadcast on a specific frequency could easily be jammed by enemy transmitters. Lamarr suggested rapid changes in the broadcast frequency, and Antheil, who had experimented with electronic musical instruments, devised a punch-card-like device, similar to a player-piano roll, that could synchronize a transmitter and receiver. The system Lamarr and Antheil invented relied on using 88 frequencies, equivalent to the number of keys on a piano. The pair were jointly awarded a patent for their discovery, but Antheil later credited the original idea entirely to Lamarr. Credit did not matter, however, for the idea, later given the name of frequency hopping, was never applied by the military during World War II. It was later rediscovered independently and used in ships sent to Cuba during the missile crisis of 1962. The real payoff of frequency hopping came only decades later, when it became integral to the operation of cellular telephones and Bluetooth systems that enabled computers to communicate with peripheral devices. By that time, Lamarr and Antheil's patent had long since expired.
Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, to Jewish parents Gertrud (née Lichtwitz), a pianist and Budapest native who came from the "Jewish haute bourgeoisie", and Lemberg-born Emil Kiesler, a successful bank director. She studied ballet and piano at age 10. When she worked with Max Reinhardt in Berlin, he called her the "most beautiful woman in Europe". Soon the teenage girl played major roles in German movies, alongside stars like Heinz Rühmann and Hans Moser.
In early 1933 she starred in Gustav Machatý's notorious film Ecstasy, a Czechoslovak film made in Prague, in which she played the love-hungry young wife of an indifferent old husband. Closeups of her face and long shots of her running nude through the woods gave the film notoriety.
On 10 August 1933 she married Friedrich Mandl, a Vienna-based arms manufacturer 13 years her senior. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr described Mandl as an extremely controlling man who sometimes tried to keep her shut up in their mansion. The Austrian bought as many copies of Ecstasy as he could possibly find, objecting to her in the film, and "the expression on her face". (Lamarr later claimed the looks of passion were the result of the director poking her in the bottom with a safety pin.)
Mandl prevented her from pursuing her acting career, and instead took her to meetings with technicians and business partners. In these meetings, the mathematically talented Lamarr learned about military technology. Otherwise she had to stay at the castle Schloss Schwarzenau. She later related that, even though Mandl was part-Jewish, he was consorting with Nazi industrialists, which infuriated her. In Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr wrote that dictators Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler both attended Mandl's grand parties. She related that in 1937 she disguised herself as one of her maids and fled to Paris, where she obtained a divorce, and then moved on to London. According to another version of the episode, she persuaded Mandl to allow her to attend a party wearing all her expensive jewelry, later drugged him with the help of her maid, and made her escape out of the country with the jewelry.
First she went to Paris, then met Louis B. Mayer in London. After he hired her, at his insistence, she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr, choosing the surname in homage to a beautiful film star of the silent era, Barbara La Marr, who had died in 1926 from a drug overdose.
In Hollywood, she was usually cast as glamorous and seductive. Her American debut was in Algiers (1938). Her many films include Boom Town (1940), White Cargo (1942), and Tortilla Flat (1942), based on the novel by John Steinbeck. White Cargo, one of Lamarr's biggest hits at MGM, contains arguably her most famous film quote, "I am Tondelayo". In 1941, she was cast alongside two other Hollywood beauties, Lana Turner and Judy Garland in the musical extravaganza Ziegfeld Girl.
She made 18 films from 1940 to 1949 even though she had two children during that time (in 1945 and 1947). She left MGM in 1945; Lamarr enjoyed her biggest success as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah, the highest-grossing film of 1949, with Victor Mature as the Biblical strongman. However, following her comedic turn opposite Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951), her career went into decline. She appeared only sporadically in films after 1950, one of her last roles being that of Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen's critically panned epic The Story of Mankind (1957). The publication of her autobiography Ecstasy and Me (1967) took place about a year after accusations of shoplifting, and a year after Andy Warhol's short film Hedy (1966), also known as The Shoplifter. The controversy surrounding the shoplifting charges coincided with a failed return to the screen in Picture Mommy Dead (1966). The role was ultimately filled by Zsa Zsa Gabor. Ecstasy and Me begins in a despondent mood, with reference to this:
On a recent evening, sitting home alone suffering and brooding about my treatment at the police station because of an incident in a department store, and being replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in a motion picture (imagine how that pleased the ego!) I figured out that I had made — and spent — some thirty million dollars. Yet earlier that day I had been unable to pay for a sandwich at Schwab's drug-store.
In the ensuing years, Lamarr retreated from public life, and settled in Florida. She returned to the headlines in 1991 when the 78-year-old former actress was again accused of shoplifting $21.00 worth of goods, although charges were eventually dropped.
Lamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States on April 10, 1953.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Hedy Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd.
Avant garde composer George Antheil, a son of German immigrants and neighbor of Lamarr, had experimented with automated control of musical instruments, including his music for Ballet Mecanique, originally written for Fernand Léger's 1924 abstract film. This score involved multiple player pianos playing simultaneously.
Together, Antheil and Lamarr submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June 1941. On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey", Lamarr's married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.
The idea was ahead of its time, and not feasible owing to the state of mechanical technology in 1942. It was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired. Perhaps owing to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for this contribution. In 1998, Ottawa wireless technology developer Wi-LAN, Inc. "acquired a 49 percent claim to the patent from Lamarr for an undisclosed amount of stock" (Eliza Schmidkunz, Inside GNSS); Antheil had died in 1959.
Lamarr's and Antheil's frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones. Blackwell, Martin, and Vernam's 1920 patent Secrecy Communication System (1598673) seems to lay the communications groundwork for Kiesler and Antheil's patent which employed the techniques in the autonomous control of torpedoes.
Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but she was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds. She once raised $7,000,000 at just one event.
For several years during the 1990s, the boxes of the current CORELDRAW software suites were graced by a large Corel-drawn image of Hedy Lamarr, in tribute to her pre-computer scientific discoveries. These pictures were winners in CORELDRAWs yearly software suite cover design contests. Far from being flattered, however, Lamarr sued Corel for using the image without her permission. Corel countered that she did not own rights to the image. They reached an undisclosed settlement in 1999.
Lamarr died in Altamonte Springs, Florida (near Orlando) on January 19, 2000. Her son Anthony Loder took her ashes to Austria and spread them in the Wienerwald forest, in accordance with her wishes.
In 2003, the Boeing corporation ran a series of recruitment ads featuring Hedy Lamarr as a woman of science. No reference to her film career was made in the ads.
In 2004, the game Half-Life 2, which contains many references to important names, situations and facts in the realm of Science, made an homage to Hedy, by giving the name Lamarr to Dr. Kleiner's beloved pet headcrab (de-beaked and completely harmless). Later on in the game, Dr. Kleiner specifically refers to the pet as Hedy.
In 2005, the first Inventor's Day in German-speaking countries was held in her honor on November 9, on what would have been her 92nd birthday.
Briefly engaged to the German actor, Fred Doederlein and later, actor George Montgomery in 1942. Lamarr was also married to:
Friedrich Mandl (1900–1977), married 1933–1937; chairman of Hirtenberger Patronen-Fabrik, a leading armaments firm founded by his father, Alexander Mandl. Mandl, partially of Jewish descent, was a supporter of Austrofascism, although not Nazism.
Gene Markey (1895–1980), screenwriter and producer, married 1939–1941; son (adopted in 1941, after their divorce), James Lamarr Markey (b. 1939). When Lamarr and Markey divorced — she claimed they had only spent four evenings alone together in their marriage — the judge advised her to get to know any future husband longer than the four weeks she had known Markey.
John Loder (born John Muir Lowe, 1898–1988), actor, married 1943–1947; two children: Anthony Loder (b. 1947) and Denise Loder (b. 1945). Loder adopted Hedy's son, James Lamarr Markey, and gave him his surname. James Lamarr Loder later challenged Hedy Lamarr's will in 2000, which did not mention him. He later dropped his suit against the estate in exchange for a lump-sum payment of $50,000. Anthony Loder is featured in the European documentary film Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004).
Ernest "Ted" Stauffer (1909–1991), nightclub owner, restaurateur, and former bandleader, married 1951–1952.
W. Howard Lee (1909–1981), a Texas oilman, married 1953–1960. In 1960, he later married film star Gene Tierney.
Lewis J. Boies (b. 1920), a lawyer (her divorce lawyer), married 1963–1965.
The final affair mentioned in Ecstasy and Me is when Lamarr is around fifty and is with a much younger man, an artist called Pierre who Lamarr describes as 'a very handsome young man ... he was a sensitive man; I liked him immediately.' During this affair, Lamarr collaborated with Pierre on his paintings and lives a somewhat bohemian lifestyle 'In the new house we didn't have electricity or gas and it was freezing cold. We found a few candles and we sat near them trying to keep warm ... we just painted, made love and ate once in a while.'
Austrian-born American actress Hedy Lamarr was among the leading screen sirens of Hollywood in the 1940s. Her life was an eventful one that involved six marriages, a groundbreaking electronic invention, and several cinematic milestones.
Lamarr was born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, on November 9, 1913. Her family was Jewish and well off; her father was a Bank of Vienna director and her mother a concert pianist. Lamarr attended schools in Vienna and was sent to a finishing school in Switzerland as a teenager. By that time she was already unusually beautiful, attracting the attention of both prospective lovers and film producers. After an unsuccessful audition with famed stage director, Max Reinhardt, from whom she had taken acting lessons, Lamarr moved into films. Her screen career began in 1930 with a pair of Austrian films, Money on the Street and Storm in a Waterglass .
She had several other small roles in German-language films, but it took controversy to put Lamarr on the cinematic map. In 1932 she made a film called Extase (or Ecstasy) in Czechoslovakia; it was released the following year. The film told the simple story of a young woman whose husband is impotent, causing her to seek out the companionship of a younger man. Two scenes were responsible for the film's notoriety and quick banning by Austrian censors: one in which Lamarr runs nude through a sunlit forest, the other a sex scene in which she seems to experience orgasm (her intense facial expressions actually resulted from the application of a safety pin to her buttock by director Gustav Machaty). Lamarr later said that she had been a naive young woman pressured into doing these scenes, but cameraman
Controversy and condemnation from Pope Pius XI temporarily halted Lamarr's film career, but Extase did attract the attention of millionaire Austrian arms dealer Fritz Mandl, whom Lamarr met in December of 1933 and then married. Mandl had converted from Judaism to Catholicism in order to be able to do business with Germany's fascist regime (he was nevertheless exiled to Argentina after Austria came under German control in 1938), and Lamarr also made her religious conversion in 1933. An often-repeated story holds that Mandl tried to buy and destroy every outstanding copy of Extase , but this is thought to be legend rather than fact. Whether out of revulsion toward her husband's politics or from sheer restlessness, Lamarr packed a single suitcase with jewelry, drugged her maid, and fled to Paris and then London in 1937. That September she sailed for New York.
On board, she began negotiating with producer Louis B. Mayer of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M-G-M) studio, who had signed Swedish actress Greta Garbo several years earlier and was on the lookout for exotic European talent. Lamarr had refused Mayer's contract offer in London, but by the time the ship docked in New York she had a $500-a-week contract and the new name of Hedy Lamarr—up to that point she had used Hedi Kiesler. Mayer devised the name, inspired by that of silent film actress Barbara La Marr.
Lamarr's first film in the United States was Algiers (1938), in which she played opposite French actor Charles Boyer as a woman who, though engaged to another man, has an affair with an escaped thief (Boyer). The film was a successful launch for Lamarr's American career, but it was followed by two flops, Lady of the Tropics (1939) and I Take This Woman (1940), the latter co-starring Spencer Tracy and dubbed I Re-Take This Woman after Mayer demanded numerous changes in the script. The actress's fortunes turned around later in 1940 with Boom Town , with Clark Gable in the lead role, and Comrade X , a sort of anti-Communist romance in which Lamarr played a Soviet streetcar driver who falls in love with an American reporter (Clark Gable).
Throughout World War II, Lamarr was a fixture on American movie screens with such films as Come Live with Me (1941), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), and the steamy White Cargo (1943), in which Lamarr played a mixed-race prostitute on an African rubber plantation (although censors demanded that references to her character's ethnicity be removed from the script). With such films as 1943's The Heavenly Body(the title ostensibly referred to astronomy), Lamarr emerged in the first rank of screen sex symbols. A poll of Columbia University male undergraduates ranked Lamarr as the actress they would most like to be marooned with on an island, and in 1942 Lamarr participated in the World War II mobilization effort by offering to kiss any man who would purchase $25,000 in War Bonds. She raised $17 million with 680 kisses. In 1943, Lamarr was rumored to have been in the running for (or to have turned down) the role that eventually went to Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca .
Lamarr had plenty of space in celebrity gossip columns to go with her screen stardom. She dated silent comedian Charlie Chaplin in 1941, and had flings with Burgess Meredith and several other actors. Lamarr married producer Gene Markey in 1939, divorcing him the following year. For four years she was married to English actor John Loder and had two children by him. Later in life Lamarr was married three more times, to bandleader Teddy Stauffer, Texas oil magnate Howard Lee, and lawyer Lewis Boles. All her marriages ended in divorce. Another man with whom Lamarr may have been romantically involved was composer George Antheil.
Antheil played an important role in Lamarr's life in another way as well—as a collaborator on an important electronics innovation. Lamarr was slightly dismissive of her glamorous image, saying (according to her U.S. News & World Report obituary), "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." Lamar, by contrast, had been astute enough to pick up a good deal of practical knowledge pertaining to munitions engineering during her marriage to Mandl. In 1940 she had the idea for a solution to the problem of controlling a radio-guided torpedo. At that time, electronic data broadcast on a specific frequency could easily be jammed by enemy transmitters. Lamarr suggested rapid changes in the broadcast frequency, and Antheil, who had experimented with electronic musical instruments, devised a punch-card-like device, similar to a player-piano roll, that could synchronize a transmitter and receiver. The system Lamarr and Antheil invented relied on using 88 frequencies, equivalent to the number of keys on a piano.
The pair were jointly awarded a patent for their discovery, but Antheil later credited the original idea entirely to Lamarr. Credit did not matter, however, for the idea, later given the name of frequency hopping, was never applied by the military during World War II. It was later rediscovered independently and used in ships sent to Cuba during the missile crisis of 1962. The real payoff of frequency hopping came only decades later, when it became integral to the operation of cellular telephones and Bluetooth systems that enabled computers to communicate with peripheral devices. By that time, Lamarr and Antheil's patent had long since expired.
Experiment Perilous (1944), directed by Jacques Tourneur, was considered one of Lamarr's best films, but her career gradually declined after World War II. The most visible outing from this phase of her career was the Cecil B. DeMille-produced Samson and Delilah (1949), with Victor Mature and Lamarr in the title roles. The film, in Horak's words, "marries an Old Testament-style, evangelical Christian moralism with the theatrical exploitation of unadulterated sex." For David Thomson of London's Independent on Sunday , the film had "many moments where [Lamarr's] foreign voice, her basilisk gaze, and her sinful body combine to magnificent effect."
Lamarr made several films in the 1950s, mostly operating outside of the Hollywood system. In the 1954 Italian-made feature The Loves of Three Queens she played Helen of Troy, and she took on another historical role as Joan of Arc in The Story of Mankind (1958). Her heyday was past, however, and she stayed away from Hollywood for much of the time. In 1950 she sold off all of her possessions in an auction and announced that she was moving to Mexico. A marriage brought her back to the United States and to Texas in 1955, and in retirement she moved to Florida. Occasionally she appeared on television. In 1967 she published an autobiography, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman , but sued the ghostwriters she had employed, claiming (according to Thomson), that the book was "fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libelous, and obscene."
That was one of several episodes that saw Lamarr entering courtrooms in her later years. Lamarr was arrested in 1966 for shoplifting at Macy's department store, but was acquitted. She complained to a columnist that she had once had a $7 million income but by the late 1960s was subsisting on a $48-a-week pension. Another round of litigation came after the release of director Mel Brooks's Western film parodyBlazing Saddles in 1974; the actress objected to the fanciful "Hedley Lamarr" name of one of the movie's characters.
Lamarr lived mostly in isolation in a small house in Orlando in the last years of her life, reportedly staying out of the spotlight partly because of unsuccessful plastic surgery. She antagonized the organizers of a film festival with unreasonable demands for a makeup retinue. In 1990, however, she had a cameo role in the satire Instant Karma , and she lived long enough to see a modest renewal of interest in the sexually independent persona she had often projected on film. The story of her radio transmission invention also became widely publicized in the 1990s, and she received an Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997, although she never received any monetary award for her ingenuity. On January 19, 2000, Hedy Lamarr died at her home in Orlando.
Sources: Notable Biographies
Hedy Lamarr, Inventor: Who Knew?
Before Hollywood, before she was Lamarr, young Hedy Kiesler already knew how to pose for the camera.
Brilliant and beautiful, but unlucky in love, Larmarr married six times; here with third husband John Loder, in Dishonored Lady (1946).
Even after Hedy Lamarr had retired from acting, she was still known as the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. Her beauty, as fellow actress Lana Turner once wrote, was "enough to make strong men faint." However, her superlative face largely overshadowed a life and a mind more fascinating than those of the women she portrayed on screen. From her role in the notorious 1932 Czech film Ecstasy, which featured the young actress in the nude, to her co-invention of a frequency-hopping system that is now the basis for many military and civilian wireless communication systems, Lamarr was a woman who was always ahead of her time.
Her story is a fascinating one, one recently revisited by author Stephen Michael Shearer in his book Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr, published by Thomas Dunne Books (2010). "[She] is unique among all film stars because of her double legacy," writes Shearer. "There had been no official biography done on her, and I felt her importance to film and science necessitated a definitive accounting."
Born Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler to affluent Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria, in 1914, she became enamored with acting while very young, and left school to devote herself to a burgeoning stage and screen career. Personal and political factors, however, conspired to disrupt her career. At 19, she married Friedrich "Fritz" Mandl, a wealthy arms manufacturer. He was a controlling spouse who demanded Lamarr give up her acting career, and, at times, kept her a virtual prisoner in the sumptuous apartments and estates owned by his family.
As Fascist governments gained political and military power in Europe, Mandl carried on extensive business dealings with officials of the German Third Reich, requiring long, detailed conferences, which Lamarr was often forced by Mandl to attend. More disgusting to her, however, was that Mandl distanced himself from his Jewish heritage, even going so far as to accept the title of "Honorary Aryan" from the Third Reich.
Between being privy to Nazi Germany's military plans, and witnessing firsthand the onslaught of the 1938 Nazi occupation of Austria, Lamarr knew her life was in danger. With the help of a servant, Lamarr disguised herself one night in 1937 and left both Mandl and her beloved homeland, taking with her only her most expensive jewelry. She spent a short time in Paris and London before making her way to Hollywood, where she lost little time in adopting her now famous moniker and rekindling her acting career.
Despite her success during Hollywood's Golden Age, her experience with Mandl and Nazi Germany continued to haunt her. With the onset of World War II, Lamarr became determined to do whatever she could to aid the American war effort. She composed patriotic songs in her spare time between movie sets, and washed dishes and signed autographs two nights a week at the Hollywood Canteen for enlisted men and women. In 1942, Lamarr embarked on a ten-day tour to raise money to support the war effort through selling war bonds, raising over $6 million in one day. "Her patriotism was astonishingly deep," said Shearer. "She knew...that the threat of Fascism was very real."
Few knew that Lamarr did much more than sell war bonds to help with the U.S. war effort.
Her most significant contribution to the war effort, however, was largely overlooked at the time. Lamarr had absorbed a lot of technical information about the Third Reich's military capabilities from Mandl's munitions dealings, information she was sure she could put to use. Together with her friend George Antheil, an avant-garde piano composer, author and inventor, she worked to perfect a torpedo guidance system based on wireless communication. At the time, torpedoes were highly unreliable, often missing their targets; furthermore, the radio frequencies and channels they relied on were unsecured and so could be easily intercepted by the enemy. Lamarr's innovation was a guidance system in which a transmitter was fixed with a continuously, randomly shifting frequency, and a corresponding receiver programmed to match the shifts. To an outside party with no knowledge of the pattern, it would be virtually impossible to follow the shifts.
Using his knowledge of musical instruments, Antheil incorporated two player-piano rolls punched with an identical pattern within the transmitters and receivers; these would be used to guide the frequencies. Lamarr and Antheil patented what they called the Secret Communication System in August 1942, and then immediately offered it to the U.S. government. Although there was some interest, the system was never employed during the war.
It was two decades later, just after the patent expired, that the Secret Communications System took on new importance, due to the rise of electronic and wireless communication. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the frequency-hopping system proved instrumental in providing secure communications. The concept was later refined and used during the Vietnam War, at which time it became known as "frequency-hopping spread spectrum."
Even in her first Hollywood film (Algiers, 1938), Lamarr was a standout.
By 1981, now declassified for commercial use, millions of corporate dollars were invested to explore potential uses for the invention. Today, the technology is an important component of cellular phone networks, alarm systems, and global-positioning satellites. A decade later, it served as the basis of the $25 billion U.S. Milstar defense communications satellite system.
It was not until 1997 that Lamarr and Antheil were recognized for their invention, at which time they received the sixth annual Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award. Later that year, Lamarr was also awarded a BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, the Oscar for inventors, the first woman to be so honored. She also received a Viktor Kaplan Medal from the Austrian Association of Patent Holders. Today, in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Lamarr's birthday, November 9, is celebrated as Inventors' Day.
To most, Lamarr's legacy will probably always be her show-stopping beauty. But those willing to look beyond know she was much more. Her contributions to modern telecommunications are, Shearer says, "unfathomable." While writing Beautiful, Shearer adds, "I found a very human, human being, gifted with a brilliant mind [that was] overshadowed by a breathtaking physical beauty."