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Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was an American actress born on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, and she passed away on January 19, 2000 in Casselberry, Florida. While she was still living in Austria, people knew her as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, but she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr upon her arrival in America. Max Reinhardt, the famous film and theater director, used to say that Hedy Lamarr was the most beautiful woman in Europe. When she moved to America, she was considered to be “the most beautiful woman in film”. In spite of her undisputable acting skills, more important than her achievements on screen would have to be her patents. Today we may say that Hedy Lamarr was a pioneer in wireless communication and that the products based on her patent are used in every household. As early as in 1941, Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil filed for a spread spectrum technology patent, which started being used by the US Navy 10 years later and was then implemented across the entire military system. The rapid development of digital communication would not be possible without Hedy Lamarr’s patent. Her patent has been successfully implemented in mobile phones, fax machines and all wireless devices. Lamarr was 85 when she died, she had three children, she starred in over 30 films, and was married seven times. Austria, Germany, and Switzerland all celebrate Inventors' Day on November 9, which was Hedy Lamarr’s birthday.

Hollywood career

After arriving in London in 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was talent scouting in Europe. 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. 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 role, opposite Charles Boyer. The film created a ‘national sensation’, says Shearer. She was billed as an unknown but a well-publicized Austrian actress, who created anticipation in audiences. Mayer hoped she would become another Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. According to one viewer, when her face first appeared on the screen, “everyone gasped ... Lamarr's beauty literally took one's breath away."

In later Hollywood films, she was invariably typecast as an archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin. Her second American film was to be I Take This Woman, co-starring 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 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 the melodrama, Experiment Perilous (1944).

Back at MGM, Lamarr was teamed with Robert Walker in the romantic comedy, Her Highness, and 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 to her screen image. She spent much of her time feeling lonely and homesick. She might have swum 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.

Author, Richard Rhodes, describes her assimilation into American culture:

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.

Later films

Lamarr enjoyed her greatest success playing Delilah opposite 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). With John Hodiak in A Lady Without Passport (1950) her career started to decline. She went to Italy to play multiple roles in Loves of Three Queens (1954), which she also produced.

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).

Inventor

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.

During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, an emerging technology in naval war, could be easily 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.

Their invention was granted a patent 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. Lamarr and Antheil's work with spread spectrum technology contributed to the development of Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

In 1997, they 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.

Later years

Lamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States at the age of 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.

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.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd, adjacent to Vine Street where the walk is centered.

In her later years, Lamarr turned to plastic surgery to preserve the looks she was terrified of losing, but the results were disastrous.

Lamarr became estranged from her 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.

Seclusion

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.

Death

Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida, on January 19, 2000, of heart disease, aged 85. Her son Anthony Loder spread her ashes in Austria's Vienna Woods in accordance with her last wishes.


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