Hedy Lamarr, Not Just Another Pretty Face. Actress and Co-inventor of Communications Technology.
Lamarr’s shared patent with George Antheil for spread spectrum communications technology was the forerunner of wireless communication, yet 20 years ahead of its time.
She began life as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. She studied piano and ballet and began playing major roles in German movies while still a teenager. In 1933, the 19 year old ingénue, appeared in “Ecstasy” a Czechoslovak film made in Prague. The film became notorious for shots of Lamarr running nude through the woods.
That same year, Lamarr married Friedrich Mandl, an arms manufacturer. Thirteen years her senior, Mandl turned out to be a controlling husband, rarely allowing Lamarr to venture out of their mansion. Instead of allowing Lamarr to pursue an acting career, Mandl insisted she accompany him to meetings with his business associates, some of them Nazi industrialists.
Lamarr herself was Jewish and this action on Mandl’s part infuriated her. Especially since Mandl was part Jewish himself. It was time for her to make a plan to get away. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life As A Woman (Fawcett Crest Book, 1967), Lamarr revealed that she disguised herself as a maid and went to Paris.
Career in Hollywood
After obtaining a divorce in Paris, Lamarr moved on to London where she met Louis B. Mayer, part of Hollywood’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Mayer insisted that Hedwig change her name to Hedy Lamarr, the surname in honor of silent film star Barbara LaMarr who died in 1926.
Lamarr made her American film debut in “Algiers” (1938) and made eighteen films between 1940 and 1949. Her biggest success was in Cecil B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” the highest-grossing film in 1949.
Lamarr’s next door neighbor was composer George Antheil. Antheil experimented with the automation of musical instruments. He had written a score for “Ballet Mecanique” in 1924 using simultaneous multiple player pianos.
The two engaged in conversation about radio control for torpedoes. It was Lamarr who came up with the idea of “frequency hopping.” The invention used a piano roll to change between eighty-eight frequencies, making it difficult for enemies to detect radio-guided torpedoes. U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey (her married name at the time) on August 11, 1942.
The invention proved to be about twenty years ahead of its time. The mechanical technology in 1942 could not support the invention. By 1962, three years after the patent for Lamarr’s and Antheil’s invention expired, the invention was used by the USA during a blockade of Cuba.
Today, the technology in the invention is used in WiFi network connections and in some cordless and wireless telephones.
Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council. Instead, they persuaded her to use her status as a celebrity to sell war bonds. Lamarr raised seven million dollars at one event doing just that.
Wi-LAN, Inc acquired a forty-nine percent claim to the patent from Lamar in 1998 for an unknown amount. Antheil had died in 1959.
Lamarr was married six times and had three children.
- Friedrich Mandl, (1933-1937) arms manufacturer.
- Gene Markey, (1939-1941) screenwriter and producer. One son, James Lamarr Markey, adopted in 1941 after their divorce.
- John Loder, (1943-1947) actor. Two children, Anthony Loder and Denise Loder. Loder adopted James Lamarr Markey and gave him his surname.
- Ernest “Ted” Stauffer, (1951-1952) nightclub owner, restaurateur and former bandleader.
- W. Howard Lee, (1953-1960) Texas oilman.
- Lewis J. Boies, (1963-1965) her divorce lawyer.
In 1966 Lamarr was caught allegedly shoplifting from the May Department store in Los Angeles but was acquitted with a 10-2 jury vote. Lamarr’s career had been in slow decline since “Samson and Delilah.“ She was supposed to return to the screen in 1966 in “Picture Mommy Dead” but the role went to Zsa Zsa Gabor (also from Hungary.)
After that, Lamarr moved to Florida only to be accused of shoplifting again in 1991 at the age of 78. The charges were eventually dropped.
Lamarr died in Florida on January 19, 2000. As per her wishes, son Anthony Loder spread her ashes in the Wienerwald forest in Austria.
Lamarr’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6247 Hollywood Boulevard, north side between Argyle and Vine.
The Hedy Lamarr Foundation was formed to deliver educational and inspirational information that promises self-discovery and social accountability.