Austrian-American actress who was a major contract star of MGM's "Golden Age".
Lamarr also co-invented – with composer George Antheil – an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, necessary to wireless communication from the pre-computer age to the present day.
Early lifeLamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, the only child of 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. Her father died in Vienna before the Holocaust, and Lamarr rescued her mother.
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.
CareerIn 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 during orgasm in one scene (rumored to be unsimulated), and full frontal shots of her in another scene, swimming and running nude through the woods, gave the film great notoriety.
On 10 August 1933, aged 19, 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 in her autobiography, objecting to the rumors about real sex, admitted that her costar had indeed played the scene with her using "method acting reality," but she also stated that the film's director had simulated looks of passion from offscreen by 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 their castle home, Schloss Schwarzenau. She later related that, although Mandl was part-Jewish, he consorted with Nazi industrialists. In Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr wrote that Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler 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 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.
HollywoodFirst 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 tuberculosis.
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, "Tondelayo make tiffin". In 1941, she was cast alongside two other Hollywood beauties, Lana Turner and Judy Garland in the musical extravaganza Ziegfeld Girl.
Lamarr made 18 films from 1940 to 1949 even though she had two children during that time (in 1945 and 1947). After leaving MGM in 1945, she 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).
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 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 this reference:
|“||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.||”|
Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum inventionAvant 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 Mécanique, originally written for Fernand Léger's 1924 abstract film. This score involved multiple player pianos playing simultaneously.
Lamarr took her idea to Antheil and together, Antheil and Lamarr submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June 1941. On August 11, 1942, US 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. Although a presentation of the technique was soon made to the U.S. Navy, it met with opposition and was not adopted.
The idea 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. It is reported that, 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), although expired patents have no economic value. 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 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 once raised $7,000,000 at just one event.
For several years during the 1990s, the boxes of CorelDRAW's 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 CorelDRAW's 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.
Later yearsIn the ensuing years, Lamarr retreated from public life, and settled in Florida.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Hedy Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd.
Personal lifeLamarr became a naturalized citizen of the United States on April 10, 1953.
Marriages and romancesShe was briefly engaged to German actor Fred Doederlein, and later actor George Montgomery in 1942.
Lamarr was 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 said 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 1943–47; 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 reported 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.
ScandalsIn 1965 Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting in Los Angeles; the charges were eventually dropped. In 1991 she was arrested on the same charge in Florida, this time for $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops. She pleaded "no contest" to avoid a court appearance, and in return for a promise to refrain from breaking any laws for a year, the charges were once again dropped.
According to her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me (1966), once while running away from Friedrich Mandl, she slipped into a brothel and hid in an empty room. While her husband searched the brothel, a man entered the room and she had sex with him so she could remain hidden. She was finally successful in escaping when she hired a new maid who resembled her; she drugged the maid and used her uniform as a disguise to escape. Lamarr later sued the publisher, saying that many of the anecdotes in the book, which was described by a judge as "filthy, nauseating, and revolting", were fabricated by its ghost writer, Leo Guild.
In an interview included in the DVD release of Blazing Saddles (1974), Mel Brooks says that Hedy Lamarr threatened to sue the producers. He says she believed the film's running "Hedley Lamarr" joke infringed her right of publicity. In one scene, Brooks' character tells Hedley Lamarr, "This is 1874 – you'll be able to sue her!" Brooks said they settled out of court for a small sum.
DeathCasselberry, Florida on January 19, 2000, aged 86, from natural causes. Her son Anthony Loder took her ashes to Austria and spread them in the Vienna Woods, in accordance with her last wishes.
OtherA date with Hedy Lamarr is one of the promises Audrey II tempts Seymour with in the musical Little Shop of Horrors.
Hedy Lamarr is referenced in the film Blazing Saddles on a number of occasions.
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 science, made an homage to Lamarr, giving the name Lamarr to Dr. Kleiner's pet headcrab. Later on in the game, 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.
The 2010 New York Public Library's exhibit: “Thirty Years of Photography at the New York Public Library” includes a photo of topless Lamarr (ca. 1930) by Austrian-born American photographer Trude Fleischmann.
Das Geld liegt auf der Straße (Money on the Street, 1930)
Die Frau von Lindenau (Storm in a Water Glass, 1931)
Die Abenteuer des Herrn O. F. (The Adventures of Mr. O. F., 1931)
Man braucht kein Geld (We Need No Money, 1932)
Ekstase / Symphonie der Liebe (Ecstasy, 1933)
Algiers (1938) (download or play it)
Hollywood Goes to Town (1938) (short subject)
Screen Snapshots: Stars at a Charity Ball (1939) (short subject)
Lady of the Tropics (1939)
I Take This Woman (1940)
Boom Town (1940)
Comrade X (1940)
Come Live With Me (1941)
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)
Tortilla Flat (1942)
White Cargo (1942)
Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
The Heavenly Body (1944)
The Conspirators (1944)
Experiment Perilous (1944)
Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)
The Strange Woman (1946)
Dishonored Lady (1947)
Let's Live a Little (1948)
Samson and Delilah (1949)
A Lady Without Passport (1950)
Copper Canyon (1950)
My Favorite Spy (1951)
The Eternal Female (1954) (unfinished)
Loves of Three Queens (1954)
The Story of Mankind (1957)
The Female Animal (1958)
Instant Karma (1990) [archive footage]