Sadly, the year of Hedy Lamarr's birth may remain one of the many mysteries about her, which leaves anyone wishing to celebrate the anniversary of her birth with a bit of a conundrum. Given the number of sources that cite 1913 as the year of Miss Lamarr's birth (her official website among them), I have decided to treat it as such, which as far as this blog is concerned makes this Miss Lamarr's 100th birthday. Too, I must admit I find it appealing to think that the two most beautiful women of all time (Vivien Leigh was born 5 November 1913) were born only days apart!
Regardless of the year in which she was born, Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. She began studying piano when she was only 10 years old.. She made her film debut in a bit part in Geld auf der Straße in 1930. This was followed by a more slightly more substantial part in Die Blumenfrau von Lindenau (known in English as Storm in a Water Glass) in 1931. She was still only a teenager when she studied acting under the legendary stage director Max Reinhardt. Mr. Reinhardt may have been the first person to name Hedwig Kiesler "the most beautiful woman in the world", which he did so when speaking to Viennese newspaper reporters.
Whether the controversy of Extase would have had an impact on Hedy Kiesler's career is difficult to say, as not long afterwards she married armaments manufacturer Friedrich Mandl. He more or less forbade her from pursuing her acting career. As might be expected, Miss Kiesler found herself miserable in the marriage and in 1938 she left Mandl. She eventually fled to London, where she met the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. Mr. Mayer was in London on studio business, and the two met at a dinner party. She later sailed to the United States aboard the Normandie, on which both Louis B. Mayer and his wife Margaret were sailing home. While aboard the ship Mr. Mayer offered Hedy Kiesler a contract with MGM. Stories very as to whether it was Mr. Mayer or his wife who gave Miss Kiesler her stage name, the name by which she would become best known, Hedy Lamarr. The surname was taken from late Silent Era star Barbara La Marr, who had died from tuberculosis when she was only 29.
Miss Lamarr's departure from MGM may not have necessarily improved the quality of the roles she received, but it also did nothing to diminish her success. From the late Forties into the early Fifties she appeared in such films as Dishonoured Lady (1947), Let's Live a Little (1948), Samson and Delilah (1949), and My Favourite Spy (1951). During the Forties Miss Lamarr had been a very prolific actress, making 18 films from 1940 to 1949. With the Fifties, however, her career slowed considerably. The Fifties would see her make only a few films, including My Favourite Spy, I cavalieri dell'illusione (1954), Loves of Three Queens (1954), L'eterna femmina (1954), and The Story of Mankind (1957). Her final film was The Female Animal in 1958. She made very few television appearances, only appearing as a guest star on All Star Revue, Shower of Stars, and Zane Grey Theatre.
Of course, here it must be pointed out that Hedy Lamarr was not simply an actress who happened to have an idea for a new torpedo guidance system that would ultimately change the world. She was very serious about inventing, and she even had an entire room in her home devoted to inventing, including a drafting table, tools, reference books, and so on. Among her inventions was a anti-aircraft shell fixed with a proximity fuse that would use radar to detect the target and detonate at a predetermined distance away. She also developed a cube that when mixed with water would make a cola-type soft drink. She also invented a better box for facial tissues (such as Kleenex) and a new sort of traffic light. Unfortunately, none of these inventions would be put into mass production.
Hedy Lamarr was often noted for her beauty. Indeed, she was called "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World" for a good reason. It has not been particularly often that she has been noted for her acting talent. I suspect much of the reason for this was that she was typecast early in her career as the beautiful, exotic seductress, a role she played in film after film. That having been said, she could play other roles and play them very well. She was quite convincing in the role of Madeleine Damien, a magazine editor with a double life as a party girl at night, in Dishonoured Lady. She also gave a very good performance as the title character's self reliant coworker Marvin Miles in H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941). I think she also did quite well in what may be her most famous role, that of Delilah in Samson and Delilah (1949). In what could have merely been yet another seductress role, Miss Lamarr gave the character of Delilah considerable depth.
While Hedy Lamarr remains one of the most celebrated beauties of all time, as one of the best known actresses of her era, there can be no doubt that her greatest contribution to the world was her invention of frequency hopping with George Antheil. It would provide the basis for modern spread spectrum technology, technology that is used in everything from CDMA (Code division multiple access, used in many mobile phones), coded orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (COFDM, used in WI-Fi networks), Bluetooth, GPS, and so on. Eventually Miss Lamarr would be honoured for her invention. In 1997 the the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her their Pioneer Award. She also became the first woman to ever be awarded the Invention Convention's BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Today it is quite possible that Hedy Lamarr is better known for the invention of frequency hopping than she is as a film star.