Who ever thought that a woman could be insanely attractive, incredibly talented, and intellectually savy all at the same time? It’s not every day that beautiful actresses are capable of creating complex radio technology for the military while also starring in dozens of films, but Hedy Lamarr defies expectations.
Born in Vienna in 1914, her real name was Hedwig Maria Kiesler. She starred in her first film at seventeen, a German project, Geld Auf Der Straße (Money on the Road), and she continued making films in Germany and Czechoslavakia until 1932 when her film Ecstasy caught the attention of Hollywood. This attention was most likely because she was the first actress to appear fully nude and faking an orgasm on screen (the latter due to a safety pin in the rear).
She made a total of five movies while living in Germany. During that time she married Austrian Fritz Mandl, the CEO of one of the leading arms manufacturers, who was, incidentally, a Nazi. He was also controlling and overprotective, and nearly destroyed her movie making career after Ecstasy hit the world by buying up every copy he could in order to prevent others from watching.
However, this didn’t stop Hedy from acting, and it also didn’t stop her from listening. Little did her husband know just how much she overheard of his war meetings. After a few months of listening in and planning, she stole away into the night with cash from her expensive jewelry – gifted to her by her adoring husband – and jumped a boat to America. It was on this trip that she met the studio executive Louis B. Mayer, and, after convincing him to help relaunch her career, she signed a contract with MGM. She also took on the new last name Lamarr meaning the sea.
In America, she became one of the most successful actresses from the late 30’s all the way into the 50’s, acting in over 25 films with stars like Clark Gable, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, and Judy Garland. When she wasn’t acting in blockbuster films, Hedy Lamarr was a contributer towards scientific technology during World War II, as she was fervently against Nazis and wanted to help the allied forces. With her previous husband Mandl, she had closely observed the planning and structure of remote-controlled torpedoes. During this time she got the idea of distributing the torpedo’s guidance signal over multiple frequencies in order to protect it from enemy jamming, but she couldn’t figure out how to synchronize the transmitting signal with the receiving signal.
“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
It was in 1940, when Lamarr met an avant-garde composer named George Antheil, that her idea became a reality. The two worked on creating a device that enabled someone to see all available signals and hop onto one at random – it looked similar to the 88 keys on a piano. Their system is known today as spread-spectrum technology, and it helped contribute not only to the war effort, allowing for many Nazis to be dusted, but it also led to cell phones and the internet. (Thank you Hedy Lamarr for helping to create the internet!)
In short, Hedy Lamarr was not only a talented and gorgeous actress, credited to over 25 films, but she was a genius who helped create ground breaking technology which helped fight the Nazis. She was quoted as “the most beautiful woman in films” but she can also be considered a role model. As a woman who was only thought of for her looks, it didn’t stop her from using her mind. It’s just like she always said: “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”