Hedy Lamarr (1914 - 2000)

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr
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Hedy Lamarr, throughout the 1940's, was regarded by many as the most beautiful woman in movies, in a field with strong competition. She became one of the most successful actresses of the late 1930's and early 1940's, appearing in over 25 movies opposite top leading men like Clark Gable, James Stewart and Spencer Tracy.

She often played the threatening "exotic" other woman.' Betrayal, suicide attempts, and psychological instability were the hallmarks of many of the parts she played - Hollywood's way of ensuring that the hero would choose the all-American gal instead of the outwardly gorgeous foreigner.

As well as classic features and a powerful screen presence she also had a top class brain - in 1942, at the height of her Hollywood career, she patented a frequency-switching system for torpedo guidance, a form of 'spread spectrum' technology that was two decades ahead of its time and which later became the key to secure military communications and to modern mobile phone technology.


Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria into a well off middle class family. Her father was Jewish and was director of a bank. Although her mother came from an Hungarian Jewish family, she had converted to Catholicism and Hedy was raised as a Christian.

Early Years

Hedy had an uneventful middle class upbringing and an education that included ballet and dancing lessons and learning to speak English, Italian and Hungarian. At the age of 12, she won a beauty contest in Vienna. She finished her education by attending a Swiss boarding school.

As a teenager she became fascinated by the cinema and she decided to leave school and become an actress. Whilst taking acting classes in Vienna, she joined Sascha Film as a script girl. While there, in 1930, aged just 17, she was able to get a walk on role in 'Geld Auf Der Strasse' Money on the Street), and then a small speaking part in Storm in a Water Glass (1931).

She was spotted by producer Max Reinhardt who cast her in a play entitled 'The Weaker Sex',. The young actress impressed him and he brought her with him back to Berlin.

Early Movie Career

Before training with Reinhardt or appearing in any of his Berlin productions, Heddy met the Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky, who cast her in his first film, 'Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.' (The Trunks of Mr. O.F. ) in 1931, which starred Peter Lorre. When Granowsky moved to Paris, Hedy stayed in Berlin and was given the lead role in 1931 in the comedy movie 'Man braucht kein Geld' (No Money Needed). Lamarr then starred in the film which made her internationally famous.

Ekstase 1933

In 1933 Hedy shot to international fame when she starred in a Czechoslovak film 'Ekstase'. Her nude swimming scene, although tame by today's standards, became notorious. Her character runs naked from an enraged husband, and then has sex with a young man in a hut in the woods. The film was banned in the US, which made it an instant hit, and no matter how successful she subsequently became , she was frequently referred to in America as the “Ecstasy girl”.

Hedy's name was now internationally famous but she did not immediately take advantage of it. Instead she retired from filmmaking and married the Austrian munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl. It was not a happy move. The husband, a confirmed Nazi, and 13 years her senior, was violent and controlling. The marriage failed miserably and Hedy fled her husband and her country and arrived in London in 1937.

Hollywood Actress 1938

MGM supremo Louis B. Mayer was in the city looking for new movie talent. He met Hedy and soon signed her up with the proviso that she should change her name. She became Hedy Lamarr, taking her surname from the beautiful silent movie star of the 1920's, Barbara La Marr.

The newly named Hedy Lamarr made her Hollywood debut opposite Charles Boyer in 'Algiers' in 1938. This was followed a year later by 'Lady of the Tropics' in 1939, 'Boom Town' in 1940, 'I Take This Woman' with Spencer Tracy in 1940, and 'Ziegfeld Girl' in 1941 alongside Judy Garland and Lana Turner. In 1942 she landed a plum role again opposite Spencer Tracy in the classic 'White Cargo' and again she gave a much praised performance in 'Tortilla Flat' in the same year. In all she made 18 movies during the 1940's. The most successful at the box office was in 1949 when she appeared as Delilah opposite Victor Mature's Samson in the epic 'Samson and Delilah'.

Her career quickly lost its momentum after 1950 as her looks faded and younger actresses began to appear. In 1951 she co-starred with Bob Hope in 'My Favorite Spy' but she made few films afterwards, one of her last roles being that of Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen's very poorly received epic 'The Story of Mankind' in 1957.

She retired in 1958 at the age of forty-four, leaving her legacy as the woman who had injected wartime Hollywood with a dose of sensuality combined with timeless beauty. She also left another, far more important, legacy.

Hedy Lamarr the Inventor

During her four year marriage to Friedrich Mandl, she became a leading light in Viennese society, frequently entertaining, (and captivating), heads of state including Hitler and Mussolini. Her husband's company dealt in control systems of military aircraft and Hedy obviously paid attention during the dinner conversations because she was subsequently able to invent and patent a a frequency-hopping technique that could be used to prevent jamming of torpedo guidance systems. It was years ahead of its time and lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today in the U.S. government's defense communication satellite system. A quite astonishing achievement. She developed the invention in partnership with her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil. They received no compensation for their discovery. When the original 1942 patent expired, the technique became part of the public domain.


Hedy was married and divorced a total of six times and had two children and one adopted son. So many divorces with children involved would make very complicated cases for any Dallas family law attorney today. After divorcing Friedrich Mandl in 1937 she was married to Gene Markey, screenwriter and producer, from 1939-41, then John Loder, actor, from 1943-47. In 1951 she married restaurateur and nightclub owner Ernest Stauffer, then Texas oilman W. Howard Lee from 1953-60, who later became the husband of another film star, Gene Tierney. Finally from 1963-5 she was married to her busy divorce lawyer, Lewis J. Boies. In 1942 she also found time to become engaged to two actors, Fred Doederlein and later, George Montgomery.

Hedy published her autobiography 'Ecstasy and Me' in 1967, and then settled down in Florida, hitting the headlines again in 1991 when, aged 78, she was arrested for shoplifting. Charges were eventually dropped.

Hedy Lamarr died in Florida on January 19, 2000, aged 85.

Hedy Lamarr Academy Awards

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Hedy Lamarr Filmography

Geld auf der Straße
Storm in a Water Glass (as Hedy Kiesler)
Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.(as Hedy Kiesler)
Man braucht kein Geld (as Hedy Kiesler)
Lady of the Tropics
I Take This Woman
Boom Town
Comrade X
Come Live with Me
Ziegfeld Girl
H.M. Pulham, Esq.
Tortilla Flat
White Cargo
The Heavenly Body
The Conspirators
Experiment Perilous