Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was an Austrian actress and inventor of the 20th century. She was born in 1914 in Vienna and was the only child of Gertrud and Emil Kiesler. She began her film career in 1933 at the age of 18 by starring in an Austrian film titled “Ecstasy”. In the film she played the role of a neglected housewife, and became famous for doing extremely explicit scenes which was unheard of in the conservative industry at that time.
At that time she was married to a munitions manufacturer named Friedrich Mandl. Mandl was the third richest man in Austria at that time and Lamarr had married him at the age of 19. Mandl objected to the film and said that it was an exploitation of his wife. In her autobiography titled “Ecstasy and Me” Lamarr confessed that Mandl was extremely controlling towards her and she was practically a prisoner in their huge house. Mandl had close business and social ties with Mussolini and Hitler, and the two often attended the lavish parties hosted at the Mandl estate. Lamarr accompanied her husband in his business meetings with scientists and other professionals and this is where she picked up her knack for technology, which served her later in life.
Lamarr planned a grand escape by dressing up as her own maid and taking all her jewelry with her. Upon her escape, she first went to Paris, and later to London and then the US. In London she met the American film producer Louis B. Mayer who made her change her name to Hedy Lamarr (inspired by the silent film star Barbara Lamarr). Her debut Hollywood film was Algiers in 1938. In total she starred in 31 Hollywood movies alongside some of the biggest stars such as Clark Gable. She was awarded a star on the Hollywood walk of fame for her achievements and is widely credited to be one of the most beautiful actresses of all time.
Hedy Lamarr also made herself known as an inventor. The famous music composer George Antheil was her neighbor in California. Antheil and Lamarr developed the idea of using “frequency hopping” to avoid broadcasting interference in torpedoes. Lamarr had learnt about torpedoes by taking an interest in her first husband’s munitions business. The two used a piano roll to frequently change the signal sent between the control centre and the torpedo which would prevent it from being jammed or interfered by an enemy tower. This idea was patented by the US Patent office in 1942. Their idea, however, was opposed by the US Navy and wasn’t adopted until 1962. Much later, in 1997, they were honored for their achievements in this field and it was credited as being the forerunner for modern technology such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and CDMA. In 1998, a Canadian company by the name of Wi-LAN acquired a 49% interest in their patent in exchange for company stock.
Lamarr had a turbulent private life and was arrested for shoplifting charges on two occasions but both charges were eventually dropped. She was married six times and had two children, and one adopted child. Her autobiography was published in 1966 but Lamarr claimed that some of the stories narrated in it were invented by the ghostwriter Leo Guild. Towards the end of her life she became a recluse and settled in Miami Beach Florida. She died in January 2000, at the age of 85.