KEYWORDS: Hedy Lamarr, actress, inventor, spread-spectrum technology, frequency hopping, World War II
SHE THOUGHT IT
Hedy Lamarr is primarily known for her acting career, both in Europe and later in Hollywood during MGM’s ‘Golden Age’ in the 1930s and 1940s (p.78).1,7 She achieved early fame for being the first person to portray “the first female orgasm in a non-pornographic film.”15 Despite being one of the most famous Hollywood faces of the time, she was also interested in engineering and technology and developed a device that made use of spread-spectrum technology to circumvent jammed radio signals and secret communication in collaboration with the composer George Antheil (p.78).1 The novelty about this technique was particularly the idea to use a frequency hopping mechanism.2 For Lamarr, this invention was her contribution to support the allies in the Second World War.2 The technique pioneered by Lamarr and Antheil was patented in 1941 but was not actually used in military technology until 1962 and Lamarr only received recognition as an inventor in 1997 with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award.3,4,5 Spread-spectrum technology is now an integral part of ubiquitous technologies like Bluetooth, wireless internet, and code division multiple access protocols (CDMA).4
The child of a wealthy Jewish Viennese family, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was tutored at home from age four and ventured to Berlin to study acting at Max Reinhardt’s drama school when she was 16 (Faulkner and Croce p.76).1,6 Following an appearance in Geld auf der Straβe (Money on the Street, 1930,), she became famous overnight – and provoked scandal – with the Czech production Ekstase (1933, Ecstasy), in which she appeared nude (p. 76).1 In the same year, Lamarr married Austrian munitions manufacturer Friedrich Mandl, who was very possessive and controlling as well as notorious for his deals with Europe’s leading fascists (p.76).1,4 During her marriage, Hedy attended numerous banquets with Mandl and his arms dealer friends and colleagues, where she acquired knowledge about weapon systems and war technology.7 This deepened her interest in engineering and would become important later in her life, when she turned to inventing. When she could no longer bear her marriage, Hedy headed for to New York. During the transatlantic voyage on the Normandieshe met Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a contract with MGM – in Hollywood (Rhodes in Cowan 4:42-4:56),7,8 where, she was to become famous as Hedy Lamarr.7 She arrived in New York in 1937, and a year later starred in the movie Algiers x.7 During the course of her career, she starred in more than 12 films, in most of which she was “cast as [an] exotic, sultry” woman” (Thomson in Severo).7 She is primarily remembered for her performance in Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille’s bible epic of 1949, which would remain her commercially most successful movie.7
Even though Hedy Lamarr was physically distant from the raging war in Europe, she was intent on contributing to the war effort of the Allied Forces against fascism (Cowan 5:08-5:39).8 When she met the progressive composer George Antheil at a dinner party, the story goes, the two quickly discovered their mutual interest in engineering and inventing, which led to their development of their torpedo guidance system.9 Even though they eventually obtained a patent for their invention, the military did not pick up the idea at the time and told Lamarr to “go and raise money for the war. That’s what you should be doing instead of this silly inventing” (Rhodes in Cowan 6:11-6:19).8 Neither Lamarr nor Antheil ever received any type of compensation for their invention. Indeed, Lamarr’s technological achievements were never recognised during her lifetime and she was only known for her appearance,2,6,8 a sensationalist biography, and shoplifting incidents in her later life.7, 14 After her six marriages, she eventually settled down in Florida and led a rather secluded life.7 This was probably the reason why, when she was finally awardedthe Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997, she did not attend the ceremony.10 Several books about her and her invention,9 as well as plays based on her life and an award named after her,11,12 however, are proof of a renewed interest in her as a complex person as well as in the technological importance of her invention. 13
SHE SAID IT
The world isn’t getting any easier. With all these new inventions I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more… The hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.
Cited in “Quotes.” Hedy Lamarr, Hedy Lamarr – The Official Site.
Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. That’s the way I was. The unknown was always so attractive to me… and still is.
Cited in “Quotes.” Hedy Lamarr, Hedy Lamarr – The Official Site.
My face has been my misfortune[.] […] [I]t has attracted six unsuccessful marriage partners. It has attracted all the wrong people into my boudoir and brought me tragedy and heartache for five decades […]. My face is a mask I cannot remove. I must always live with it. I curse it.
Cited in Oliver, Myrna. “From the Archives: Hedy Lamarr; Screen Star Called Her Beauty a Curse.” LA Times, 20 Jan. 2000.
THEY SAID IT
The word was passed […] that this was no mere Viennese doll; this was somebody with brains and a sense of humor, perhaps with acting ability – certainly with determination.
Donald Hough in Oliver, Myrna. “From the Archives: Hedy Lamarr; Screen Star Called Her Beauty a Curse.” LA Times, 20 Jan. 2000.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND HONOURS
1960 Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
1997 BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award
1997 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation
2014 Honorary Grave in Vienna’s Central Cemetery
2015 Google Doodle
2016 DEG launches the Hedy Lamarr Achievement Award for Emerging Leaders in Entertainment Technology
Throughout her life, Hedy Lamarr proved that she was interested in far more than being a beautiful sidekick to her co-stars Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, or John Garfield.7 With her inventiveness, her screen presence, and her outspokenness, she became a force in cinema, technology, and the allied effort to defeat the fascists in World War II. Thus, Hedy Lamarr’s contributions far exceeded the realm of Hollywood glamour and today she is more frequently recognized for her inventions, and rightfully so.15
Hedy (1967), Andy Warhol, 16 mm film.
Google Doodlers (2015), Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday, digital, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0gu2QhV1dc, (last accessed 7 April 2017).
Beauty AND Brains, Lee Cowan, Narr., CBS , 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35-KOR-x94g, (last accessed 6 April 2017).
Superconducting Supercolliders, “Hedy Lamarr”, Dreaming Correctly, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ECRbgbdPeE, (last accessed 7 April 2017).
Singer, Elyse (writ. and dir.), (2008), Frequency Hopping, 3LD Art & Technology Center. Play.
Massie, Heather (writ. and perf.), (2016), HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, dir. Joan Kane, United Solo Theater Festival. Play.
Napier, Findley (2015), “Hedy Lamarr”, Songs From the Shed, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guK5-vQXsu4, (last accessed 7 April 2017).
Chapman, Robin (2006), “Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil Invent Spread-Spectrum Broadcasting.” Antigonish Review, no. 145, pp. 124.
Lamarr, Hedy (1966), Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. Bartholomew House, New York.
Lambert, Laura (2008), Hedy Lamarr. vol. 4.
Rhodes, Richard (2011), Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the most Beautiful Woman in the World. Doubleday, New York.
Shearer, Stephen M. (2010), Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, New York.
- Faulkner, Nicholas / Nicholas Croce (2016), Top 101 Women of STEM, Britannica Educational Publishing, ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/leip/detail.action?docID=4573478.
- “Hedy Lamarr: the inventor of frequency hopping.” Electronics Notes, Electronics Notes, https://www.electronics-notes.com/articles/history/pioneers/hedy-lamarr-biography-invention.php, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- Greenfield, Rebecca (3 Sept. 2010), “Celebrity Invention: Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communications System.” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/celebrity-invention-hedy-lamarrs-secret-communications-system/62377/, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- “Hedy Lamarr.” Famous Scientists, Famous Scientists, https://www.famousscientists.org/hedy-lamarr/, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- “Hedy Lamarr. Invention of Spread Spectrum Technology.” Women Inventors, Famous Women Inventors, women-inventors.com/Hedy-Lammar.asp, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- (2016), “Hedy Lamarr. Austrian-Born American Actress.” Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hedy-Lamarr, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- Severo, Richard (20 Jan. 2000), “Hedy Lamarr, Soultry Star Who Reigned in Hollywood in Of 30’s and 40’s, Dies at 86.” The New York Times, nytimes.com/2000/01/20/arts/hedy-lamarr-sultry-star-who-reigned-in-hollywood-of-30-s-and-40-s-dies-at-86.html, (last accessed 5 Apr. 2017).
- Cowan, Lee, Narrator. Beauty AND Brains. , CBS , 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35-KOR-x94g. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
- Garner, Dwight (13 Dec. 2011), “Glamour and Munitions: A Screen Siren’s Wartime Ingenuity.” , Rev. of Hedy’s Folly, by Richard Rhodes, The New York Times, nytimes.com/2011/12/14/books/hedys-folly-by-richard-rhodes-review.html, (last accessed 6 Apr. 2017).
- “Hedy Lamarr Biography.” Notable Biographies, Advameg, Inc. , www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-Ka-M/Lamarr-Hedy.html. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
- “Hedy Lamarr Achievement Award for “Emerging Leaders in Entertainment Technology”.” DEG Online, Digital Entertainment Group, 2016, degonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Hedy-Lamarr-Achievement-Award-Application.pdf. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
- “HEDY! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.” United Solo, United Solo, 2016, unitedsolo.org/us/hedy-2016/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
- Tommasini, Anthony. “Mechanical Dreams Come True.” , Rev. of Frequency Hopping, by Elyse Singer The New York Times, 9 June 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/arts/music/09ball.html. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
- “Hedy Lamarr. Biography.” ETHW, Engineering and Technology History Wiki, ethw.org/Hedy_Lamarr. Accessed 2017.
- Blair, Olivia. “Hedy Lamarr: The incredible life of the actress and inventor.” The Independent, 9 Nov. 2015 [London] , www.independent.co.uk/news/people/hedy-lamarr-the-incredible-life-of-the-actress-and-inventor-a6727326.html. Accessed 2017.