Still from the film "Ecstasy" with Hedy Lamarr (Ö 1933, director: Gustav Machatý)
© Filmarchiv Austria, Wien

Hedy Lamarr – Viennese Hollywood Star and Inventor

Hollywood Icon ...

Born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, she spent the first 24 years of her life in Austria’s capital. You can find traces of it till this day: The Gartenbaukino Cinema for example, where the Austrian premiere of her first success and biggest scandal took place. She came to fame for her part in the Austrian-Czech movie “Ecstasy“, in which she broke with two tabus of the film industry in one go: The movie contains the first nude scene in the history of motion pictures and implies the first female on-screen orgasm.

The production was banned in the United States due to its promiscuity for many years and Hedy’s first husband – the wealthy Viennese weapons manufacturer and fascist Fritz Mandl – unsuccessfully tried to buy up all copies of “Ecstasy“. On occasion of their wedding in the Viennese Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles) he forced her to convert from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. The marriage, her first of a total of six, turned out to be a disaster: Mandl tried to keep her from acting and locked her up in their shared home.

“I must quit marrying men who feel inferior to me. Somewhere there must be a man who could be my husband and not feel inferior. I need a superior inferior man.”

She escaped the marriage to Paris and eventually to London, where she was discovered by famous Hollywood producer Louis B. Mayer. He gave her the screen name Hedy Lamarr and brought her to New York under the title „Most beautiful Woman in the World“, where she conquered the film business in record time. Through her acting talent and her enormous beauty, she acted alongside Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable shortly afterwards. Subsequently, she turned into a true style icon of the 1930s and 1940s. The Lamarr-look – brunette, middle parting – became the ideal, and even copied by other actresses.

... and Inventor

However, Hedy Lamarr was not only talented on the big screen. Already in her young years she showed an interest in technology and science. Among other things, she invented and patented the Frequency-hopping spread spectrum together with the composer and tinkerer George Antheil. This groundbreaking innovation was originally intended for the American Navy in order to make the radio signals used for torpedo navigation untraceable and to give the Allies a strategic advantage in the Second World War. In actual fact, the two friends laid the foundation for the development of future telecommunications. Her invention is used in modern technology to this day – GPS, WLAN, bluetooth and smartphones would not exist in its current form without Hedy Lamarr.

It was not until many years later, after finishing her screen career, that she gained actual recognition by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for her outstanding technical achievement; she received the EFF Pioneer Award in 1997. Google celebrated Hedy Lamarrs birthday with a Google Doodle in 2015 as a way to honor her accomplishments in science and technology. Nevertheless, until her death on the 19th of January 2000 she did not earn a single penny from her and Antheil’s invention.

Her spectacular life excites ongoing fascination and inspiration: The 9th of November, Hedy’s birthday, is the occasion for Inventor’s Day (in Germany, Switzerland and Austria) and the Theater in der Josefstadt where the young Hedy, still as Hedwig Kiesler, had her acting debut, dedicated a stage production to the exceptional life of one of Vienna’s most beautiful and intelligent daughters from November 2017 to January 2018. “Sieben Sekunden Ewigkeit“ by Pueter Turrini is a homage to a woman full of contradicitons, who throughout her life continued to slip into a variety of roles and stayed elusive.

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

Her last will was a return. Hedy Lamarr’s casket was laid to rest in Vienna’s Central Cemetery in an honorary grave and her family scattered a part of her ashes – according to Hedy’s wish – in the Vienna Woods in the recreational area “Am Himmel“. Despite her success and glamorous life as a Hollywood diva, far away from Vienna, she finally wanted to return to her hometown.

 

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