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Hedy Lamarr: The incredible life of the actress and inventor

The actress changed paths later in life to help with the fight against the Nazis

Olivia Blair
Monday 09 November 2015 15:40 GMT
Hedy Lamarr was born in Austria, but later lived in the USA
Hedy Lamarr was born in Austria, but later lived in the USA (REX features)

It is reasonable to say that Hedy Lamarr, who would have turned 101 today and is being celebrated by Google doodle, certainly had an eventful life.

Namely she was titled ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, starred in ‘scandalous’ sex scenes, was married six times and, most importantly, invented a wireless system which became the basis for the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS systems we use today.

Born in 1914 as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler she grew up to be cast in the film Ecstasy which became banned in many places due to its seemingly controversial script involving a nudity and Lamarr acting the first female orgasm in a non-pornographic film.

According to TIME, reviews branded the movie: “Indecent and morally dangerous” and “unsuitable, immoral and lascivious.”

Another person who appeared to be against the film was her first husband, the munitions businessman Friedrich Mandl, who rounded-up as many copies as he could, according to the New York Times this was so the audiences didn’t see “the look on her face during the sex scenes.”

Lamarr fled the marriage, changed her name and emigrated from Austria, first to London to perform on the West End and then to the USA where she continued to make films, reports the BBC.

Not content with solely acting, Lamarr used her interest in science to think of ways she could help in the fight against the Nazis during the Second World War.

After noting the Nazi practice of jamming Allied radio stations, Lamarr and the composer George Antheil devised a “secret communications system”. Using ‘frequency hopping’, they controlled frequencies, making it harder for the radio to be intercepted.

Lamarr and Antheil proposed the device to the American government who initially were not interested, although the navy adopted it in the 1960s. The NY Times reports that neither “made a dime” for their invention which went on to be the basis for modern wireless systems.

In her personal life, Lamarr married six times. According to the biography Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film by Ruth Barton: the judge who granted her second divorce advised she should “spend more than four weeks getting acquainted with a prospective husband.” She had three children, one of whom was adopted.

Later on in her life, she was arrested twice for shoplifting — neither of which resulted in a conviction.

She wrote a biography in 1966, called Ecstasy and Me which detailed many personal stories about her sex life. However, she later sued the publishers for “deliberately” writing an “obscene” and “scandalous” book.

The lawsuit failed, as did one against a department store in Los Angeles that accused her of shoplifting.

Lamarr died from various heart problems, aged 85, at her home in Florida in 2000.

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