The other side of Hedy Lamarr

REMEMBER WHEN? - Danny Dolor - The Philippine Star
The other side of Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr is remembered as one of the prettiest and sexiest actresses of Hollywood in the ‘40s and ‘50s. But there is the other side of the Austrian-born star: Inventor.

Miss Lamarr, along with her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, created a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. It was important during World War II as enemy torpedoes could be made to go off course. Their invention was granted a patent on Aug. 11, 1932, but the US Navy was not receptive as it came from outside the military.

But in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, an updated version of their design at last appeared on Navy ships.

In 1977, Miss Lamarr and Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements have significantly contributed to society. In 2014, they were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Although she had no formal training and was primarily self-taught, Miss Lamarr was into various hobbies and inventions. The few who knew about it was aviation tycoon Howard Hughes who supported her ‘tinkering’ hobbies. He put his team of science engineers at her disposal. ‘You’re a genius,’ Hughes told her.

At times the behavior of a ‘genius’ could not be explained. Like twice Ms. Lamarr was caught shoplifting in Los Angeles and Florida, dazed and incoherent. The charges were eventually dropped.

Miss Lamarr’s movie debut was Ecstacy, which caused a sensation in Europe because of her nude scenes. It was banned in America and Germany, then branded pornographic. But Louis Mayer, who was scouting for talent in Europe, signed her up and renamed her Hedy Lamarr, then residing in Paris. She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Austria. Her father was a banker and her mother a pianist.

One of her important films was Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature and George Sanders. It was the highest grossing film of 1949 and won two Oscars.

Needless to say, Miss Lamarr was the Biblical temptress, a role she played in many her films, among them White Cargo where she delivered the provocative line, ‘I am Tondelayo. I make tiffin for you?’

She was married and divorced six times, with three children. Following her sixth and final divorce, Miss Lamarr remained unmarried for the last 35 years of her life. She died at 85 in Altamonte Springs, Florida, leaving 3.3 million dollars in her estate. Her ashes were spread in the Vienna Woods, in accordance with her last wishes.

Of the many docus, tributes, articles and plays about her, the one which captured her best was the off-Broadway one-woman show written by Richard Rhodes and performed by Heather Massic, Hedy’s Folly, subtitled The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. — RKC 

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