Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914.
Not only was she known as one of the most beautiful women of her day, but she also invented a technology that enables the mass use of mobile phones and other wireless communications.
She died in Florida in 2000, aged 85. On the anniversary of her 100th birthday Austria’s Film Museum is screening a documentary about her.
Lamarr garnered a degree of fame and notoriety when she was 18 after starring in a 1933 film called Ecstasy which featured close ups of her acting out an orgasm, as well as full frontal nude shots of her in another scene.
After her unhappy marriage ended with Fritz Mandl, a wealthy Austrian munitions manufacturer who sold arms to the Nazis, she fled to the United States and signed a contract with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in Hollywood under the name Hedy Lamarr.
Her most popular success was as the biblical temptress Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 film Samson and Delilah (1949).
Max Reinhardt, who directed her in Berlin, called her the "most beautiful woman in Europe" noting her "strikingly dark exotic looks".
In addition to being one of the most successful actresses of the ‘30's and ‘40's, Lamarr was also a mathematical genius and inventor.
In 1942, she and her friend the American composer George Antheil devised a plan to help the war effort during World War II.
They developed a sophisticated, anti-jamming device for use in radio-controlled torpedoes. This method of radio “frequency hopping” could prevent enemy spies from intercepting the US Military’s messages.
Their invention turned out to be more useful in later military tactics after World War II, particularly during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when it was installed on ships as part of a blockade on Cuba.
However, their patent expired in 1960 and so they received none of the profits and little recognition. Since the 1960's, the method has been used extensively in military communications.
Not only is the same technology used today in the US defence communication satellite system, but it also enables the mass use of mobile phones, faxes, and other wireless communication.
In the 1990's, Lamarr and Antheil got the recognition they deserved for their invention. They received awards like the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the BULBIEª Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society.
After Lamarr died her son Anthony scattered her ashes in the Vienna Woods, as she had asked. It was a homecoming she always dreamed of but which she never managed to make during her lifetime.
Lamarr was married six times, and had three children, one of whom was adopted.
The documentary film Calling Hedy Lamarr will be screened at the Austrian Film Museum on Sunday November 9th at midday. Lamarr’s son Anthony Loder will be present at the screening.
Tickets are free but should be reserved by emailing [email protected].
The Bezirksmuseum in Währing is holding an exhibition about Lamarr’s life, which runs until December 21st.