One of Hollywood’s most beautifully beguiling actresses, Lamarr was known over her quarter-century in cinema for such films as the Oscar-honored “Samson and Delilah (as the title’s sultry knockout), the heist drama “Algiers” (which was nominated for a handful of Oscars) and “Ecstasy,” the 1933 Czech film that was highly controversial for its nudity and sex scenes.
Yet today, many headline writers will discover just how daring and intellectually impressive the real life was of the Viennese-born Hedwig Eva Maria Keisler. (We expect many of them to resort to “badass,” but that doesn’t nearly capture her brilliance — appropriate given her noted ability to be elusive.)
Lamarr made “Ecstasy” when she was just 18, and it was released the same year that she married one of Austria’s richest men, a munitions manufacturer who did business with Mussolini and, according to Lamarr’s autobiography, hosted Hitler at their castle home.
Lamarr, who was of Ukrainian-Hungarian Jewish heritage, eventually made an escape from her spouse and situation — she wrote that she fled to France in disguise — and was discovered in Paris by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer.
Lamarr, billed as the “world’s most beautiful woman,” spent the next decade acting opposite such stars as Clark Gable, Charles Boyer, Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland.
During World War II, Lamarr also put her mind to the war effort, determined to invent something that would help defeat Hitler. (Her first marriage had resulted not only in reportedly hosting the Fuhrer, but also in gaining knowledge of torpedoes.)
She and California neighbor/composer George Antheil co-created a frequency-hopping system (using a player-piano roll) so radio-guided torpedoes could avoid interference jamming — an invention for which they received a patent in 1942, though the U.S. military would not employ the technology for two more decades (during the Cuban Missile Crisis).
Lamarr, whose work laid the foundation for spread-spectrum communication technology, began to be truly recognized for her scientific accomplishments in the ’90s, in the last years of her life. She died in Florida in 2000 after long periods of seclusion. She was 85.
Last year, a century after her birth, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Va. “Although Lamarr and Antheil never profited from their invention during their lifetime,” the Hall of Fame site says, “it was acknowledged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997 as an important development in wireless communications.”
Today, Google helps the world celebrate Lamarr with a Doodle that will be viewed by many, fittingly, via wireless technology.
“We love highlighting great stories about women’s achievements in science and technology,” Doodle artist Jennifer Hom writes on the company’s blog. “When the story involves a 1940s Hollywood star-turned-inventor who helped develop technologies we all use with our smartphones today … well, we just have to share it with the world.”
Happy birthday indeed, Hedy.