Who was the glamorous woman who caused a sensation in Hollywood and to whom we may owe our WiFi today?
Hedy Lamarr – a dedication to “Lady Bluetooth”
She played the first female screen orgasm in cinema history, was considered the most beautiful woman in the world in 1940 and developed a radio remote control for torpedoes in order to support the US Navy in World War II: we’re talking about Hedy Lamarr, or real Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. The Austrian pioneer would have turned 107 on November 9, 2021.
The beginnings of a film icon
Hedwig “Hedy” Lamarr is the daughter of a Jewish bank director and a concert pianist. She was born in Vienna in 1914, attended a private school and took piano, ballet and language lessons. She made her first film debut at the age of 16 in
Money on the street
by Georg Jacoby – incidentally, the first sound film in Austria at the time. Only three years and a few film projects later, she achieved her international breakthrough with the Czechoslovak feature film
Symphony of love
) that is as revealing as it sounds.
Censored and banned: Lamarr’s scenes in “Ecstasy”
For the conditions at the time, and especially for Nazi Germany, Lamarr’s scenes in the film were a scandal: first she bathes stark naked in a lake, then she walks through the forest without being covered. What attracts special attention – literally – is a love scene in which the cameraman’s telephoto lens zooms in on her face while she has an orgasm. What would not even cause a shrug today was a case for the censorship authorities back then. It took a full two years before an abridged version of the film was allowed to be shown in some German cinemas.
Lamarr is not deterred by this. Your main role in
opens her the gates to Hollywood and changes her further life from the ground up.
Hedwig Kiesler becomes Hedy Lamarr
In 1933 she married the industrialist Fritz Mandl, who from then on prohibited her from acting. It was only four years later that she managed to escape from the fascist armaments manufacturer – she fled to Paris, then to London. There she signed the film producer Louis B. Mayer for MGM and gave her the stage name Hedy Lamarr – “Hedy” after her first name, “Lamarr” based on the silent film star Barbara La Marr. In 1938 she traveled with him to the USA and began her Hollywood career as the “most beautiful woman in the world”.
Although she describes herself as “difficult”, she captured the hearts of her fans in flight and became a film and style icon from the 1940s onwards. Around 25 US productions span her entire acting career, and she says she turned down many good roles. She made her last film in 1958.
“To be a star is to own the world and all of its people. A touch of fame is enough to make everything else feel like poverty. ”- Hedy Lamarr
“Lady Bluetooth” – Lamarr as a pioneer of WLAN
With all the artistic talent that made Lamarr a world star without equal, one must not forget that she was also an outstanding inventor of her time. Her sharp mind was simply not challenged with the superficiality that dominated Hollywood.
The leap between piano mechanics and weapon technology
From her encounter in 1940 with the composer George Antheil, who was known for his avant-garde piano works, an idea arose in Lamarr that is now regarded as the basis for WLAN and Bluetooth technology. The background was the way in which Antheil could play several pianos at the same time – he controlled the instruments through punched tape or frequency changes.
Lamarr considered to what extent this mechanism could be used to support the US Navy in the war against Germany. Their idea: an interference-free radio control of torpedoes, which is generated via randomly changing radio frequencies. A year later, Lamarr and Antheil patented their idea, although “frequency hopping” itself was not necessarily new. But the Navy rejected Lamarr’s invention – among other things because many points of their patent were not mature enough and were difficult or impossible to transfer to torpedoes.
Opinions differ as to whether and to what extent Lamarr’s frequency hopping method was of particular value. What remains unquestionable, however, is that the technology was taken up in computer science decades later and used as an important basis for today’s wireless standards such as WLAN and Bluetooth. In 1997, Lamarr received the for her invention
Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award
. Three years later, on January 19, 2000, she died in Florida.
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