Female Role Models: Hedy Lamarr, an actress and the “mother” of modern-day WiFi
This is another woman with an inspirational story, showing that you can multitask and combine “unmixable” stereotypes.
To put things into context:
Europe is in the middle of an active militarisation, where countries pick sides and you can feel the tension in the air. This tension is released on June 28th 1914, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo. This incident leads to the beginning of World War I, one of the deadliest conflicts in history, which lasted until 1918.
Hedy was born in Vienna, Austria, the year of the assassination, in 1914, as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. Her father was a successful bank director from what is now Lviv, Ukraine, and her mother was a pianist from Budapest, both parents came from Jewish families.
Cinema and Hollywood:
Hedy Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world and the inventor of modern-day WiFi technology
Hedwig was interested in theatre and cinema from childhood and apparently dropped out of school to pursue her career in the industry. Her first movie appearance was when she was 17, it was a German movie called Geld Auf Der Strase. The actress worked mainly with German and Czechoslovakian productions until her controversial breakthrough with a German movie called Extase (Ecstasy in English) in 1933.
Tame by current standards, the movie was pretty scandalous at the time:not only Hedwig appeared nude, but she also imitated orgasm in it. Ecstasy was banned in the US, however, the actress was noticed by Hollywood for her bold move. Soon after that, she ended her unhappy marriage with a wealthy Austrian man (who, according to Biography.com, sold arms to the Nazis), she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and moved to the US.
Hedy starred in many successful movies, including Algiers, Boom Town, White Cargo, and many others. She was known for her exotic and almost haunting beauty and was considered the most beautiful woman in the world at the time. She was even offered to play the lead role in Casablanca, but Hedy decided to turn it down.
Here’s a little YouTube video for you:
Hedi worked with Hollywood’s best stars and produced an enormous amount of movies. Just from 1940 to 1949 she made 18 movies and had two children!
Actress turned inventor:
However, Lamar didn’t feel fulfilled by her acting career: she was mostly being used for her beauty and hypnotising sexuality, while she needed a challenge. At the beginning of World War II she was offered to use her celebrity status to sell war bonds, but she wasn’t too interested in that, as she wanted to make a scientific contribution.
As Hitler’s attacks on Europe intensified, so did her desire to stop Nazism. She once said: “I’ve got to invent something that will put a stop to that”.
As the National Inventor Council in the US asked Americans to contribute ideas to defeat the enemy, Hedy was one of the ones to get in touch. Having been married to a man who dealt with weapons, she recalled the way radio-controlled torpedoes and realised that this wasn’t the safest way to do so (as a broadcasting signal at the same frequency could make the torpedo to go off course). She teamed up with her neighbour and avant-garde composer, George Antheil, to develop a more complex system.
Hedy dedicated a room in her house for their experiments and right there they developed a system called frequency hopping – where both transmitters and receivers both changed frequencies randomly. Lamarr and Antheil received a patent for their “Secret Communications System”, however, the significance of their invention wasn’t recognised at the time and the technologies weren’t adopted by the US military until 1960’s.
Lamarr’s and Antheil’s invention was only truly appreciated closer to our days, it served as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technologies and the development of such communication technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi.
Hedy Lamarr was married six times and had three children. She became naturalised as an American citizen at the age of 38. The actress continued receiving offers from movie and advert producers, but she declined them as they didn’t appeal to her. She lived until the age of 85 and died in 2000 from heart-related problems. For her contribution to the world of entertainment, she was given a star at Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hedy is an incredible woman and a great example of the fact that women are unique creatures that can combine beauty and intelligence. She is a real inspiration to all of us, showing that even if you are comfortable in terms of how much you earn, you should always challenge yourself – because this is the only way to achieve great things.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Hedy’s story! I have many more inspiring female role models to research and write about. And as food for thought, I wanted to leave you with a quote by Hedy Lamarr:
“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
P.S. I love old movies and I’m so excited as I now have a lot of catching up to do 😉