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The lesser-known life of an Austrian actress

by Sarah Morris - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 10th 2018 12:00 pm

You may have heard the name Hedy Lamarr at some point in your life. The famous Austrian-American actress was most popular during Hollywood’s “Golden Age”  in the 1930s. 

During her role in the Czech film, “Ecstasy,” Lamarr  performed the first onscreen female orgasm in film history. Not only did Lamarr change the film industry for women, but she is also credited for several inventions that aided the United States during World War II, right under “the most beautiful woman in the world.” 

And if that doesn’t razzle your berries, it might be worth a mention that if not for her, humans wouldn’t have what we live and breath off of: Wi-Fi.    

As a woman with Jewish heritage during Hitler’s reign, Lamarr married powerful political figure Friedrich Mandl, who was the country’s biggest arms manufacturer at the time. At the age of 23, Lamarr no longer felt safe with the Nazis or her husband, so she fled, first to London, then to Paris and then again to the U.S. in the most spy movie stereotypical fashion.

 “She put jewelry in the lining of her coat, gave her maid sleeping powder, put on the maid’s costume, got on her bicycle and rode off,” said Lamarr’s husband from a later marriage.

Lamarr received a patent for an idea for a device that was used for signaling, also called “Secret Communications System,” which was used by changing radio frequencies, or “frequency hopping,” to keep enemies, from decoding messages from and guiding torpedoes. 

Despite the ahead-of-its-time wireless technology, its potential was not seen until the mid-1950s at the beginning of the Vietnam War, since no one took her seriously. Even after she testified in Washington, D.C. about German technology, her accusations were also brushed to the side because they saw her as nothing more than a beautiful woman.

Lamarr ended up marrying several men over the span of her lifetime and had three children. One of her romantic companions, Howard Hughes, a reclusive millionaire, had a passion for engineering and flying, and Lamarr helped with his aircraft design, having experience with military work because of her first husband in Austria.

After that, Lamarr became an official U.S. citizen in 1953 and published a ghost-written autobiography titled “Ecstasy and Me.” Later on, Lamarr lost her credibility on screen after several shoplifting charges and a plastic surgery disaster. She became isolated from the public and her own family, who left her and would only occasionally speak with her over the phone. She spent the last years of her life as a recluse before dying in January 2000 from congestive heart failure.

 

@selizabeth_96

smorr11@u.brockport.edu

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