Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was born on November 9th, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. As the only child of Emil and Gertrude Kiesler (bank director and concert pianist, respectively), Hedy would recall that growing up she would want for nothing as her family was very wealthy and incredibly supportive and loving.
Hedy’s education began at he the tender age of four years old with private tutors in several European languages, ballet and piano lessons, and sports education – including hunting and riding. The Kiesler’s took their daughter’s education very seriously and were firm believers of a well-rounded education. In her later years, she said, “I always had good manners and I’m very grateful that I received very good education.”
During her teens, Hedy developed a love of theatre, much to the chagrin of her parents. The Kieslers went often to the opera, but not the theater. Eventually her parents allowed Hedwig Kiesler, barely 16 years old, to study theatre in Berlin, Germany. There she attracted the attention of the director and coach, Max Reinhardt, who was so taken with her beauty that he asked her to play a small part in one of his stage productions, marking Hedy’s first step towards her acting career.
Once back in Vienna, Hedy’s acting career flourished. Hedy was offered her first film role in Georg Jacoby’s production Geld auf der Strasse (1930). She was given role after role in Vienna’s theatres, including the one of Empress Elizabeth in Sissi, all receiving favorable reviews, but it was the leading female role in Gustav Machaty’s controversial Ekstasie (1933) that would put 18-year-old Hedwig Kiesler in the public eye and on the road to stardom.
That same year, Hedy was courted by and married Fritz Mandl, a powerful and well-known weapons manufacturer who, although half-Jewish, had hoped to sell to the new and ever growing fascist political parties in Nazi-Germany and Italy. During their brief marriage, Mandl prevented Hedy from pursuing her acting career, let alone discuss such matters, and insisted that she be by his side at all times. She was a trapped bird in a gilded cage. He required her attendance at and took her to various business meetings where weapon technology, as well as his shady dealings, was discussed. Hedy, being a highly intelligent woman, later used what she learned at these meetings to her advantage; specifically her later work with composer George Antheil in developing the technology for secure military communications.
Fritz Mandl was so totalitarian in his approach to marriage that servants were hired to listen in on Hedy’s personal calls and read all her correspondence. In 1937, the suffocating Hedwig Kiesler Mandl had enough, disguised herself as her maid and snuck out of her gilded cage. Successfully escaping her first marriage, she was on her way Paris, and then to Hollywood.
In Paris, Hedy met Louie B. Meyer of MGM Studios Hollywood who signed her to a studio contract. Meyer convinced Hedy to change her last name in honor of silent film start Barbara La Marr (also labeled as “too beautiful”).
From her name to her look, Hedy’s image was transformed. Typically Hedy was as a beautiful, glamorous woman alongside many big-name male co-stars: her debut with Charles Boyer in Algiers (1938), Spencer Tracy in I take this Woman (1940), and Clark Gable in Boom Town (1940) to name a few. No matter how hard she fought, Hedy was repeatedly cast as the glamorous seductress of exotic origins. She soon realized that making pictures in Hollywood, playing just one type of women would not prove to audiences that she had talent.
To accomplish that, Hedy decided to break her MGM contract to produce her own films and spend time with her family: She married her second husband, scriptwriter Gene Markey in 1939 and adopted one son. Her third husband, British actor John Loder, with whom she had a daughter XY in 1945 and son Anthony in 1947. She produced two films: The Strange Woman (1946) and Dishonored Lady (1947). Despite the fact that The Strange Woman was well received, Hedy was feeling tired and depressed from the intense pressure of creating her own work. The sense of feeling unsure about herself and everyone in her circle, forced her back under contract with whom?.
Hedy’s role in her first color film, Delilah in Samson and Delilah (1949) was considered by most as her best role and it was her biggest box office success. It is said that she was born to be Delilah. Director Cecil B.Demille later confessed he didn’t expect Hedy to be as talented as she had been. He is quoted as saying: “Thank God for Hedy Lamarr!”
During WWII, Hedy joined the Hollywood Canteen, entertaining the troops and selling war bonds. With a record of $7 million in only one evening, Hedy Lamarr was the number one war bonds seller. As an immigrant, Hedy was determined to help her new homeland win the war. In 1941, she met composer George Antheil and in 1942 they patented what they called the Secret Communication System. The original idea, meant to solve the problem of enemies blocking signals from radio-controlled missiles during World War II, involved changing radio frequencies simultaneously to prevent enemies from being able to detect the messages. While the technology of the time prevented the feasibility of the idea at first, the advent of the transistor and its later downsizing made Hedy’s idea very important to both the military and the cell phone industry. The Electronic Frontier Foundation awarded Hedy Lamarr for her contribution. However, neither Lamarr nor George Antheil ever received any payment or deserving reward for their important invention.
Hedy created several more films over the years and ended her film career with The Female Animal (1958) in which she gave a convincing performance as a fading movie star – art imitating life.
In her later years, Hedy was arrested for shoplifting two times and was involved in many other scandals regarding her finances and romances. She painted, but not too much acclaim, and then in the end, had to auction off her personal items in order to make ends meet. She contacted her children and friends only by the telephone. She was married three more times: Ernest Stauffer (1951-1952); W.Howard Lee (1953-1960); Lewis J. Boies (1963-1965).
She passed away in Altamonte Springs, Florida, January 19th, 2000. Her youngest son Anthony Loder followed her last wish and spread her ashes in the Vienna Woods (Austria).