Are you reading this while you’re using a wireless connection? What’s (technological) life without wireless communication these days, right? Whether you like it or not, you are literally linked to the 1930s and 1940s. Let me introduce an Old Hollywood star to you who played a significant part in the (co-)invention of that beloved Wi-Fi wireless connection of the present: Hedy Lamarr.
Let’s enter the time machine. Back in the Golden Hollywood era, it was rare to be a brunette in a (Hollywood) world since it was mostly dominated by blondes. On the other hand, it was easy to stand out when you were not blonde. Hedy Lamarr stood out alright. Hedy Lamarr was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914. In her teenage years she was discovered by an Austian director, who led to Hedy’s appearance in the (for that time-period) very controversial Czech movie Ecstasy in 1933. She was ahead of her times and probably one of the first actresses to do “controversial” nude scenes in a movie. Even the pope interfered back then. You know you’re in trouble when the pope gets involved.
via Kate Gabrielle – flickr.com
In that same year, she got married to munition manufacturer Friedrich Mandl. This marriage would’t lead to the “lived happily ever after life” she imagined. On the contrary, Mandl wasn’t what you would call a person with a nice, sparkling personality. In Lamarr’s own words, Mandl was more of the “extreme controlling” kind. Besides that, she also didn’t like the fact that he sold munition to the Nazis. However, there was a positive outcome of this experience. During her marriage, Lamarr often had to accompany her husband to meetings and events where scientist and military technology experts came together. Those events introduced her to the scientific field where she would later develop skills and co-invent an early technique of wireless communication.
Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy | 1932
In 1937, Lamarr had enough of Mandl and escaped to the US. Here, she met Louis B. Mayer, who saw a promising future for her in Hollywood. However, she did have to change her name or else she would always be known as the Ecstasy lady. Which would actually boost her career if she was living in the present (because nowadays bad publicity is publicity). However, back in 1937 bad publicity meant: Bye, bye Hollywood. So…Hedy officially changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and not long after, she signed a contract with the famous MGM studio in Hollywood. Her first film was a massive success and Hedy immediately became the darkhaired sensation of Hollywood. Hedy’s top years were from end-1930s until 1949. She starred opposite co-stars like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. A few of her most famous movies: Boomtown (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942) and Samson and Delilah (1949) Remember Casablanca? Initially the producer wanted Hedy as the leading lady, but in the end the role went to Ingrid Bergman.
In Samson and Delilah | 1949
In 1942, Hedy didn’t only show her acting skills but also her scientific skills. In that year she and her friend, composer George Antheil, invented a technique for spread spectrum communication and frequency hopping, originally used to protect military messages from being decoded by the Nazis. Back in the days, it was an important development within military communication. Lamarr received a patent for her co-invention. However her idea would not be used in the U.S. until 1962. Years later, this technique would turn out to be forerunner of the Wi-Fi connection that now automatically connects when you get home. Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil were honored for their invention in 1997 and both inducted tot the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Virginia. Hedy also has a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard.
via Isabel Santos Pilot – flickr.com
Hedy with Clark Gable | 1940
In the 1950s Hedy’s popularity and career started to go downhill. Hollywood and its lack of challenging roles started to bore her. She did publish an autobiography in 1966, called Ecstasy and Me. Years later Hedy would sue the publisher of this bestselling autobiography because of errors and fabricated stories. In the 1970s she got offers for several projects, but none of them seemed to interest her. Including her marriage to Mandl, Hedy Lamarr married six times and had six children (including three adopted childeren. She died at the age of 86 on January 19, 2000.
However, she did leave an incredible retro-meets-present legacy. Because what is one of the first things on your mind when you enter a cafe, your friend’s place or even the train? Exactly. Where is that free Wi-Fi connection? So, cheers to this literal retro-meets-present connection!