The International Writers
The most beautiful
woman in the world and the godmother of mobile phone and WiFi technology
I have just had the privilege of spending an evening with
the most beautiful woman in the world. I had been watching a Hollywood
film from 1949, the biblical epic Samson and Delilah
starring Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature in the two lead roles.
Hedy Lamarr is quite simply an icon. She was at that time at her peak
and was known as the most beautiful woman in the world. And based on that
film, she was indeed heartbreakingly beautiful. If the god of the Old
Testament had wanted any steamy seductress to test Samsons steely
will, then Hedy Lamarr would have been her. Although everything about
the film now appears rather dated, the theme is timeless. It is an emotively
classic tale of love, deceit, bitter revenge and lasting remorse. And
like the theme of the film, the beauty that Hedy Lamarr exuded on screen,
with her alabaster skin, raven hair and carmine lips, also transcends
Ms Lamarr was part of the "Golden Age of Hollywood," a time
long before the media were in a position to pry into every facet of a
star's life and disenchant the wonderfully enchanting. Seeing Ms Lamarr
in a film screened way back in 1949 was as inspirational as it was saddening.
Part of me yearned to gain a glimpse of an era when movie gods and goddesses
adorned the silver screen a world that had not then been stripped
bare by numbing standardisation, cynicism and the constant pervasive gaze
of the media.
Or is it just the case that the past always seems more enticing simply
because it can never be recaptured? I dont think so. I think that
if I had been born early enough to sit in the cinema in 1949 to watch
Ms Lamarr on screen then what I would have felt would have been quite
different when in 2006 I sit in a theatre to watch the current crop of
Hollywood actresses such as Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock.
Hedy Lamarr was a bankers daughter and was born in 1913 as Hedwig
Eva Kiesler. She died January 19 2000 and has the somewhat dubious record
of being the first of the true Hollywood greats to die this century. Perhaps
she was no fantastic actress. But she didnt have to be. Her perfect
features rarely displayed any emotion. That was part of her appeal. Her
declaration that "any girl can be glamorous - all you have to do
is stand still and be stupid" remains a somewhat accurate description
of her roles in movies such as Algiers, 1938, Ziegfield Girl,
1941 and Tortilla Flat, 1942. But even if all she tended to do
was stand still, she nevertheless succeeded in having supreme presence.
And that presence often had a purpose according to Ms Lamarr: She once
said, "If you use your imagination, you can look at any actress and
see her nude. I hope to make you use your imagination." Ms Lamarr
has inspired millions of imaginations over the years.
She married six times, complaining that most men felt inferior to her
and that some day she wished to meet a superior inferior man. She said
that she enjoyed countless hundreds pursuing her and found the attention
of men very flattering. Ms Lamarr once stated: I like oversexed
people. The few I know were always talented and sensitive. Im oversexed
and Ive never kept that a secret.
rose to notoriety on the basis of a 1932 Czech film, Ecstasy,
in which she did the backstroke nude in a woodland lake and engaged
in cinemas first fake orgasm. Ms Lamarr once said that she
remembered all too well the premiere of Ecstasy: "I watched
my bare bottom bounce across the screen and my mother and father
sat there in shock.
The image of her sun-dappled nakedness won her many admirers, most prominently
munitions millionaire Friz Mandl, a Nazi sympathizer who dealt arms to
Hitler. During her four-year marriage to Mandl, she listened and learned
about advanced weaponry when he took her to all his business meetings
as his showpiece wife. She grew to hate the Nazis as well as her husband
and had to eventually escape from him by fleeing to London with some cash
and jewellery where she met MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer
So how did such an unlikely figure as a Hollywood movie queen come to
invent the basis of modern communications technology? Well, Lamarr had
learned about the latest in weapons technology at her husband's munitions
plants and by accompanying him during his business meetings. When she
met composer George Antheil in 1940 she shared with him what she knew
about the design of remote-controlled torpedoes, which were vulnerable
to detection and jamming.
Lamarr believed the solution was to broadcast the weapons signals
on rapidly changing frequencies. She and Antheil developed a frequency-hopping
system by incorporating the basic technological principles of the piano.
The invention enabled both the transmitting and receiving stations of
a remote-control torpedo to change at intervals. They received a U.S.
Patent in 1942, but their research was largely ignored at the time, with
some government officials being more than a little cynical by possibly
envisioning a piano strapped to a torpedo.
Eventually the invention was used and Antheil later said that the whole
concept was really all down to Lamarr, not him. Her frequency-hopping
idea served as the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology
used in devices ranging from cordless telephones to WiFi Internet connections.
In 1997, both she and the then deceased Antheil received a pretigious
Electronic Frontier Foundation Award for the invention. Her son collected
the award on her behalf and played an audio recording of Lamarr, who was
then 83, thanking the foundation. That was the first time her voice had
been heard in public for over twenty years.
During her lifetime, she thought that she never received due recognition
for the invention. She was of course right and she never received any
financial remuneration for it either. Georg Misch, the director of the
film Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004), is reported to have said that
in her later years, Lamarr felt that the world owed her something. It
may well have.
In honour of Lamarr, Germany, Austria and Switzerland now celebrate Inventors
Day on November 9, her birthday. The aims of the celebration are
to encourage people to develop their own ideas to bring about a change
for the better and to remind people of forgotten inventors. In the realm
of science, it seems quite fitting that Ms Lamarr has become somewhat
of a role model, particularly for girls and young women.
Lamarr was intelligent, articulate, daring and self-confident and seemed
to have had everything going for her. She packed so much into her life
and said that she could excuse everything but boredom as boring people
don't have to stay that way. Lamarr was always a sworn enemy of convention,
despising the conventional in anything, even the arts. The secret of life,
according to Hedy Lamarr, was to get involved, to try everything, to join
everything and to meet everybody. Her attitude to death mirrored her attitude
toward life. She once said that she didnt fear death because she
didnt fear anything she didnt understand.
As her looks began to fade in the 1950s, she was offered fewer and fewer
roles. But she said she stopped getting high-profile jobs because she
wouldn't sleep with a film executive to get ahead. In a 1970 interview
she said that her problem was being a hell of a nice dame. In the same
interview she went on to say that the most horrible whores are famous
and she did what she did for love whereas the others did it for money:
she loved the job first and foremost and the money took care of itself.
Her 1999 statement showed that she had a firm grasp of reality and priorities,
"Films have a certain place in a certain time period, technology
is forever no doubt having in mind the lasting impact of
her invention, the spread spectrum. Her beauty also had a certain place
in time but during her somewhat lonely, post-stardom days she sought to
patch her fading looks with too many plastic surgery operations and became
Hedy Lamarr once said that after a taste of stardom, everything else is
poverty and that to be a star is to own the world and all the people in
it. It was reported that she kept out of the public eye later in life
because she didnt want people to see her old and frail. So it would
be easy to attempt to highlight the ultimate tragedy of Hedy Lamarrs
demise from top actress and most beautiful woman in the world to fading
looks and being a rather reclusive figure in her old age. But I wont.
Ms Lamarr is on record as saying that she always craved to experience
the new, the unknown and the unpredictable and as a result her life definitely
had its twists and turns. But it was not one of tragedy. She was once
quoted as having said that she would like to have Thanks for such
a colourful life engraved on her tombstone. Her life was certainly
Regardless of her difficulties in later lfe, Hedy Lamarr will forever
remain a reminder of a rapidly fading age. She will forever remain a testament
to true beauty. "No man leaves Delilah," she says to Victor
Mature immediately after she had betrayed him. And, based on her looks
and intellect alone, I could never imagine why any man ever would have
ever wanted to.
Hedy Lamarr is one of the true greats of Hollywood and will forever remain
immortalised on film as the most beautiful woman in the world. In an ironic
twist of fate, we may now see just how enchanting she actually was by
even watching her films on our mobile phones. The world in which we live
is a very strange place. And it is indeed a much sadder one without her.
Some stars are inspirational; a few select ones are uniquely so. Hedy
Lamarr is one of them.
Hedy Lamarr was born in Vienna on 9 November 1913. She died in Altamonte
Springs, Florida, on 19 January 2000.
© Colin Todhunter April 2007
See the interview with Hedy's son
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