Hedy Lamarr

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“Any girl can look glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”

Hedy Lamarr was an extraordinary woman who made a ground-breaking impact on the world during her life in the 1900s. She is most certainly best known for the remarkable impact she made in her earlier career as an actress, thriving between the 1930s and 1950s. However, Lamarr is also recognized for her later career and discoveries as an inventor, having created a communications system that was originally designed to assist the U.S. during World War II. With this, she proved the world wrong in the widespread belief that women should be judged based on their “beauty”. Hedy’s positive qualities as a person have resulted in an enormous shift in the ways of the world, and her actions have placed a permanent spotlight on her incredible life.

Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was born in Austria on November 9, 1914. Lamarr’s early life consisted of great influence from both her mother and father, who each had a major role to play in their daughter’s later careers. Even from a young age, Hedy was fascinated by the world of invention, and her brilliant mind was greatly kindled by her father, Emil Kiesler. Hedy later shared that she and her father often took long walks together outside, all the while daughter listening intently as father would explain the inner-workings of various machinery. Hedy could constantly be seen taking apart her music box and other objects, tinkering with the insides before putting it all back together. Meanwhile, Lamarr’s mother, Trude, introduced her daughter to the arts, being a concert pianist herself. Acting quickly became another one of Hedy’s more prominent passions, and her natural beauty served as a benefit in the competitive industry. She began to pursue her career as an actress, setting aside her other, perceived slightly “unladylike” interests in invention.

In 1933, Hedy’s first major film was released, and although its content was controversial, this set the young girl off on what turned out to be an extraordinary journey. Lamarr fled to the United States after the end of her first unhappy marriage. She signed a contract with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio in Hollywood, and it is here that the young girl changed her name to Hedy Lamarr, hoping to gain a fresh start. It wasn’t long before Lamarr gained recognition for her outstanding acting ability. She rapidly became an MGM star, and carried on the title of one of Hollywood’s leading ladies throughout the 1930s and 40s. Though Hedy never forgot her passion for invention.

During the peak of her career in 1942, Lamarr and her friend, composer George Antheil, invented a communications system that was, unbeknownst to the world at the time, the base of what has today turned into our wireless systems such as wifi, bluetooth, and cellular devices. The duo’s “Secret Communications System” was originally created as a way to keep enemies from decoding messages during the Second World War by changing radio frequencies. Despite what was a tremendous advancement in the world of technology, Hedy’s “frequency hopping” gained little to no recognition. It wasn’t until decades later that the significance of Lamarr and Antheil’s invention was finally acknowledged.

In 1997, long after Lamarr’s acting career had come to an end, she and George were honoured with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pioneer award. As well, Hedy Lamarr became the first woman to receive the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. These awards do not make Hedy Lamarr the eminent person she is considered, however they clearly reflect her accomplishments.

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At first, what drew me to this extraordinary woman named Hedy Lamarr was the impact she’d made in the film and acting industry. Having a passion for acting myself, Lamarr seemed the perfect eminent person for me to conduct research on. I didn’t know then how much else we had in common.

I am able to relate to Hedy Lamarr as far back as childhood. Although time and geography separate our connections, I too am growing up with encouragement from both parents, sharing passions and interests with Hedy that are quite similar. Apart from both of our loves for acting, I also discovered with greater research that I share Hedy’s other major interest in the inner-workings of machinery, and the desire to know how things work.

Although I most likely will not go on to pursue acting professionally, I strive to be more like Hedy as a character in the future. Her apparent perseverance to accomplish her dreams is something truly inspiring. I admire this woman’s certainty and independence, as she went back on what was perceived “proper” for a woman, to pursue her passion for invention. This confidence is what I aspire to obtain, hopefully during my journey through TALONS.

What amazes me about Hedy Lamarr, apart from her countless accomplishments, is that she was never in it for the fame or money. Her natural beauty dubbed her one of the most gorgeous of Hollywood’s leading ladies, however this “compliment” greatly upset her. Hedy’s belief that her beauty was unimportant, and encouraged people to look not just at the pretty face, but at the person inside. This is something highly uncommon for people who’ve obtained the amount of fame as Hedy Lamarr has, especially in the time that Hedy was at her peak. This “brains before beauty” belief is yet another reason why I admire Hedy Lamarr as much as I do.

Hedy and I seem very similar, with very few and minor barriers that may prevent our connections. These similarities are outlined in the table below.

Hedy Lamarr, like any notable figure, was faced with endless obstacles in order to move towards her achievements. Apart from the tangible impact she made in the acting and inventing industries, Hedy also made an extraordinary step in the direction of equal women’s rights, and can therefore be considered a feminist as well. She stood up for what she believed in, however this did not come easily. Hedy first went into acting because an invention career for a woman at the time was not a stable job, and it was years before Hedy could put her brilliant mind to use. Although she wanted to carry out her dream and her passion, she feared the unstableness and judgement of others, being merely a young girl when she began acting. Later on, after temporarily pushing her passion aside for most of her life, Hedy took it as her responsibility to show people what she could really do, and encouraged other women to do the same. Ultimately, Hedy wanted to do something important with her life, and dedicated herself completely to her second career in inventing.
Although during her life, Hedy Lamarr was recognized for her pretty face, history will better portray her as someone with a brilliant idea and a strong sense of certainty in her beliefs.

For my next steps in research, I will gain more information around each of Hedy Lamarr’s careers, before choosing which one I would like to portray as her main source of eminence.

 

Sources

https://www.biography.com/actor/hedy-lamarr

https://www.sfchronicle.com/movies/article/Hollywood-star-Hedy-Lamarr-put-her-brains-before-11338484.php

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/hedy-lamarrs-forgotten-frustrated-career-as-a-wartime-inventor

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedy_Lamarr