On this day in 2000, Vienna-born actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr passes away from heart failure in Altamonte Springs, FLA at age 85. Appearing in 35 films, Lamarr was born to a Viennese banker and privately tutored from age 4; by the time she was 10, she was a proficient pianist and dancer and could speak four languages.
At age 16 she enrolled in Max Reinhardt’s Berlin-based dramatic school, and within a year she made her motion picture debut in Geld auf der Strasse (1930; Money on the Street). She achieved both stardom and notoriety in the Czech film Extase (1932; Ecstasy), in which she briefly but tastefully appeared in the nude. Not surprisingly, the film was embraced in Europe and dismissed as smut in the US.
Her film career was halted by her 1933 marriage to Austrian munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl, who not only prohibited her from further stage and screen appearances, but held her virtually captive in their home. It was however, proximity to Mandl’s business that put Lamarr’s mind toward technology and innovation. After escaping Mandl, Louis B. Mayer brought her to Hollywood in 1937, where she appeared in her first English-language film, the classic romantic drama Algiers (1938).
After assisting sometime-boyfriend Howard Hughes with aircraft design, during WW2 Lamarr worked toward the creation of a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. She worked her with friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, to help develop such a device by synchronizing a miniaturized player-piano mechanism with radio signals. They drafted designs for the frequency-hopping system, which they patented, and although not used in action by the US until the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lamarr and Antheil’s work with spread spectrum technology led to the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
Among her remarkable achievements, it is her frank assessment of the male gender which may reveal pure genius: “American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.”