Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna the 9th of November of 1914, in the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Her parents were Jew, but they converted to Catholicism during the Nazi era to avoid prosecution, and given in marriage to a powerful arms businessman, colaborator of the regime and personal friend of Mussolini (this didn’t stop that they finally have to run away from Austria. Note: making pacts with the nazis will usually go wrong). Friedrich Mandl meant torture for Hedy. She had started her studies in Engineering being only 16, but stopped at 19, starring several films, but becoming famous for Ecstasy, showing the first female nude in the history of cinema (and the first female orgasm too); which made Friedrich infatuated with her. Once married, he forbade her to ever leave their home, and try to buy all the copies of Ecstasy.
But Hedy wasn’t going to accept this life of subservience, hired a maid that look alike her, spent some time studying her movements and, finally, she dressed up as the maid and run away as if she was the star of one of her films. During her captivity she finished her studies in Engineering and learned everything she could about weapons technology from her husband’s companies, knowledge that she later shared with the United States Arm to help them fight against the nazism she hated so much.
Her first stop was Paris, where she met a businessman from Metro who offered her a job in Hollywood, and changed her name to Hedy Lamarr. She sold her jewelry and bought a ticket to the USA. Once there, she collaborated with the authorities sharing all her knowledge. Together with George Antheil they designed a communication system so that torpedoes were undetectable, and they assigned the patent to the US Army, who refused to use it. However, once finished the term of said patent, they took the invention, repatented it and used it during the Cuban missiles crisis. Finally, this invention was used to implement WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth technologies. Hedy only got recognition for this many years later, when she had partially lost her mind.
Her career as an actress didn’t go very far. All the roles she got were as bimbo girl, since she was so pretty, roles that she hatred. Until 1950 she only had a big hit with Samson and Delilah. Finally she left Hollywood, tired of this situation.
During the war she tried to help the Army, but they only wanted her to raise funds, since they considered here more useful for her beauty than for her intelligence and proved knowledge.
Despite all these inconveniences, she created several new inventions, such as an improved system for traffic lights that we still use nowadays, or the shape of the war biplanes making them much more aerodynamic.
In the 60s a biography she didn’t agree with was published. It was based on interviews she had done, and it only talked about her numerous love affairs. This book finished with her already low popularity. It’s sad that something that would have been considered a success in a man ended with the little love that she still got from the public.
Hedy ended alone, in bankruptcy, addicted to several substances and without recognition for her discoveries. Her last years were spent in an ostracism she didn’t deserve. She died the 19th of January of 2000 in Florida. Her ashes rest in Vienna.
The 9th of November we celebrate Inventor’s Day for being the day of Hedy’s birthday.