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Lamarr, Hedy

Lamarr, Hedy
▪ 2001
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler 
      Austrian-born American actress (b. Nov. 9, 1913, Vienna, Austria—d. Jan. 19, 2000, Orlando, Fla.), possessed such a combination of exotic glamour and sex appeal that she was labeled the movie world's most beautiful woman. Although she appeared opposite many of Hollywood's most famous male stars, her films were not highly regarded, and she never came to be considered to have much acting ability; she was remembered instead for her looks and her romantic liaisons, which included six marriages and divorces. Lamarr appeared in a few German-language films and stage productions before the Czech film Extase (1933; Ecstasy), with her steamy love scene and nude swimming sequence, gained her international notoriety after being denounced by the pope and banned in many countries. She moved to the U.S. in 1937 and made her Hollywood debut the following year in Algiers. Although that film was a hit, Lamarr's roles in such films as Lady of the Tropics (1939), I Take This Woman (1940), Boom Town (1940), and White Cargo (1942) were not well received. The performance she rated her best came in Tortilla Flat (1942), but it too failed to become a hit. Lamarr's femme fatale image finally found an appropriate vehicle in Samson and Delilah (1949), and it became her biggest box-office triumph, but she was unable to repeat that success in the films that followed, which included Copper Canyon (1950) and My Favorite Spy (1951). Her last film, The Female Animal, was released in 1958. Lamarr garnered headlines twice in her later life, in 1966 and 1991, when she was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting. She was cleared of the charges in both incidents. A lesser-known side of Lamarr was her intelligence; in 1942 she and composer George Antheil were granted a patent for a device that could prevent the jamming of radio signals. The military finally put it to use in 1962. During the Cuban missile crisis, and during the 1980s versions of it found a home in cellular phone technology, but the patent had lapsed in 1959, and Lamarr did not benefit from its application. She was, however, honoured by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1996.

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▪ Austrian actress
original name  Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler 
born November 9, 1913, Vienna, Austria
died January 19, 2000, near Orlando, Florida, U.S.

      glamorous Austrian film star who was often typecast as a provocative femme fatale. Years after her screen career ended, she achieved recognition as a noted inventor of a radio communications device.

      The daughter of a prosperous Viennese banker, Lamarr was privately tutored from age four; 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 (Reinhardt, Max)'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. Her burgeoning 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 also tried unsuccessfully to destroy all existing prints of Extase. After leaving the possessive Mandl, she went to Hollywood in 1937, where she appeared in her first English-language film, the classic romantic drama Algiers (1938).

      Under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1938 to 1945, she displayed her acting skills in such films as H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) and Tortilla Flat (1942). For the most part, however, she was confined to mostly decorative roles, such as that of Tondelayo in White Cargo (1942). Hoping to secure more substantial parts, she set up her own production company in 1946, but within three years she returned to her exotic stock-in-trade in Cecil B. DeMille (DeMille, Cecil B.)'s Samson and Delilah (1949), her most commercially successful film.

      Lamarr once insisted, “Any girl can be glamorous; all you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” That she herself was anything but stupid was unequivocally proven during World War II, when, in collaboration with the avant-garde composer George Antheil (Antheil, George), she invented an electronic device that minimized the jamming of radio signals. Though it was never used in wartime, this device is a component of present-day satellite and cellular phone technology.

      Retiring from movies in 1958 (except for a cameo appearance in Instant Karma, 1990), Lamarr subsequently resurfaced in 1966 and 1991 when she was arrested on, and later cleared of, shoplifting charges; when she sued the collaborators on her 1966 autobiography Ecstasy and Me for misrepresentation; and when she took director Mel Brooks to court for including a character named Hedley Lamarr in his western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974). Married six times (her husbands included screenwriter Gene Markey and actor John Loder), she was living alone at the time of her death.

Additional Reading
Christopher Young, The Films of Hedy Lamarr (1978).

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Universalium. 2010.