“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand there and look stupid.”—Hedy Lamarr
That’s not very nice, but if anyone had the right to say so, it was Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr was the perfect combination of beauty and brains: by day, she was a glamorous movie star, by night, the mastermind of a scientific revolution. With her collaborator, George Antheil, Lamarr developed groundbreaking technology that led to wi-fi.
Heck, Factinate mightn’t exist if not for her—shudder to think! Here are 42 inventive facts about Hollywood’s brilliant bombshell, Hedy Lamarr.
Hedy Lamarr Facts
1. Early Convert
Hedy Lamarr first entered the world as Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler. Born in Vienna, Austria on November 9, 1914, Lamarr was the only child of Emil, a bank director, and Gertrude, a pianist. Though the Kieslers were ethnically Jewish, Gertrude converted to Catholicism and raised her daughter as a Christian. (However, when Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany, Gertrude petitioned to become a naturalized American citizen, claiming her Jewish ancestry.)
2. Teen Idol
Enamored with film from an early age, Lamarr began taking acting classes, but dropped out when she landed a gig as a script girl at Austria’s largest film company, Sascha-Film. She quickly transitioned into extra roles, then small speaking parts. Eventually, she caught the attention of a German producer who took her to Berlin. Here, Lamarr landed her first major role, starring alongside a young Peter Lorre in The Trunks of Mr. O.F.
3. Headline Nudes
Lamarr became a sensation in 1933 with her turn in Ecstasy. Though fairly tame by modern standards, the film caused scandals around the world for its nude sex scenes. Ecstasy was the very first non-pornographic film to depict not just a sex scene, but a female orgasm. The scandal intensified when reporters discovered that Lamarr was only 17 when the movie was filmed.
Ecstasy was banned in the United States, denounced by the Pope himself, and in time, forbidden by Hitler.
4. What a Prick!
There is a strange story behind Lamarr’s “O-face” during Ecstasy’s controversial sex scene. Apparently, the film’s director poked Lamarr in her rear end with a pin to achieve the desired look.
5. Flirting with Fascists
Despite her Jewish heritage, Lamarr married a fascist in 1933 when she was just 19 years old. Friedrich “Fritz” Mandl, a munitions manufacturer, was one of the richest men in Austria. Mandl’s father was Jewish, but his mother was Catholic, leading Mandl to convert to Catholicism. While Lamarr had already been raised Christian, this wasn’t enough for Mandl. When they married, he demanded that Lamarr officially convert.
It may go without saying that Lamarr’s parents did not approve of the match.
6. My Best Friend’s Girl
Among his many other faults, Mandl was intensely jealous. After his marriage to Lamarr, he travelled Europe, buying and destroying every copy of Ecstasy that he could find. Despite his vigorous efforts (he’s reported to have spent modern-day millions on his quest to eliminate the movie), Mandl failed. For example, even his friends (like Benito Mussolini) refused to part with their copies. After all this time, you can still watch the movie today. Take that, Mandl.
7. A Clean Getaway
Eventually, Mandl’s jealous, controlling behavior became too much for young Lamarr. When enough was enough, the actress fled Austria by using her skills as a performer. Lamarr claims that she disguised herself as a maid and escaped to Paris, where she finally got a divorce from her awful first husband. Other sources insist that Lamarr did something that’s maybe even more impressive: the story goes that Lamarr wore all of her expensive jewels to a dinner event, and then ran off into the night.
8. Seeing the Future
It’s shocking, but it turns out that being married to a Fascist isn’t actually very nice. The wedding to Mandl was a bust by every measure but at the the very least, Lamarr enjoyed one silver lining. Because he was so jealous, Mandl insisted that Lamarr accompany him to business meetings. In other words, Lamarr spent many hours listening to some of Europe’s top scientists discuss cutting edge applied science. As a chemistry enthusiast, Lamarr must have loved this part of her otherwise horrible marriage.
9. Flipping Her ’wig
Lamarr eventually turned up in Hollywood, where the lingering notoriety of Ecstasy won her a $500-a-week contract with MGM Studios. The first order of Hollywood Hedy’s business? Change her name. Hedwig Kiesler became Hedy Lamarr. Louis B. Mayer’s wife suggested the name as an homage to the silent film actress Barbara La Marr.
10. Coming to America
Lamarr’s arrival in America was a happy occasion. Unfortunately, it happened around the same time that tragedy struck Austria. The Nazis annexed the country, leaving Lamarr’s Jewish mother in a dangerous position (Lamarr’s father died three years earlier). Fearing for her mother’s safety, Lamarr used her movie earnings to help her mother immigrate to the United States.
11. She Was Breathtaking
Lamarr’s first American film was 1938’s Algiers, where the young actress starred opposite Charles Boyer. Since the United States banned Ecstasy, her biggest role to date, American audiences thought of Lamarr as a completely fresh face—and what a face it was. According to some reports, when Lamarr first appeared onscreen, audiences actually gasped at her jaw-dropping beauty.
12. Here’s Looking at You, Kid
Lamarr’s role in Algiers inspired a more iconic film, Casablanca. Casting directors considered Lamarr for the role of Ilsa, but because Hollywood ran on a studio system, she could not get permission from MGM to star in a Warner Brothers’ production. The role went, instead, to Ingrid Bergman. Lamarr called it one of the biggest disappointments of her career.
13. Boom or Bust
Lamarr made several movies after Algiers, but none of them fared well with critics or audiences. It took until 1940 for her to enjoy another hit. That was the year that Lamarr appeared in Boom Town alongside Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. Although she doesn’t appear onscreen until the film is half finished, Lamarr still received lead billing.
14. The End of the Slump
Lamarr’s luck changed with the success of Boom Town. Her next few films—especially Tortilla Flat (a romantic comedy with her Boom Town co-star Spencer Tracy) and White Cargo (another controversial movie for Lamarr, this time because her character was half Egyptian and half Portuguese but embarked on romantic relationships with the film’s white male leads)—were major hits.
15. Something’s Not Write
Lamarr seldom signed autographs for a strange reason. She was shy, and didn’t understand why anyone would want such a thing.
16. Not Just a Pretty Face
Despite her rising star, Lamarr grew increasingly frustrated by being typecast as an exotic beauty with few lines and little to do onscreen. She tried to inject some excitement into her life by joining the National Inventor’s Council, a wartime government department that assessed inventions that might have military applications. To Lamarr’s frustration, the Council denied her application.
17. Can I Tell You a Secret?
Little did the National Inventor’s Council know that Lamarr, the Hollywood actress, was working on an invention that would revolutionize communication technology. Inspired by the rolls used by player pianos, Lamarr and a collaborator, a composer named George Antheil, began working with something they called a “Secret Communication System.”
18. Outsmarting the Enemy
Lamarr heard that the Navy had a major problem. Their radio-controlled torpedoes could be hacked by the enemy, then jammed and set off course. She believed that by creating a signal that quickly hopped from one frequency to another, such jamming could be avoided. If the enemy could only hold onto the signal for a moment before it hopped onto a different frequency, maybe they’d still be able to hack part of it, but they’d never be able to ruin the whole message.
This came to be known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum, and would later be used to developed all kinds of wireless communication technology. What modern day technology uses spread spectrum, you ask? Bluetooth, GPS, and wi-fi. Now that’s a legacy.
19. The Patent
Lamarr and Antheil failed to actually produce a device that could effectively jump frequencies, but the idea was enough to secure a patent. In 1942, the US Patent Office granted “Hedy Kiesler Markey” Patent 2.292.387. However, Lamarr’s patent was confiscated because of prejudice against Austrian immigrants, who were often considered to be enemy aliens. In the end, she didn’t receive a penny for her incredible invention, even though it would be worth around $30 billion today.
20. Bond, War Bond
The US Government dismissed Lamarr’s invention, telling her that she’d be of more use to them if she used her fame to sell war bonds. The Navy would not put frequency hopping into practice until the 1960s.
21. The World’s Most Profitable Kissing Booth
Despite the insult, Lamarr took the government’s advice to heart and went on tour to promote war bonds. She worked a routine with a sailor named Eddie Rhodes: at every stop on the tour, Lamarr would pick a random sailor—Rhodes—from the crowd. Lamarr would promise to give the young sailor a kiss if everyone in the audience bought a war bond. Lamarr and Rhodes raised the equivalent of $340 million doing this little act.
22. Captain Marvellous
Frequency hopping wasn’t Lamarr’s only invention. She created an improved version of the spotlight and famously gave Howard Hughes tips on how to design his airplanes. Hughes, who Lamarr dated briefly, gave her full access to his team of scientists and engineers for her own projects, but it was Lamarr’s research into birds and fish that inspired her most important tip.
She showed Hughes that the fastest birds and the fastest fish shared certain shapes when they lunged and moved. At Lamarr’s urging, Hughes made his planes less square and more streamlined, allowing them to go higher, further, faster.
23. Soda Stream, 1940s Edition
Hughes gave Lamarr two chemists to assist her with a project. In the end, she invented a tablet that turned water into carbonated drinks, taking special pride in a cube that transformed a regular cup of H2O into Coca Cola. The starlet found inspiration in stories from soldiers stationed overseas. They desperately missed home, so Lamarr figured out a way for them to taste America, even while abroad.
24. Better as Business Partners
Hedy Lamarr described Howard Hughes as “the worst lover she ever had.” But everyone loves a man who collects his own urine!
25. Don’t Make a Big Production Out of It
Lamarr left MGM in 1945 and struck out on her own. She founded her own production company with producer Jack Chertok. Unfortunately, their films frequently went over budget and never actually turned a profit. Lamarr eventually returned to MGM. Womp womp.
26. Mighty Samson
After the war, Lamarr came out strong with Samson and Delilah. Critics adored the 1949 film and considered it to be Lamarr’s best work. Lamarr agreed. Out of all her movies, she called it her personal favorite. Co-star Victor Mature also paid Lamarr a sweet compliment when the production team squabbled over whether Samson should open or close his eyes when kissing Delilah. When the crew couldn’t decide, Mature had he last word, saying “a fellow would be a chump to close his eyes” when kissing Lamarr.
27. Bed Bugs
Lamarr’s excellent performance came in spite of illness. The actress later claimed that during the filming of one of Samson and Delilah’s most memorable scenes, when Delilah receives her reward for betraying Samson, she had a 104-degree fever. Director Cecil B. DeMille had to literally drag her out of bed. I mean, it probably helped her look extra miserable about the betrayal?
28. All Washed Up
Lamarr’s film career declined after Samson and Delilah. She appeared in a series of flops, including Loves of Three Queens, in which she played three separate roles. By 1958, she was essentially out of the movie business. Her last movie was a thriller called The Female Animal. Lamarr played a woman who falls for a man named Chris Farley. Hmm.
29. Picture Your Career Dead
Lamarr attempted a comeback in 1966 with Picture Mommy Dead but the project didn’t move ahead with her in the role. Reports vary about why with some saying that Lamarr didn’t show up on the first day of shooting, some insist that she did show up but collapsed from exhaustion, while others claimed that she was dropped from production after a shoplifting incident.
In any case, Zsa Zsa Gabor took the role.
30. Here Comes the Bride, Again
Between 1939 and 1963, Lamarr married five times. She married an author and naval officer named Gene Markey in 1939, but they divorced in 1941. From 1943 to 1947, she was married to the actor John Loder. A 1951 marriage to a Swiss musician named Ted Stauffer lasted a year. She was married to the oilman W. Howard Lee from 1953 until 1960. Lamarr even married her divorce lawyer, Lewis J. Boies, in 1963. After their 1965 divorce, Lamarr gave up on marriage for good.
Hedy Lamarr and Lewis J. Boies
31. Lady on the Town
Outside of her marriages, Lamarr dated Charlie Chaplin and Billy Wilder. She also posed topless for the notorious lesbian photographer Trude Fleischman, leading some critics to speculate that the actress was bisexual. In her contentious autobiography (more on this later), Lamarr claimed and then denied that she had relationships with women and participated in some kinky activities.
32. The High and the Crash
None of Lamarr’s four subsequent marriages were happy but she enjoyed being a mother. Interviewed in the documentary Bombshell, Lamarr’s son Tony and daughter Denise Loder-DeLuca (her children with the English actor John Loder, her third husband), praised her mothering skills. However, Tony admits that her addiction to amphetamines (injected by Max Jacobson, the famous “Dr. Feelgood” to the stars and President Kennedy) caused her to act irrationally.
33. Missing Child
When Lamarr was married to Gene Markey, she adopted a son, James. James was later adopted by Lamarr’s third husband, John Loder. James and his movie star mother had a sudden, mysterious falling out when James was just 12 years old. In the end, the child went to live with another family. Tragically, mother and son never spoke again.
34. Low Bar
Lamarr had two other children with John Loder, Denise and Anthony. Her relationship with her biological children was considerably more positive than her relationship with James. I mean, is it possible to have a worse relationship than shipping your kid to another family and literally never talking to him again because of something he did when he was 12?
35. The Hills Are Lamarr’s
Lamarr owned the mansion that stood in as the Von Trapp home in The Sound of Music.
36. What Goes Around, Comes Around
Lamarr released an autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, in 1966. She sued the publisher shortly thereafter, alleging that many details were invented by ghostwriter Leo Guild and included without her permission. The case took an even more bizarre turn a year later, when Lamarr herself was sued by a magazine writer, who claimed that large sections of the book were plagiarized from his articles.
37. Back in the Saddle
In 1974, Mel Brooks released his parody western Blazing Saddles. The name of the movie’s (male) villain, Hedley Lamarr, was a deliberate play on the name of the former star, with the joke being that everyone irritates Hedley by calling him “Hedy.” Apparently, Lamarr didn’t find it funny. She sued Warner Brothers for $10 million. The company settled out of court for a undisclosed sum of money and apologized for “almost using [her] name.”
38. Win, Lose, or DRAW
The Blazing Saddles case was just one example of a pattern of spurious lawsuits launched by Lamarr in her later years. In 1996, she sued software company Corel for using an image from one of her films on the packaging for their CorelDRAW software; Corel countered that she did not own the rights to the film, and gave her a small sum to basically go away.
39. Cat Lady
When Anne Hathaway took on the role of Catwoman for the 2012 Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, she based her performance on Hedy Lamarr. Hathaway was under the impression that Lamarr served as the model for the feline femme fatale. However, Hathaway seems to be mistaken: according to Batman creator Bob Kane, Catwoman was actually inspired by another film starlet, Jean Harlow.
But do you remember that legend about Lamarr wearing all her jewels to dinner, then running off to get a divorce from her first husband? Sounds like a major Catwoman move, right?
40. Repeat Offender
That’s not to say that Lamarr didn’t have her own small streak of villainy. Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting in 1966. Lamarr was found not guilty, but she was picked up for shoplifting again in 1991. This time Lamarr was sentenced to one year of probation.
41. Nice to be Appreciated
Lamarr never won an Oscar. She was never even nominated. But she was the first woman to win “the Oscars of Inventing,” the so-called Bulbie award, when she was honored at the 1997 Invention Convention. In 2014, Lamarr was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
42. Life in Plastic, Not Fantastic
While Lamarr lived long enough to see her innovation recognized, her film career had long since dried up and she became reclusive. One devastating reason for Lamarr’s withdrawal was her faded beauty. Lamarr was once the world’s most gorgeous woman (legends say that Disney animators based Snow White on her facial features) but after some botched plastic surgeries, she became slightly disfigured and disliked being seen.
43. A Youthful Legacy
Even when Lamarr was under the knife, she needed to innovate. Her plastic surgeons described how Lamarr would come to them with ingenious ideas for lifting, cutting, and pulling skin so that she would appear more youthful. Apparently, surgeons still use some of her ideas to this day.
44. The Most Glamorous Nerd
In the end, Lamarr died a recluse, passing away of natural causes at her Florida home on January 19, 2000. Her ashes were scattered in Vienna. In recent years, Lamarr has been remembered not just for her Hollywood roles but her scientific innovations, with a 2017 documentary called Bombshell emphasizing her passion for chemistry.
45. The Prodigal Son
After Lamarr’s death, James Lamarr Loder sued Lamarr’s other children for control of $3.3 million. Loder was left out of Lamarr’s will and by most accounts had no contact with his adoptive mother since their falling out, 50 years earlier.
In 2001, James Lamarr Loder dropped a bombshell: he was not adopted. A birth certificate proved that he was, in fact, the biological son of Lamarr and John Loder. James was born out of wedlock while Lamarr was still married to Gene Markey, with the actress pretending that he was adopted instead. In the end, Loder’s suit was settled for $50,000.