Hedy Lamarr
Associated Press
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Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

Born Hedwig Kiesler on Nov. 9, 1913 in Vienna, Austria
Died Jan. 19, 2000 in Orlando, FL

Hedy Lamarr was a raven-haired screen siren known for exceptional beauty.

In her heyday, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, she starred in 25 films, including "Algiers" with Charles Boyer, "Comrade X" and "Boomtown" with Clark Gable, "Tortilla Flat" with Spencer Tracy and John Garfield, and her greatest commercial success and first Technicolor film, "Samson and Delilah" with Victor Mature.

Whatever critics said about her acting or the public about her notoriety, her beauty was universally praised.

"My face has been my misfortune," she wrote in her 1966 autobiography, "Ecstasy and Me." "It has attracted six unsuccessful marriage partners. It has attracted all the wrong people into my boudoir and brought me tragedy and heartache for five decades. My face is a mask I cannot remove. I must always live with it. I curse it."

Unimpressed with roles in which she was required only to look pretty, Lamarr was often quoted as saying: "Any girl can be glamorous; all you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

Far from stupid, she and composer George Antheil shared a patent issued in 1942 for inventing a technological system they called "frequency hopping." It is still used in military communications.

Louis B. Mayer, who met her in London and signed her to a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during their Atlantic Ocean crossing, gave her the name that was to become famous. She was born Hedwig Kiesler.

She arrived in Hollywood in late 1937, brushed up on her English and was soon known as an exquisitely beautiful "exotic," a mysterious foreigner who could play many ethnic roles.

Her first film, "Algiers," according to then-Times Hollywood columnist Donald Hough, "established her as the No. 1 desert-island choice of the average American male." But she continued to fight for more serious parts, such as "Comrade X" in 1940.

In addition to the six marriages, there were affairs along the way, with women as well as men.

"Yes, occasionally I have gone for a woman," Lamarr wrote in her autobiography. "But not for love, only excitement and thrill. I have always preferred men to women."

"In a way, I really had a nymphomania," she reflected in her book. "I don't believe man was made for one woman and woman for one man."

Lamarr appeared to live her life on her own terms and without regret. She often joked about such flaws as her inability to choose good scripts. She had turned down "Casablanca," for example, which became a hit for Ingrid Bergman.

"When I die," Lamarr once told a friend, summing up her devil-may-care life, "I want on my gravestone: 'Thank you very much for a colorful life.' "

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    One thought about Hedy Lamarr

    Your description of Hedy Lamar's patent was incomplete. Yes, she has a patent for spread spectrum technology. But you also should mention that the technology she helped invent was the forerunner of code division multiple access technology. CDMA is the basis for all digital phone communications (and all mobile TV) in the U.S. Ask Verizon and Sprint. Thanks, Hedy.

    — Gary Nash
    March 8, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.

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