Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9th, 1914 in Vienna, Austria to Emil Kiesler, a director of the Bank of Vienna and Getrude Kiesler, a concert pianist. After Hedy was born, her parents decided not to have any more children and Hedy alone got all of their love and attention. Her mother Gertrude “Trudi” gave up her concert pianist career just to take good care of Hedy, and her father, although being very busy as a director, often found hours to take long walks with his little girl in Vienna, English countryside, the Irish lake districts, the Swiss Alps, the Paris boulevards, or sitting with her by the library fire telling fairy tales. As long as Hedy could remember, she was growing up wanting nothing more than what she already had. Her family was very wealthy, and love was always around.
Hedy started her education at the age of four. She had private tutors teaching her several European languages, she took ballet and piano lessons, and learned to play sports. Hedy’s parents had put their daughter’s education in the first priority. As a young child, she was already very well-rounded. She not only knew some languages, but also was taught carefully to play music, do arts and especially to have nice manners. In her later years, she said, “I always had good manners and I’m very grateful that I received very good education.”
Hedy soon developed a love for the theater without the knowing of her parents. The Kieslers went often to the opera, but not the theater. She later successfully persuaded her parents to let her study in Berlin. One day, when sneaking into a rehearsal of Max Reinhardt’s dramatic school, she immediately attracted his attention. Reinhardt was so much impressed with her beauty that he asked her to play a small part in one of his stage productions, which marked Hedy’s first step entering the theater and the cinema career. However, the time she spent in Berlin did not go smoothly as planned. She suffered from terrible homesickness and unwillingly got into several unexpected romances. After all the headaches and heartaches caused by many of her young admirers, Hedy decided to go back home in Vienna.
In Vienna, she continued pursuing her acting career. She appeared for the first time on screen in director Georg Jacoby’s production Geld auf der Strasse (1930), playing a small role of a young girl in a night club. She was not yet 17 at the time. Her stage career also was blooming. She appeared in various stage productions in Vienna, from Sissi to Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Her theater education gained from Berlin seemed to be paid off very well. All her stage performances received good reviews from the critics. During the years 1931 – 1932, Hedy made more films. They were Die Blumenfrau von Lindenau (1931), Die Koffer des Herrn O.F (1931) and Man braucht kein Geld (1932). However, it was the year of 1933 that marked one of the biggest milestones in her career. Hedy was then almost 18 when she met director Gustav Machaty. He later came to ask her to play the main female character in his next movie Symphonie Der Liebe or Ekstase. She agreed to do the film without knowing that it would be the most controversial film she would ever have been in.
In the same year, Hedy married Fritz Mandl, a famous weapon manufacturer who had done some business with Adolf Hitler. During their marriage, Mandl prevented Hedy from pursuing her acting career and instead, took her to various meetings with famous technicians and his business partners. Intelligent by nature, Hedy, during these meetings, gathered for herself a certain amount of technology knowledge which she used later during the war to co-invent frequency hopping technique. Fritz Mandl’s business-like and totalitarian manner even in marriage life resulted in his young wife’s escape from him by disguising as her maid to sneak out of the well guarded castle. Hedy took an early train to get out of Vienna soon after. In 1937, Hedy had successfully escaped from her first husband. She reached the border of France and would soon be on her way to Hollywood.
Glamorous Hollywood Years:
In London, Hedy met Louis B. Mayer, who signed her under an MGM contract. He changed her name to Hedy Lamarr in honor of his favorite silent film star, Barbara LaMarr. One of the first thing Louis B. Mayer soon found about Hedy was that she was difficult to work with. She was a true rebel and always ready to fight back if she felt his doings did not do her any favor. Hedy’s image was completely changed during her Hollywood time. They created her unique hairstyle (parting in the middle) and made her a goddess. She was cast, most of the time as a beautiful, glamorous woman alongside many big names at the time: with Charles Boyer in her Hollywood debut Algiers (1938), Spencer Tracy in I take this Woman (1940), Clark Gable in Boom Town (1940) and Comrade X (1940), Jimmy Stewart in Come Live With Me (1941), Lana Turner and Judy Garland in Ziegfeld Girl (1941), John Garfield in Tortilla Flat (1942), William Powell in Crossroads (1942) and The Heavenly Body (1944)…
Hedy was not given many exciting materials, despite her fighting for them. She soon realized that doing pictures in Hollywood, playing just one type of women would not prove to the audiences that she could actually act. Her attempt to change the glamorous image was shown in White Cargo (1942). Even though knowing that this would not be a good picture, she could not resist accepting it, as she thought it had so much sex needed to eradicate her usual glamour image. However, the unsuccessful outcomes of many of her pictures along with the complexity of her personal life drove Hedy out of of Hollywood. She was seeking for another place to make films. It was in Hollywood that she met her second husband, scriptwriter Gene Markey, to whom she married in 1939 after their vacation to Mexico together (which Mayer called an “elopement”). The marriage lasted around two years, enough time for Hedy to adopt a baby boy, James. She married again in 1943 to British actor John Loder and gave birth to her first child – daughter Denish Loder in 1945.
Although her performance as Marvin Mlies in H.M.Pulham, Esq (1941) is considered by most fans and critics as her best one, her biggest box office success was Samson and Delilah (1949) which was also her first color movie. People say she was born to be Delilah and no one could make a better Delilah than her. Director Cecil B.Demille later confessed he didn’t expect Hedy to be that good as an actress she turned out to be. He said, “Thank God for Hedy Lamarr.”
Hedy broke the contract with MGM to have the flexibility to produce her own films and time to spend with her family. She did not want to work everyday from early morning until mid-night now that she had a daughter. She produced two films during the time: The Strange Woman (1946) and Dishonored Lady (1947). Despite the fact that The Strange Woman was very well received and Hedy gave probably one of her best performances in it, she felt tired and depressed under the pressure of making films all by her own. She realized how demanding she was, and how unsure she was about herself and everyone around her. She soon went back under contract.
Invention during Wartime:
Just like many other actresses at the time, Hedy joined the Hollywood Canteen, entertaining the troops and selling war bonds. She was announced as the war bonds best seller, with the record of $7 million in only one evening. She did not use only her star status to help war effort, but also her technology talents. In 1941, she met musician George Antheil and together they invented the idea of a Secret Communication System, which was the early form of frequency hopping. They got US. Patent no. 2,292,387 in 1942. Although the invention was not feasible due to lack of mechanical technology at the time, it did play an important role in the US.’s blockade of Cuba in 1962, and much later on, served as modern spread-spectrum communication technology used in WiFi network connections and wireless telephone. Hedy Lamarr was given an award for her contribution by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil never received any payment or deserving reward for their important invention.
Last Years of Film Career:
Among Hedy’s last film attempts in Hollywood, except for Samson and Delilah (1949) which became her most successful film at the box office, her other films were not much of a success. Hedy filmed in total only 4 films in color: Samson and Delilah (1949), Copper Canyon (1950), The Loves of Three Queens (1954), and The Story of Mankind (1957). Copper Canyon (1950) turned out to be a very dull movie in which Hedy herself felt she looked out of place in Southern bell makeup and dresses. The movie is the only western she made. The Loves of three Queens (1954) was very limitedly released and rarely is available in even VHS. But at the age of 40 during filming the film, Hedy still looked extraordinarily beautiful in color. Her last color movie is The Story of Mankind (1957) in which she played Joan of Arc. This movie, even with the participation of many big stars, didn’t turn into a well received one. Hedy ended her film career with The Female Animal (1958) in which she gave a pretty convincing performance as a fading movie star, just like herself in real life.
Marriages and Children:
Hedy had six husbands and three children (one adopted son). She married her first husband, Friedrich Mandl in 1933 and the marriage lasted around 4 years until she escaped from him to Hollywood. Their political ideals were of the complete opposites. Hedy met her second husband Gene Markey in Hollywood. She found a lot of fun talking to him and when he suggested going away from work for a day to Mexico, she gladly accepted. Mayer was so angry with her and considered this an “elopement”. This and the fact that she was having several flops at the box office certainly worked against her career. Nevertheless, the two got married in 1939, shortly after their Mexican trip together. They adopted a son, James Markey. Their marriage lasted almost 2 years until Hedy filed for a divorce. Both Hedy and Gene were trying to save their marriage but they knew that it did not work out anymore, mostly because Gene was so jealous of how Hedy paid too much attention to James. They divorced in 1941. When Bette Davis opened the Hollywood Canteen, she called Hedy and asked if she could come to help in the kitchen and entertain the troop. Hedy was glad to. The Hollywood Canteen was where she met her third husband, John Loder, in the kitchen where they were both washing dishes. They went out often together and John was always the one to took Hedy home from the Canteen. They married in 1943 and had two children, Denise was born in 1945 and Tony in 1947. When Hedy was pregnant with Tony, she again filed for a divorce, with the reason that John did not care enough about her and her pregnancy. She said he sometimes fell asleep during their talks. Hedy got her divorce and custody to both Denise and Anthony in 1947. Her other husbands were Ernest Stauffer (married. 1951-1952); W.Howard Lee (married. 1953-1960); Lewis J. Boies (married. 1963-1965).
Later Years and Death:
Hedy once said,“After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty.” After making her last film The Female Animal (1958), she started entering the “everything else” of her life. She stopped working and lost most of her money on many scandals, including two shoplifting arrests. Her romances were even more fruitlessly complicated. Hedy spent most of her time painting, and although later she was a little bit recognized for her artistic talent, it could not help much in paying off all her enormous bills. Later she sold off all her belongings in an auction. During the last years of her life, she became reclusive. She contacted with her children and friends only by the telephone. In 1997, she was given the prestigious Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Her son Tony accepted the award for her. It was rather late, but Hedy only said “It’s about time”. She died in Altamonte Springs, Florida on January 19th, 2000. According to her wish, her son Anthony Loder spreaded her ashes in the Vienna Woods (Austria).