"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."
This week on Classic Hotties, we're going way back to the 1930s and 40s - back to old Hollywood, where the silver screen was a literal truth and some of the most legendary and iconic women ever to grace the cinema became beloved symbols of beauty, emulated and admired the world over. Perhaps the most beloved of them all back in the day was the irrepressible Hedy Lamarr.
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria in 1913, young Hedy, as she quickly became known, started her acting career at the age of 17, cutting her teeth as an actress in various German and Czech productions. Something akin to a 1930s version of Emily Blunt, yet with a vim and vigor uniquely her own, Hedy didn't get her big break until 1932, when she starred in what was, for the time, a rather controversial German film called ECSTASY. Exploring the somewhat lurid subject of a young woman, married to an older man, who falls for a young soldier, Hedy turned up the controversy by doing the then unheard of gesture of getting naked for the movie. This early nude scene made the film an instant sensation around the world, except for the US where it was banned outright. Silly yanks.
Though not readily available to the general public in America, her bare-breasted breakthrough did catch the eye of one rather powerful American figure of the day, one Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer fame, who was initially conflicted about this new, provocative young ingenue. In what was at the time very orthodox and morally sheltered United States, Mayer had misgivings about how such a free-wheeling young woman would play with conservative middle America. Still, Mayer knew true beauty and talent when he saw it, eventually putting dollar signs before morality by signing Hedy to a 3 picture deal.
From there, it was nothing but gravy for Hedy, who starred in one hit movie after another and cemented her status as a worldwide superstar. However, the party could not last forever. Eventually, with the grip of war taking hold over the world and many a young starlet nipping at her heels, Hedy's star began to fade somewhat. Still, she was not one to sit on the sidelines. Being a believer in the value and power of experience, Hedy had already lived quite a life before even exiting her 20s. And as WWII began to become more and more heated by the day, Hedy was fully prepared to do her part for the war effort.
As the story goes, during a slump in her career in the early 40s, Hedy met a pianist by the name of George Antheil. Her neighbor at the time, Hedy and George would soon become partners and spend the next few years embarking on one of the most unlikeliest and remarkable inventive quests in Hollywood history. It actually started some years before, during Hedy's first marriage to a German munitions maker named Fritz Mandal. Together the two were the toast of the town, regularly entertaining famous and influential people - even Adolf Hitler. However, throwing the best dinner party wasn't the only thing Hedy picked up from her time with Fritz.
Using whatever engineering knowledge she had gleaned from her former husband, what Hedy and her partner conceived together in their Hollywood palaces was essentially a revolution in the use of radio signals. Known as "frequency hopping," her invention used randomly-changing radio frequencies to help guide devices like torpedoes to their target. This system gave torpedoes resistance against attempts to interfere with their trajectory. As was the case for much of what Hedy did in her young life, this concept was a radical approach and promised to solve a major problem the military was having. After some tweaking, her invention was eventually patented and presented to the US military.
Unfortunately, misunderstanding and a lack of forethought on the part of the military brass meant that her invention never saw use in WWII. However, sometime later, frequency hopping was rediscovered and eventually became a vital component in various armaments starting in the 1950s. Frequency hopping technology is still used to this very day. In fact, if you use anything with a Bluetooth connection, you're making use of Hedy's invention. Not to mention the thousands of other devices that have used this technology over the years. Certainly an impressive legacy few classic or current hotties could ever hope to match.
Unfortunately breaking barriers in early cinema and pioneering new techniques in the use of radio signals, was not conducive to creating a long-lasting career for Hedy. After turning down what would have surely been career-revitalizing roles in movies like GASLIGHT and CASABLANCA, Hedy quickly began to get pushed aside by young up and comers in Hollywood. Eventually, long time partner MGM decided not to renew her contract. Still, she did have a few more movie successes as the 1940s came to a close, staring in movies like SAMSON AND DELILAH in 1949, which was Paramount Studios' biggest success to date. Still, an aging Hedy soon realized she could no longer hold her own in Hollywood and by the late 50s, the 40-something Hedy was retired and living in Florida. Her last film was 1958's THE FEMALE ANIMAL.
Hedy remained pretty much out of the spotlight for the second half of her life, quietly dying in her sleep in the year 2000 at the age of 87. Despite this relatively docile end, Hedy packed enough intensity and experience into the first 40 years of her time on Earth for 3 lives. With 6 marriages, 3 children, worldwide fame and over 36 film titles to her name, Hedy's life would have been sufficiently exciting for anyone. But then you have to add things like scientific and engineering breakthroughs and beauty so iconic that women all around the world were using her face as an example for plastic surgery. Add to that her blend of feistiness, mystery, intrigue and even genius, and you have someone who was truly unique and ahead of her time. One of the most beautiful women of the screen or anywhere else for that matter, Hedy leaves a lasting mark, not just on movies, but the world as a whole - a legacy that endures to this day.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Hedy - one that very much rings true in our current, technologically overstimulated world.
"The world isn't getting any easier. With all these new inventions I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more...the hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything - time to work, time to play, time to rest."
Quite a lady.