Here is a small bit of trivia you may not know… Actress Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) “The Most Beautiful Girl of the Century” Had Czech Roots. Her maternal grandfather: Carl Moritz Leopold Lichtwitz (1855-1928) was born in Opava, Moravia. She was not only beautiful but also quite brilliant, as this post will show.
In 1933, a beautiful, young Austrian woman took off her clothes for a movie director. She ran through the woods, naked. She swam in a lake, naked. Pushing well beyond the social norms of the period.
The most popular movie in 1933 was King Kong. But everyone in Hollywood was talking about that other scandalous movie with the gorgeous, young Austrian woman.
Louis B. Mayer, of the giant studio MGM, said she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
The film was banned practically everywhere, which of course made it even more popular and valuable. Mussolini reportedly refused to sell his copy at any price.
The star of the film, called Ecstasy, was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. In this film, she was the first movie star to simulate a female orgasm onscreen.
She said the secret of her beauty was “to stand there and look stupid.”
In reality, Kiesler was anything but stupid.
She was a genius.
She’d grown up as the only child of a prominent Jewish banker. Her upbringing was privileged, but her interest in understanding how things worked was sparked by long walks through the woods outside Vienna with her father. “Whenever they went together, he explained to her how everything worked,” her biographer Richard Rhodes explained in 2013, “from printing presses to streetcars”.
She was a math prodigy. She excelled at science. As she grew older, she became ruthless, using all the power her body and mind gave her.
Between the sexual roles she played, her tremendous beauty, and the power of her intellect, Kiesler would confound the men in her life including her six husbands, two of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century, and one of the greatest movie producers in history.
Her beauty made her rich for a time. She is said to have made – and spent – $30 million in her life.
Lamarr didn’t like to drink or party, she preferred to invent in her free time.
She set up a desk with equipment and a drawing board in her Hollywood home for inventing. Her habits were also supported by her boyfriend, Howard Hughes, the millionaire businessman and philanthropist who declared Lamarr a “genius” after she suggested he made the wings of his planes less square, and more reflective of the aerodynamics of birds and fish.
Hughes gave her a trailer-sized version of her home inventing studio for her to work between takes, and granted her two of his chemists to use at her disposal, who helped her with her “tinkering”, she told one interviewer.
But her greatest accomplishment resulted from her intellect, and her invention continues to shape the world we live in today.
You see, this young Austrian starlet would take one of the most valuable technologies ever developed right from under Hitler’s nose.
After fleeing to America, she did not only became a major Hollywood star. She used her intelligence to accomplish more…
Today, name sits on one of the most important patents ever granted by the U.S. Patent Office.
When you use your cell phone or, over the next few years, as you experience super-fast wireless Internet access (via something called “long-term evolution” or “LTE” technology), you’ll be using an extension of the technology a 20- year-old actress first conceived while sitting at dinner with Hitler.
At the time she made Ecstasy, Kiesler was married to a wealthy fascist arms manufacturer and the third richest man in Austria. Friedrich Mandl was Austria’s leading arms maker. His firm would become a key supplier to the Nazis.
Mandl used his beautiful young wife as a showpiece at important business dinners with representatives of the Austrian, Italian, and German fascist forces. One of Mandl’s favorite topics at these gatherings – which included meals with Hitler and Mussolini – was the technology surrounding radio-controlled missiles and torpedoes.
According to Hedy, at these parties, which both Mussolini and Hitler frequently attended, it was certain that the men were unaware that their lovely hostess Hedy was born to a mother who came from the Jewish haute bourgeoisie in Budapest and a secular Jewish father from the Ukraine.
They were too busy discussing wireless weapons which offered far greater ranges than the wire-controlled alternatives that prevailed at the time.
Kiesler sat through these dinners “looking stupid,” meanwhile absorbing everything she heard.
As a Jew, Kiesler hated the Nazis. She abhorred her husband’s business ambitions. Mandl responded to his willful wife by imprisoning her in his castle, Schloss Schwarzenau.
In 1937, she managed to escape. She herself described it in her 1966 autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, she wrote that she hid in an empty room of a brothel while attempting to flee her husband. When a man entered the room, she had sex with him so she could remain unrecognized. She was finally able to escape by hiring a maid who resembled her, drugging the maid, and using her uniform as a disguise. She then sold her jewelry to finance a trip to London.
(She got out just in time. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria. The Nazis seized Mandl’s factory. He was half Jewish. Mandl fled to Brazil. Later, he became an adviser to Argentina’s iconic populist president, Juan Peron.)
In London, Kiesler arranged a meeting with Louis B. Mayer. She signed a long-term contract with him, becoming one of MGM’s biggest stars.
She appeared in more than 20 films. She was a co-star to Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope. Each of her first seven MGM movies was a blockbuster.
But Kiesler cared far more about fighting the Nazis than about making movies. At the height of her fame, in 1942, she developed a new kind of communications system, optimized for sending coded messages that couldn’t be “jammed.” She was building a system that would allow torpedoes and guided bombs to always reach their targets.
She was building a system to kill Nazis.
By the 1940s, both the Nazis and the Allied forces were using the kind of single-frequency radio-controlled technology Kiesler’s ex-husband had been peddling. The drawback of this technology was that the enemy could find the appropriate frequency and “jam” or intercept the signal, thereby interfering with the missile’s intended path.
Kiesler’s key innovation was to “change the channel.” It was a way of encoding a message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jammed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies being used. The problem was, she could not figure out how to synchronize the frequency changes on both the receiver and the transmitter.
Anthiel was an acquaintance of Kiesler who achieved some notoriety for creating intricate musical compositions. He synchronized his melodies across twelve player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.
Kiesler incorporated Anthiel’s technology for synchronizing his player pianos. Then, she was able to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon’s receiver and its transmitter to create a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used a code (stored on a punched paper tape) to synchronize random frequencies, referred to as frequency hopping, with a receiver and transmitter. This technique is now known as spread spectrum and is widely used in telecommunications.
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey,” which was Kiesler’s married name at the time.
Most of you won’t recognize the name Kiesler. And no one would remember the name Hedy Markey. But it’s a fair bet than anyone reading this newsletter of a certain age will remember one of the great beauties of Hollywood’s golden age ~Hedy Lamarr.
That’s the name Louis B. Mayer gave to his prize actress. That’s the name his movie company made famous.
Meanwhile, almost no one knows Hedwig Kiesler – a/k/a Hedy Lamarr – was one of the great pioneers of wireless communications. Her technology was developed by the U.S. Navy, which has used it ever since.
You are probably using Lamarr’s technology, too.
Her patent sits at the foundation of “spread spectrum technology,” which you use every day when you log on to a wifi network or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. It lies at the heart of the massive investments being made right now in so-called fourth-generation “LTE” wireless technology. This next generation of cell phones and cell towers will provide tremendous increases to wireless network speed and quality, by spreading wireless signals across the entire available spectrum. This kind of encoding is only possible using the kind of frequency switching that Hedwig Kiesler invented.
This work led to her being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
In the last decades of her life, the telephone became her only means of communication with the outside world, even with her children and close friends. She often talked up to six or seven hours a day on the phone, but she hardly spent any time with anyone in person in her final years. A documentary, Calling Hedy Lamarr, was released in 2004 and featured her children, Anthony Loder and Denise Loder-DeLuca.
Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida, on January 19, 2000, of heart disease, aged 85.
Brilliant, brave and beautiful, she was much more than anyone had ever expected. Hedy Lamarr was a phenomenally beautiful, intelligent, creative, witty, opinionated, passionate woman who believed strongly in cultivating inner strength.
Hedy Lamarr encompassed the essence of wholeness, diversity and grace. Through her foundation, this incredible spirit will live on to inspire many more generations to achieve their dreams and find the confidence to uncover their higher purpose.
Note: Ecstasy (Czech: Extase, German: Ekstase) is a 1933 Czech romantic drama film directed by Gustav Machatý and starring Hedy Lamarr (then Hedy Kiesler), Aribert Mog, and Zvonimir Rogoz.
Written by František Horký, Gustav Machatý, Jacques A. Koerpel, and Robert Horký, the film is about a young woman who marries a wealthy but much older man. After abandoning her brief passionless marriage, she meets a young virile engineer who becomes her lover. Ecstasy was filmed in three language versions—German, Czech, and French. Ecstasy was highly controversial in its time because of scenes in which Lamarr swims in the nude and runs through the countryside naked. It was the very first non-pornographic movie to portray sexual intercourse and female orgasm, never showing much more than the actors’ faces.
Official website of Hedy Lamarr, here.
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