Historical Hotties: Hedy Lamarr

It’s been a while since my last installment in the “Historical Hotties” series, but while roaming across the internet yesterday, I can across my new favorite historical woman. I’m going to put aside my bias against the 20th century (it’s not history yet!). Seriously, this lady is awesome. Her name is Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler). Besides seriously considering naming my fictional first-born child Hedwig (boy, girl, doesn’t really matter- its a fictional child. How awesome is that name?), Ms. Lamarr is very cool is several respects. First, she was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913 (now-defunct country at a really critical time period- you’ll recall that thing they call the “Great War”; she was interesting even before she was born).

Of course, she is also world-renowned for her beauty (she is a Historical Hottie after all). She was a huge movie star in the Golden Age of Cinema, and was contracted (back in the day, a studio basically “owned” an actor via contract, actors couldn’t just run around making movies with any studio they wanted) with the biggest, baddest studio of them all, MGM (the roaring lion one). She was more than just any average pretty lady in a movie- she was a straight up sex symbol, right from the beginning of her career. At age 18, she starred in a movie called Ecstasy, in which she shockingly simulated lady-pleasure (this was in 1933 people!). Her husband was not pleased. (It didn’t help that the movie was about the stifled young wife of an evil older man- and her husband was more than a decade older than Ms. Lamarr.)

As you might know, things got rough for Jewish folks in central Europe right around the mid-1930s (Austria: the land of Hedy’s birthplace…also Hitler). The ingenious Ms. Lamarr disguised herself as her maid (very Padme Amidala) and fled the country in 1937. During the next year, Hedwig went from Paris to London, where she met studio executive Louis B. Mayer (the second “M” in MGM). Consequently, she moved to Hollywood and changed her name from Hedwig Kiesler to Hedy Lamarr.

In Hollywood, she became an even bigger star, usually playing super sexy roles. She made a ton of film between her arrival in the States in 1938 and the end of her cinema career in 1957. While balanced a very successful movie career and a pair of World Wars, she was married six times and had six children.

While that is all very well, what really makes her awesome in my book is the fact that, in addition to everything else going on in her life, she was also an influential computer scientist. I don’t know about you, but I can’t name very many famous female computer scientists (although, I admit, it isn’t my area of expertise- I can name a large number of influential medieval nuns). This famous computer scientist also happens to be a famous movie star (okay, I challenge you to think of a famous computer scientist/movie combo). She (and a neighbor named George Antheil) patented something called a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication system. I’m a little blurry on the technicals, but the technology she invented is the basis for everyday essentials like Bluetooth, CDMA (used by cell phones), and COFDM (used for wi-fi. Wi-fi, people- this is huge!)

The moral of this story is that Hedy Lamarr is undoubtedly a serious Historical Hottie (and general all-around total package).


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