Growing up in Los Angeles, I inevitably became familiar with all the iconic Hollywood movie stars of the Golden Age, such as Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, and Judy Garland, just to name a few. But I had never heard of the name Hedy Lamarr.
It was a typical Sunday of my college freshman year. I usually kept myself entertained while folding laundry by listening to my favorite podcast on Spotify called You Must Remember This, which uncovers the secrets and scandals within the history of Hollywood’s film industry. I’ve always been an avid fan of classic films, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s golden age, and the history of filmmaking in general. Only rarely did the anecdotes of the podcast ever tell me something I didn’t already know about. However, when I automatically got to the 29th episode, its title was dedicated to a name I had never seen or heard of. This podcast episode primarily intrigued me into the life of a beautiful lady who eventually became one of my favorite empowerment icons.
Hedy Lamarr was born on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, and became a controversial actress at just 18 years old by portraying openly sexual behavior in a Czech film called Ecstasy, which very much shocked audiences at the time. Soon enough, she made her way to the United States and was signed by MGM Studios which skyrocketed her acting career in the 1930s and 40s. Most people knew her for her strikingly beautiful features on the silver screen, but what they didn’t pay almost any attention to was her brain. It’s no surprise that her intellect was kept hidden while her physical attributes were glorified in a male-dominated society that valued women to that extent. At the time, it was deemed impossible that women could be multi-faceted. Hedy was not only a successful actress, but also a successful inventor.
Fueled by heartbreak over tragedies of World War II and the frustration of not being able to do more for the war effort, Hedy worked alongside friend and composer George Antheil to invent the “Secret Communications System.” She was determined to defeat the Nazis this way, by enhancing security of communicated information through changing (or “hopping” as she called it) radio frequencies so that enemies don’t decode them. Considering that they were able to get a patent for this invention in 1942, Hedy was ultimately a pioneer in the development of modern technology, as the same kind of idea from her system is still applied today in cell phones, GPS, and wireless internet. Unfortunately, her efforts weren’t recognized immediately because people allegedly didn’t really understand it yet. Frankly, I believe that no one just wanted to listen to a female despite the groundbreaking invention.
Luckily, Hedy’s story is currently of interest. After I heard about her through the podcast, I did extensive research. I really couldn’t believe it was true that people ignored someone with so much potential as a scientist, solely on the basis of societal expectations of women. I quickly found that there’s actually a new documentary about her on Netflix called Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story and I was ecstatic! The documentary goes into much deeper detail about her inventions (yes, turns out there was multiple!) and her true feelings about not being recognized as an intellectual, but instead as a pretty object to look at. In fact she’s even said herself, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” Although things have improved since Hedy’s time, this idea of having the perfect face, body, clothes, etc. is still enforced upon women today especially through the media’s standards of beauty.
Hedy’s life is the perfect representation of the cliché that “there is more than meets the eye.” It’s still relevant and crucial for females in today’s society to know this especially with the impact of Instagram models and social media in general constantly comparing and pitting women against each other. Social media can deteriorate the self-esteem of anyone, especially young adults. It’s disappointing that the general public didn’t give Hedy much credit where it was due (her invention and intellect), but knowing this can empower us as a society to do the opposite. We should be encouraging girls to pursue careers and hobbies that they love, as well as letting go of expectations of what they can or cannot be. Hedy’s story transcends through generations as our society still tries to silence voices of those that want to be heard. I hope that you pass on her story to a younger sister, cousin, or friend and she will be just as empowered as I was to bring justice to women like Hedy who deserve more than what they get in our society.