Actress and Inventor: 90 Years of "Ecstasy": The Incredible Life of Hedy Lamarr

In her most successful years, Hedy Lamarr, who died 23 years ago, was marketed as the "most beautiful woman in the world".

Actress and Inventor: 90 Years of "Ecstasy": The Incredible Life of Hedy Lamarr

In her most successful years, Hedy Lamarr, who died 23 years ago, was marketed as the "most beautiful woman in the world". Born in Vienna, she is a legend who is said to have been the model for Walt Disney's cartoon Snow White in the 30s, which inspired Johnny Depp and the recently deceased Jeff Beck to write a song ("This Is A Song For Miss Hedy Lamarr") and which will probably soon have a department store dedicated to it in Vienna.

90 years ago she wrote film history - only 18 years old and still with the surname Kiesler. On January 20, 1933, the scandalous film "Ekstase" (as "Extase") premiered in Prague.

The Austrian premiere of this Czechoslovak work by director Gustav Machaty (1901-1963) followed on February 18th. The film was banned in Nazi Germany and was only premiered in Berlin in 1935, heavily censored: as the "Symphony of Love".

The bath in a lake and the walk through the forest in "Ekstasy" is considered the first longer nude scene in cinema history. An unparalleled scandal was also an orgasm scene with a close-up of Hedy's (actually Hedwig Eva Maria) Kiesler's face. The work is mostly a silent film, the few speaking scenes were shot in German and specially dubbed for Czechoslovakia.

In the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden, next to an "ecstasy" excerpt about the emancipated woman embodied by Hedy, it says: "For the first time sexual desire and an orgasm were shown in a sound film on the screen" (...) 1933 the scene from erotic awakening of the character Eva in 'Ekstasy' scandalous."

An extraordinary invention

Starting from the film 90 years ago, Lamarr had an incredible life story. Even today, almost everyone has something to do with Hedy Lamarr - or one of her inventions. "At the height of her fame, she and her friend George Antheil invented a technique for equipping remote-controlled torpedoes with a secure communications system, the frequency hopping process patented in 1942," explains author Thomas Blubacher in his book "Weimar unter Palmen - Pacific Palisades". "A further development is still used today by everyone who communicates via a WiFi network or with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone."

In 1933, the film "Ekstasy" caused an "indescribable scandal," explains Blubacher. "Even the Pope had publicly condemned the work. In the same year, Lamarr married Fritz Mandl, 14 years his senior, one of the largest arms manufacturers in Europe, who did business with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, among others."

A jealous husband

Mandl, who was later considered a Jew by the Nazis because of his father, but who grew up as a Christian, forced his young wife, who had been born into an assimilated Jewish family in Vienna in 1914, to convert to Catholicism. Obsessed, he forbade her to make any more films. Because he didn't want to share the sight of his naked wife, he tried to buy up all copies of "Ecstasy" in order to destroy them. Futile labors of love or jealousy.

Mandl is said to have kept Hedy in his hunting villa like a prisoner. "In 1937 she managed to escape in disguise, sell her jewelry and thus finance her flight to London via Paris." There she met the Hollywood studio boss Louis B. Mayer, who - like other European beauties - bought her for the film production company MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), gave her the name Hedy Lamarr and marketed her as the most beautiful woman in the world.

"Algiers" was the name of her first US film, Charles Boyer was her partner. Lamarr's best film is considered by many to be the 1949 Bible strip Samson and Delilah, in which she starred alongside Victor Mature.

Numerous marriages

The actress got almost more attention for her love and private life than with her roles. After divorcing Mandl, she married writer Gene Markey, then actor John Loder, musician Ernest Stauffer, oil millionaire Howard Lee, and finally Lewis Bowles. The latter was her lawyer in the divorce of the marriage with the penultimate.

Hedy Lamarr also caused a sensation in 1966 with her autobiography "Ecstasy and Me", which is teeming with sex scenes. She sued the publisher because her ghost writer had falsified and exaggerated a lot.

More or less successful plastic surgery and treatments by the dubious drug doctor "Dr. Feelgood" Max Jacobson led to Lamarr withdrawing from the public eye. As she got older, she no longer wanted to appear in public and maintained her contacts with the outside world mainly over the telephone.

"People's thoughts are more important than their looks"

In the documentary film "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" (Original: "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"), Lamarr tells in telephone recordings how she was tricked into shooting "Ecstasy" in the early 30s and driven to the wicked scenes - and how mad her father was about the film. She also says that chemistry was her favorite subject at school and says the beautiful sentence: "People's thoughts are more important than their looks."

Headlines still made headlines in the '60s and '90s when Lamarr was accused of petty shoplifting. A little irony of history: From 2024, a luxury department store belonging to the KaDeWe Group on Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna is to bear the name "Lamarr".