The History of Hedy Lamarr for Kids

Bedtime History

Have you ever wanted to invent something?  What if you were someone who enjoyed playing with technology, but everyone expected you to do something else very different?

That is what happened to Hedy Lamarr, one of the most famous actresses during the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” Hedy later became an inventor and helped invent the technology that later became the foundation of wireless communications, like the internet.

Hedy was born in Vienna in Austria-Hungary in 1913.  When she was born her real name Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler.  “Hedy” was her nickname.  

Hedy was the only child in a Ukrainian Jewish family and her father was a successful bank director.  Her mother was a professional pianist and came from an upper-class Jewish family in Budapest, the capital of what is now called Hungary.  

When Hedy was a child, she showed an interest in acting.  She loved the theatre and film.  When she was 12 years old, she won a beauty contest in Vienna.  This encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, as she had seen that many women in films at the time were very beautiful.

Hedy started to act in eastern European movies in Budapest.  When she was a teenager, she was discovered by an Austrian film director.  He cast her in a movie called “Ecstasy”, which became a popular movie internationally. 

Hedy decided to continue the momentum of this movie’s popularity and she flew to the United States and signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (or MGM) studio in Hollywood.  Momentum means to speed up and gain force. Sometimes when good things start to happen for you, in your career or otherwise in life, it is wise to take the opportunity to follow this momentum and see how far it can take you.

So Hedy moved to Hollywood and it was at this time that she changed her name from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to “Hedy Lamarr”.  She thought it would be easier for Americans to say and remember.

Hedy’s first American film was called Algiers and co-stared Charles Boyer. Everyone who saw the movie loved her and she became immediately popular.  At the time, she was considered to be one of the most beautiful and exotic of Hollywood’s female actresses.  Exotic means unique or from another country.  Americans hadn’t seen other actresses who looked liked her and they wanted to see her in more movies.

She started to star in a number of American movies throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including Lady of the Tropics, Boom Town and Samson and Delilah.  This was later called “the Golden Age of Hollywood” because it was when Hollywood movies grew in popularity and there was a lot of glamour around the idea of working in studios on movies.

But Hedy’s life wasn’t all glitz and glamour.  Hedy lived in Europe before the start of World War II.  When she left for the United States to become a Hollywood actress, she left her family behind.  Unfortunately, later during the war, her home country of Austria was invaded by the Germans and Hedy had to help get her family out of Europe to safety in America.  It was not an easy thing to do, but Hedy was successful and her mother was able to escape. 

Hedy enjoyed acting, but she was not just a beautiful actress.  She was also very smart and after acting on many films, she became bored of just doing that.  She felt frustrated that at the time, women’s role in movies were often to just look beautiful and not to say too much.  So she started to develop her other interest: science and technology.

Hedy worked with her friend, the composer George Antheil, on a radio signaling device or “Secret Communications System” which was a way of changing radio frequencies to keep enemies from decoding messages.  They worked on this to help defeat the German Nazis that had invaded her home country of Austria and other parts of Europe. 

The work the that Hedy and George did later formed the foundation of what is now wireless communications.  This is fundamental to all sorts of technological advances including cell phones and the internet.  Unfortunately at the time, people did not appreciate how important their amazing invention was and so at the time she didn’t get credit for what she had done.

But when she was older, Hedy was recognized for her work on technology and won awards for the work that she and George had done.  

Hedy also had a family, including three children, and after living in the US for many years in 1953 she became an American citizen.

Hedy was reclusive in old age, which means she liked to be on her own and live away from society.  She lived her later years in Florida where she died on January 19, 2000 at the age of 86.

Hedy was an amazing woman and did a lot of remarkable things for someone of her time.  She is an example of someone who worked hard, both at acting and at her passion, science and inventing.  She overcame stereotypes, which means that she went beyond the expectations that other people had for her.

Hedy did not allow herself to be boxed in by who she was.  A lot of people assumed that she was a beautiful actress but probably not very smart.  Hedy proved to be both.  She realized that she could go beyond something that initially interested her and become a scientist as well, despite the fact that this was not common for women at the time.

We can learn from Hedy about the value of following your passion and believing in yourself.  She wanted to work in the science field and she wanted to contribute to the effort of stopping the invaders in the Second World War.  Her hard work and effort paid off, for herself and for the world, who benefitted from her efforts.

Is there something that you are interested in or a field that you would like to contribute to?  Like Hedy, you can make a difference by getting involved in a field that you are curious about, working hard and believing in yourself.  And who knows what importance your contributions will play in the world and in the future.

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