• Film

Hedy Lamarr: Actress and Inventor Ahead of Her Time

There are more than 2,700 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but how many of them are also in the USA National Inventors Hall of Fame?

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) belongs to both of them. Even though she was a bourgeois girl, she left school at 15 years old to work as a script at the Austrian largest film production company at the time. And that was just the beginning. Soon, she was called “the most beautiful woman in the world”, itself a heavy title to carry on, by her mentor Max Reinhardt.

Actress and inventor, Lamarr was also a painter, the first woman to appear nude in a movie when she was only 18, married six times, a mother, one of the first female independent producers – founding Mars Film Corporation in 1945 – and the inspiration for the comic character “Catwoman.”

Since 2005, her birthday, November 9, has been celebrated in Austria, Germany and Switzerland as the “Day of Invention.” Her face has been printed on postage stamps, the University of Vienna named a quantum telescope after her, the city of Vienna awards the “Hedy Lamarr Prize for Innovative Woman in Information technology (IT),” and an asteroid was named after her.

The exhibition, “Hedy Lamarr: Actress. Inventor. Viennese,” curated by Dr. Danielle Spera and designed by Stefan Fuhrer, recently opened at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) in New York City where she once lived.


“I was looking for an opportunity to create an exhibition about Hedy Lamarr for a long time,” says Dr. Spera in an email interview on the eve of the opening. “When I was director of the Jewish Museum in Vienna, we showed an exhibition about her life in 2019. She was a remarkable person, born in Austria into a Jewish family, left for Hollywood, was engaged in fighting National Socialism. And above all, she was an inventor who paved the way for technologies we use today in our daily lives.”

Spera never met Lamarr but “a friend of mine introduced me to Hedy Lamarr´s son and this is how everything developed.”

The legendary actress was born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna on November 9, 1914, just months after the beginning of World War I. She died an American citizen in Florida on January 19, 2000, just in time to see the new millennium at age 85.

“Hedy Lamarr´s life story is extremely multifaceted. She started her career at a very young age. Her appearance in the movie Ecstasy –“best director” award to Gustav Machatý at Venice Film Festival 1934, but banned in many countries, including the USA- generated a lot of excitement and controversy. Unfortunately, she was only recognized for her brilliant mind very late in her life,” continues Dr. Spera.

“The exhibition is completely new curated and designed, and we are hoping to show it in Washington DC, maybe in Miami. Los Angeles would be a perfect fit, as Hedy Lamarr had lived there for a very long time,” describes Dr. Spera. “In Vienna, there will be a huge and very exciting project soon: a high-end department store which will be named after her, which will include a museum/café dedicated to her life with permanent and changing installations. It will also serve as a creative space for small performances or movie screenings. On the rooftop of this new building, there will be a public park also named after her.” That opening is planned for November 2024 on the 110th anniversary of Lamarr’s birthday.


Spera says the one thing she would have liked to have asked Lamarr if she had the chance would be why she never talked to her children about her Jewish heritage.

According to the ACFNY’s director Susanne Keppler-Schlesinger, this installation “pays homage to the famous Austro-American actress Hedy Lamarr by specifically stressing her groundbreaking achievements as an inventor. It was only years after her famous screen career had ended that Lamarr achieved recognition for pioneering the technology that would become the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.”

The exhibition includes professional and private photographs of Lamarr, personal letters and documents, drawings, videos, ephemera and even a dirndl – a typical dress from the Alps – from her personal collection. Also, “her legendary torpedo defense drawings which are considered the precursors of today’s Bluetooth technology, as well as various awards.”

As part of the exhibition, the ACFNY also presented the show “Nothing In Between – The Simple, Complicated Life of Hedy Lamarr,” performed and produced by Austrian singer and actress Janine Hickl, with prose by Mark Brown, arrangements by pianist Bernd Leichtfried, and Cäcilia Altenberger playing the cello.

We interviewed Hickl by email on the eve of her performance.

How did you get the idea of creating a show about Hedy Lamarr?

I´ve always had a fascination with women of that era, and for the past six years, I’ve written and performed similar plays based on artists such as The Andrews Sisters, Edith Piaf, etc. Like Hedy, I am Austrian and spent my childhood in Vienna. I feel a connection with her story, her desire to pursue a career in acting, her independence and determination. To me, she is an idol.

Why do you think Lamarr is remembered as a “controversial” figure?

Hedy marched to the beat of her own drum. She never compromised her personality. She was always her unconventional, fascinating and chaotic self, and ploughed through life as though it were an adventure. It was hard to describe her: she was an actress, she was an inventor, she was a mother. She never fit into one box and so no one ever really knew the real Hedy Lamarr.

Did you ever meet her before she died in 2000? If you had the chance, what would you ask her about her life?

Unfortunately not. I would ask her what she thinks about the show. And I would ask her why she was always attracted to new things, what was she always looking for and why she never seemed to find it.

What have been the biggest challenges of performing the role of ‘the most beautiful woman in the world?’ How did you prepare the script and then the role?

The biggest challenge was to find a common thread with her different personas throughout her life. The true essence of Hedy Lamarr was hard to find in all the interviews, books and films.

How did you choose the songs?

I looked for songs of that era and lyrics that related to where she was emotionally and geographically in her life. If the songs offered an emotional connection, I worked with the writer to place them in the story. The premiere of the show was at The Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, and we’re planning to perform it in different venues around the world.