What Famous Jewish Inventor Was Born on November 9th? Originally Published November 5-6, 2021.

The famous Jewish inventor we are discussing today was Hedy Lamarr.  Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914, in Vienna, to Gertrud “Trude” Kiesler (a pianist of Hungarian descent) and Emil Kiesler (a bank director of Galician descent), Hedwig was raised as a Christian after her mother converted.  Notwithstanding conversion, Hedy would help her mother out of Austria after the Third Reich had taken over, to a safe new life in America.

While still in Vienna, young Hedy won a beauty contest at age 12, and already had designs on acting as a career.  She got herself hired as a script girl at Sascha-Film, was then cast as an extra in Money on the Street (1930), and got a speaking role in Storm in a Water Glass (1931).  Soon she found herself in Berlin, working with Russian theatrical producer Alexis Granowsky, who cast her in the first film he directed, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931).  Also in that film were Walter Abel and Peter Lorre.  Hedy decided to stay in Berlin when Granowsky moved to Paris, and she got the lead role for director Carl Boese in No Money Needed (1932), a comedy.  Then fate twisted.

At age 18, Hedy was given the lead (billed as Heddie Kietzler) in the film Ecstasy (in German Ekstase), directed by Gustav Machatý.  She played a “neglected young wife of an indifferent older man” who falls for a young soldier.  Released in 1933, it was a rather racy production, according to U.S. standards at the time, and was banned here.  Hedy was to become known as the most beautiful actress ever to grace the silver screen, and she was brave to play that role, though many say that the director duped her into some of the more indiscreet scenes.  The film won an award in Rome, but was also banned in Germany.  But Hedy’s biggest error was soon thereafter marrying Fritz Mandl, a munitions maker and fascist.  Her parents objected strongly - he was 33 years old, and she was 18.  Meanwhile, Mandl tried to buy up all the copies of Ecstasy (did not get Mussolini’s copy).  He would become domineering and controlling, and prevented her acting career.  She would go with him to meetings wherein military technology was discussed.  Soon she could stand the marriage no more, and fled to Paris. 

Meanwhile, Ecstasy brought her to Louis B. Mayer’s attention, and she found him in London.  He decided he was willing to overlook her perceived racy history, and offered her a contract.  She turned it down, but got herself a ticket on the same ocean liner as he was taking back to the U.S.  She talked him into four times as much as the initial offer, and he gave her a new name in honor of his wife’s favorite actress Barbara La Marr.  In 1938 she was working for MGM.

Hedy Lamarr made many films, some very successful.  Feeling sometimes under-challenged with the acting, she took up inventing on the side.  After leaving MGM in 1945, she did USO tours and continued making movies, notably playing Delilah to Victor Mature’s Samson in 1949.  She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Meanwhile, she invented the forerunner tablet to Fizzies and Alka Seltzer, a pivoting shower chair, an improved stop light, a better Kleenex box, streamlined airplane design (for Howard Hughes, who let her use his scientists and engineers in her designing), and her biggest invention of all.  The notion of jamming radio-controlled torpedoes became a goal.  Working with pianist/composer George Antheil in late summer 1940, they created a frequency-skipping system, out of a miniaturized player-piano mechanism controlled with radio signals.  They patented it, granted in 1942.  It would be used in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  The co-inventors received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award (1947)and other awards.  They were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lamarr’s later years sadly brought unpleasantness and discontent.  She passed away on January 19, 2000.