Hedwig Kiesler (Hedy Lamarr), Ekstase (1933

Hedwig Kiesler (Hedy Lamarr), Ekstase (1933

Over at the Foundation for Economic Education, BK Marcus has a neat piece up about a beautiful actress, an inventor of torpedo technology, and a misguided idealist — and they’re all the same person: Hedy Lamarr.

His article begins

Hedy stands naked in a field. She looks off-camera in dismay as her horse gallops away with the clothes she had draped over its back so she could take a dip in a woodland pond.

She is not called Lamarr yet. That name will come later, in Hollywood. For now she is still Hedwig Kiesler, a Viennese teenager in Prague, playing her first starring role in a feature film, Ekstase (“Ecstasy,” 1933). The controversial Czechoslovakian film will become famous for Hedy’s nude scenes and its sex scenes (which show only her face, in close-up, in the throes of passion).

The film will give Hedy her first taste of fame. She will be known as the Ecstasy girl. An Austrian director will tell the press, “Hedy Kiesler is the most beautiful girl in the world.” Later, MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer will repeat the claim, using the name he insisted she change to: Hedy Lamarr.

But while the world of her time will remember her for her photogenic beauty, history will remember her as the inventor of frequency hopping, the foundational technology of today’s mobile phones and wireless Internet.

How a Hollywood starlet invented the means of secure wireless data transfer is fascinating, and there are thorough accounts of the story in recent books and television shows. What is less thoroughly addressed is why an invention from World War II didn’t see widespread use until the turn of the century.

Read the full story at FEE.org.

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