Hedy Lamarr: 5 Lessons On Living Life And Being Successful

November 9th marks what would have been Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler’s 101st birthday. Kiesler was a film actress and inventor who was born in Austria in 1914 and eventually came to the United States to work as an actress under the name of Hedy Lamarr. Her acting career started in Germany with the controversial film Ecstasy (1933), after which Lamarr fled the country in secret before the rise of Nazi Germany and came first to France and then to the United States. She continued to experience a successful acting career throughout the 1930s and 1950s, but it was during the Second World War that Lamarr’s talents came into full fruition.

Lamarr, herself, was born Jewish and became very passionate about aiding in the downfall of Nazi Germany. During the war she worked closely with composer George Antheil to develop frequency-hopping technology that could be used to send frequency-manned torpedoes off course. The technology, however, was not adopted by the US Military until the 1960s, and was later used as the basis for spread-spectrum communications technologies like GPS, CDMA, and COFDM. She also used her celebrity stature to sell War Bonds in order to support the war effort. Lamarr died of heart-related complications in 2000, but her legacy continues to inspire actors, inventors, and humanitarians around the world. Here are five lessons from Hedy Lamarr on life, work, and achieving your goals.

1. Always be yourself.

The controversy surrounding Lamarr’s first film, Ecstasy, would likely make modern movie audiences say, “So what?” But in 1933, on-screen nudity had yet to become a common, or even acceptable practice. It was in this way that Hedy Lamarr became the unsung pioneer of onscreen nudity. Despite the public backlash and culture shock experienced by audiences that attended the film, Lamarr remained confident in her acting career and continued to pursue roles that sparked her interest. She once said, “All creative people want to do the unexpected,” and given her track record and unapologetic attitude towards her life and career, it is safe to say that Lamarr spent her time doing nothing but the unexpected.

2. Remember your roots.

Hedy Lamarr may have experienced success for the majority of her career in the United States, but despite her fame and stature in America, she never lost site of her roots in Austria. Lamarr was able to rescue her mother from Austria before the onset of the Holocaust, and her personal resentment towards the Nazi agenda in Europe urged her to do more to support the war effort than simply be a pretty face on the big screen. It was then that she began working as an inventor with composer George Antheil and selling bonds in order to support the American war effort.

3. Put your efforts to work for the greater good.

It was during the war, and following a word of encouragement from National Inventors Council member Charles F. Kettering, that Lamarr agreed to work selling War Bonds in order to rally support for the US war effort. Before her tours of the country with sailor Eddie Rhodes, however, Lamarr teamed up with her neighbor, composer George Antheil, to begin working on a technology that could assist in the downfall of Nazi Germany.

The idea behind the technology was simple: utilize sets of differing frequencies between torpedoes and their controlling ships in order to prevent the enemy from jamming the signal and causing the torpedo to miss its target. Although the technology was not used by the US military until the Cuban Missile Crisis (when Lamarr’s patent had expired), modern historians have recognized her work with Antheil as a significant contribution to modern science. 

4. Keep yourself busy. 

Hedy Lamarr was never one for living a conventional lifestyle. She is not only famous for her acting career and contributions to science, but also for her long string of marriages to six different spouses. Lamarr threw her life and passion into her work, dismissing other activities and lifestyles as pointless. She once said, “Jack Kennedy always said to me, “Hedy, get involved.” That’s the secret of life. Try everything. Join everything. Meet everybody.” It was in this mindset that Lamarr relentlessly pursued her goals and ambitions throughout the course of her life and career, becoming both a symbol of feminism, humanitarian efforts, and another success story for the American Dream.

5. Put your talents to work for you.

Perhaps Hedy Lamarr’s greatest gift was using her talents to her advantage. When she first came to America with the help of director Louis B. Mayer, who insisted she change her name to Lamarr, he came up with the idea of dubbing her “the world’s most beautiful woman,” as a marketing tool. This technique proved immensely successful as Lamarr began being offered roles for American films.

Later on during World War II, Lamarr would travel the country with sailor Eddie Rhodes, using her celebrity and sex appeal to convince people to purchase bonds in order to support the war effort. The gimmick essentially worked by Lamarr pitching the audience, and then calling Rhodes to the stage as a “random volunteer.” She would then flirt with him and ask the audience for permission to give him a kiss, to which she would respond that she’ll kiss him if enough people purchase the bonds. This brilliant ploy offered her the chance to further her celebrity recognition while simultaneously contributing to the efforts of America to defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany.