Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. From an early age, she developed a fascination for acting and inventing, two interests that dominated her life. She made her movie debut in Money on the Street a 1930 Austrian-German romantic-comedy, appearing as an extra.
After appearing as an extra in Money on the Street, Hedy Lamarr featured in three more German movies, all comedies: Storm in a Water Glass, The Trunks of Mr. O.F., a critique on capitalism, and No Money Needed. Hedy moved up the bill with each production. It was 1932 and she was about to make the movie that would transform her life…
1933 was a pivotal year for Hedy Lamarr. She made her fifth movie, Ecstasy (more about that in the future) and, on 10 August 1933 in Vienna, against her parents’ wishes, she married Friedrich Alexander Maria Mandl, an Austrian arms dealer with ties to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. The marriage was not a success (understatement).
In 1933, Hedy Lamarr featured in Ecstasy, a movie that would shape her life and career. Banned in America and Germany, the film won awards in Europe where it was regarded as a work of art.
Ecstasy received its first mention in the British press on 22 May 1933. The reaction? Members of the Leicester Film Society found the film “of absorbing interest”. However, Hedy’s, and Ecstasy’s, story had only just begun…
May 1933, and a good concise report on Hedy Lamarr’s film career and personal plans. Given Hedy’s anti-Nazi stance during World War II, the last paragraph is particularly fascinating.
Arms manufacturer Fritz Mandl’s (futile) attempts to suppress Hedy Lamarr’s controversial movie, Ecstasy. He married her after she’d made the film, then objected to it. Mandl also insisted that Hedy should retire from screen and stage acting, and refuse to have her picture taken. Needless to say, the marriage did not last.
In the spring of 1937, Hedwig Kiesler, disguised as her maid, made her escape from her first husband, Fritz Mandl. She made her way to London, then on to Southampton. On September 25, 1937, she boarded the Normandie, (pictured) and set sail for New York.
On her travel documents, Hedwig described herself as 5’ 7” tall, fair complexion, brown eyes, brown hair. She claimed that she had no intention of seeking citizenship in America.
Hedwig boarded the Normandie with actress Sonja Henie. Earlier that day, in Le Havre, movie producer Louis B. Mayer also boarded the ship. Over the following five days Hedwig and Mayer became well acquainted to the extent that when Hedwig stepped off the Normandie in New York she was ready to embrace a new name, Hedy Lamarr, and a career in Hollywood.