In 1938 Louis B Mayer called her the most beautiful woman in the world.
But that wasn’t her secret.
Her secret wasn’t even that her name was Hedwig Kiesler and that her husband was one of the Nazi’s major arms suppliers.
So then – what was her secret?
Was it that five years before becoming a Hollywood star she had achieved a different kind of fame for her role in a low budget Czechoslovakian film where she appeared swimming in a lake, naked. Another scene featured a close-up of her face in the throes of orgasm.
The film – ‘Ecstasy’ – was banned everywhere, of course, which made copies of it extremely valuable.
Even the Italian dictator, Mussolini, used all his clout and his contacts to get a copy.
So who was she?
It wasn’t her intelligence but her beauty that caught the eye of the third richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer. He soon became her first husband.
But once he married her, he was less than enthusiastic about his new wife’s past, and tried to buy up as many copies of ‘Ecstasy’ as he could.
Apparently she tried to placate him by insisting that her on-screen orgasm was simulated, achieved with the aid of the director stroking her butt with a drawing pin.
That must have put his mind at rest.
Or perhaps not, because Mandl was a man with many things on his mind. At the time he was developing a new technology for radio-controlled torpedoes for the Nazis.
His wife, cute bottom now drawing pin-free, sat at his dinner parties looking stupid and beautiful while her husband entertained leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, and explained his new invention.
But she wasn’t stupid. She understood everything.
So in 1937 she decided it was time to stop being a trophy wife. She sold her jewelry, drugged her maid, put on her servant’s uniform as disguise, and escaped from Austria.
It was a good decision.
The following year the Nazis seized Mandl’s factory. Mandl, who was himself half Jewish, was forced to flee to Brazil.
Hedwig was now living in Paris and it was there that she met Louis B. Mayer, the Steven Spielberg of the age. Mayer was struck by her beauty and promised to make her a star.
The Most Beautiful Woman in the World signed a long-term contract with Hollywood’s Biggest Producer. She went to America and appeared in more than 20 films with stars like Clark Gable, James Stewart, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope.
But Hedwig soon got bored with just standing there and looking stupid.
Her secret was that she was smart. Very, very smart.
In 1942, at the height of her fame on the silver screen, she decided to do her bit to help the war effort; she developed a unique direction-finding device that could be used to help torpedoes find their targets.
At the time both the Nazis and the Allies were using single-frequency radio-controlled technology. The drawback was that the enemy could find this frequency and “jam” the signal.
Hedwig, remembering all the things she had learned at Mandl’s dinner parties, collaborated with her Hollywood neighbor, musician George Anthiel, on a system to solve the problem. Anthiel had just found a way to synchronize his melodies across twelve player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.
Applying this same technology they found a way of encoding a radio message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jammed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies – in effect making it unjammable.
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey,” Kiesler’s married name at the time.
But the U.S. Navy would not listen. The technology was not adopted until 1962, after the patent had expired, when it was finally used by U.S. military ships during the blockade of Cuba.
So what has this got to do with you?
Today, Hedy’s invention is the foundation of ‘spread spectrum technology,’ YOU USE IT EVERY DAY when you log on to wi-fi or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. The next generation of cell phones would not be possible without it!
You couldn’t take selfies in Time Square, sext your boyfriend or post Facebook pictures of your cat without the woman still only remembered for being beautiful.
Not bad for a girl who only had to ‘stand there and look stupid.’
So what happened to her?
Hedy was married six times – the last time to her divorce lawyer – and claimed to have made and lost thirty million dollars during her life.
In 2014 she was finally inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
I wonder if you have even heard of her.
Her name was …