Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr

Written by Margaret Porter
Review by India Edghill

Spanning the years from 1932 (Extasy) to 1949 (Samson and Delilah), this is the story of Hedy Lamarr: actress, inventor (if you use a cell phone, thank – or blame – Hedy), the most beautiful woman in the world (according to MGM’s publicity department). A sensation and a scandal by the time she was eighteen, by her death in 2000, her invention had changed the world.

Most people know a few things about Hedy Lamarr – if only because of the character “Hedly Lamarr” in Blazing Saddles. They may have seen her most famous role as Delilah in the 1949 MGM extravaganza Samson and Delilah. But she didn’t intend to become an erotic icon. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, she grew up in pre-WW2 Austria. Her first movie, Extasy, was the first film to display full nudity and the first to show an orgasm on screen (if you want to see that scandalous scene and some incredible acting, you can find it on YouTube).

At 19, she married Friedrich Mandl, aged 33. Mandl was an arms merchant, and listening to him sparked Hedy’s interest in science and technology. He was a controlling husband, so Hedy fled to London, where she met Louis B. Mayer. He turned her into the glamorous Hedy Lamarr, who enchanted movie-goers. Hedy herself was more concerned with war-torn Europe and trying to bring her family safely to America. Her invention of alternating frequency to block torpedo signals (there were whole pages where I took the invention stuff on faith, as it made my head spin) was the basis for cell phone technology.

Beautiful Invention deftly weaves Hedwig Kiesler’s life as an intelligent, daring woman with the seductive, exotic Hedy Lamarr MGM invented and displayed to a fascinated public. It’s fast, fun, fascinating, enjoyable, intriguing, and recommended.