Few people can hope to have as much impact as Hedy Lamarr. A star of the silver screen, she also invented the technology that eventually led to such communication tools as Bluetooth. The Lamarr exhibition at Vienna’s Jewish Museum shines a spotlight on this multifaceted personality.
- Exhibition illustrates Lamarr’s entire biography
- Includes wonderful items from the family’s private collection
- Runs Nov 27, 2019 – Nov 8, 2020
- Accessible with a normal entrance ticket* or a Vienna Pass
- All display information in German and English
- See also: Jewish Museum visitor & tickets info
Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof cemetery has numerous famous graves, not least those of Beethoven and Strauss Jnr. Just a few metres from those legendary composers lies the grave of one Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler (1914-2000), better known to you and me as Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood legend and inventor extraordinaire.
Born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1914, Lamarr’s upbringing clashed with an era of growing antisemitism and a time when appropriate career opportunities for intelligent women were limited (to say the least).
In 1933, she married a wealthy arms manufacturer and trader from whom she later fled, beginning the sequence of events that would eventually take her to Hollywood fame.
It’s a bit of a cliche to say her life was like a movie. But it kind of was. Star of such classics as 1949’s Oscar-winning Samson and Delilah, Lamarr’s biography includes multiple marriages, celebrity, eccentricity, and…high-tech inventions.
Working with George Antheil, Lamarr’s ideas for frequency hopping in transmission of radio signals helped lay the foundations for various modern communication technologies, not least Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
So while Lamarr never won an Oscar, she did win the equivalent in the inventing world as the first female to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award (in 1997).
(As an aside, Vienna now awards an annual Hedy Lamarr prize honouring a woman in IT.)
In the Lady Bluetooth exhibition, curator Andrea Winklbauer presents Hedy Lamarr’s life as a series of chronological and themed roles, such as actress, inventor, businesswoman, wife, mother, and more.
Photos, documents, posters, personal items, and/or video clips illustrate these roles. Rather wonderfully, Lamarr’s son (Anthony Loder) allowed many items from his private collection to go on display.
Highlights for me:
- The transition from young actress to movie star, as evidenced when you compare photos from the early 1930s and her film roles in Europe to a wall of portrait photos and stills from the 1940s and Hollywood. The transformation into the “most beautiful woman in the world” becomes very clear
- The numerous scientific awards and works of art honouring her as a woman of intelligence and invention. These illustrate perfectly how her legacy migrated from diva to scientist, from object of gossip to one of admiration
- The personal letters and telegrams, such as an affectionate letter to her son (complete with red hearts)
- The clear impression that celebrity is nothing new, only the medium has changed – magazine covers and press photos litter the exhibition
- The pithy quotes that decorate the walls:
Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid
Dates and tickets
How to get to the Lamarr exhibition
The museum has two exhibition sites and you want the one on Judenplatz, also home to the remains of a synagogue from the early 15th-century (not long after King Harald Bluetooth reigned, as it happens, who gave his name to the technology Lamarr helped create).
For public transport connections, see the main article on the Jewish Museum.
Address: Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna