Hedy Lamarr was not a diva; she just played one in the movies. She was billed as “the most beautiful woman in the world” as she vamped her way from 1938’s Algiers to 1949’s Samson and Delilah, but her son Anthony Loder, 52, says that when he was a child, “the only reason I knew she was famous was once a police officer pulled us over, and instead of giving her a ticket, he recognized her and told her to take us out for ice cream.”
Glamor queen was just a line on her résumé to Lamarr, who died in her sleep in an Orlando suburb on Jan. 19 at age 85. Police attribute her death to natural causes. Denise Loder-DeLuca, 54, Lamarr’s other child by the third of her six husbands, actor John Loder (Lamarr and second husband Gene Markey also adopted a son, James, now 60 and a retired cop), says she talked to her mother often, and “she sounded like she was 38. She was totally hip and chic.”
Born in Vienna, Lamarr first made a splash at age 19 by skinny-dipping in the racy 1933 Czech film Ecstasy. She set sail for America in 1937, and her ship came in even before her ship came in—MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer signed her on the liner to New York City.
If Lamarr looked bored onscreen, it’s because she was. “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” This was an actress for whom playing stupid was a stretch: In 1940 she invented an antijamming technique for radio signals that was largely ignored then but was employed by the U.S. military during the Cuban missile crisis and is still in use today. “If you have a cell phone, you are using her technology,” says Loder. Unlike his mother, he profits from the idea: He owns a phone store in L.A.
In later years, Lamarr stayed feisty by suing everyone from the authors of her ghostwritten autobiography (the suit was dismissed) to Mel Brooks, who mocked her name in Blazing Saddles (they settled out of court). She was also arrested twice, but never convicted, for shoplifting. Perhaps it was absent-mindedness; in one case she had checks totaling $14,000 in her purse. “Nobody,” says Loder, “could tell her what to do.”