Hedy Lamarr lived an extraordinary life. She was an actress who pushed boundaries, an inventor who went unappreciated in her time and a sex symbol who was very much appreciated in her time. And given the life she led in the 1940s you might expect her to have a rather thick FBI file. But you’d be wrong.
Hedy Lamarr in 1946 and the first page from her FBI file
I’ve obtained Hedy Lamarr’s FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. And the most surprising thing about the file is just how thin it is — a measly three pages.
Why does it surprise me that Lamarr’s file is so small? For starters, the FBI’s preoccupation with sex and Hollywood led me to believe that there might be at least a dozen pages about her breakout role in the 1933 film Ecstasy. The film is famous not only for her naked swimming scenes, but for being the first mainstream film to depict a woman having an orgasm.
The orgasm scene is safe for TV by today’s standards. But Hollywood has never been comfortable with a woman’s pleasure, and the film was banned for years in the United States. It should be noted that the ban didn’t stop President Franklin D. Roosevelt from screening it in the White House in 1935.
Part of Hedy Lamarr’s orgasm scene in the 1933 film Ecstasy
And if the FBI wasn’t interested in Lamarr’s many sexual exploits (including *gasp* relationships with women, detailed in her 1966 memoirs) then you’d think they would have taken notice of her inventions. During World War II she helped invent a wireless communications technology called spread-spectrum radio, which couldn’t be broken by the Nazis.
The technology was the foundation for Wi-Fi and the wireless telecom industry as a whole, as explained in the comprehensive 2011 book Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
So what’s in the FBI file? Information regarding fundraisers she threw during World War II that allegedly had ties to communist organisations. But as we know, looking cross-eyed at a red crayon got you branded a communist in the 1950s. The file also includes a big, fat b7E redaction. That type of redaction is for keeping secret any “techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations”. So yeah, it’s hard to speculate what the FBI was redacting there.
Page 1 of Hedy Lamarr’s FBI file
The second page of the file refers to a Mandl (probably Fritz Mandl), whom Lamarr was married to from 1933 until 1937. The redactions make it hard to determine what accusations may have been made there, but according to Lamarr’s memoirs he was a tyrant. Despite both Mandl and Lamarr’s Jewish heritage, the fascists were quite cosy with Mandl and his arms dealing. Lamarr fled the country and went to the United States after their divorce.
Page 2 of Hedy Lamarr’s FBI file
Page 3 of Hedy Lamarr’s FBI file
Is it possible that Lamarr’s file is larger? Sure. My experiences with the FBI’s records retention policies haven’t been great over the years. It’s entirely possible that much of Lamarr’s file has been slowly culled over the years. And many files from this era that have to do with Hollywood have long since been transferred to the National Archives, so it’s a bit strange that this one hasn’t yet.
Is there something in the file that I missed and jumps out at you as significant? I don’t need to remind you good people of Internetville that this is what the comments section is for.