With all due respect, so far as movies are concerned, the Jewish “Wonder Woman” of 2017 is not Gal Gadot but Hedwig Kiesler (1914-2000), born in Vienna and reborn in Hollywood as Hedy Lamarr.
As detailed in Alexandra Dean’s affecting new documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, and recent biographies by Ruth Barton and Richard Rhodes, Lamarr was not only the most beautiful woman in Hollywood—the icon whose look inspired Disney’s Snow White, Bob Kane’s Catwoman, and blonde star Joan Bennett’s brunette makeover, the subject of the adolescent Andy Warhol’s earliest recorded drawing—but quite possibly the smartest person in the movie industry of any gender.
By day, she wore her bejeweled, plumed working clothes for MGM’s Ziegfeld Girl. By night, she assumed her secret—or perhaps, actual—identity as an amateur inventor, developing a “frequency hopping” radio device, with her colleague, the avant-garde composer George Antheil, that anticipated contemporary wireless communication.
Hers was a particular sort of Jewish life. Hedwig Kiesler was the only child of wealthy Jewish parents, living in Döbling, an affluent, heavily Jewish neighborhood in north-central Vienna. Her father was a bank manager; her mother was would-be concert pianist who converted to Catholicism. (The distinguished architect and theater designer Frederick Kiesler was a cousin.) Hedy attended a predominantly Jewish secondary school whose students had included Sigmund Freud’s daughters.