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Glamour star Hedy Lamarr is found dead at home at 86

ORLANDO, Fla. — Hedy Lamarr spent the last decades of her life much like she spent the first: scorning the glamorous image that made her a Hollywood star.

Neighbors said the Austrian-born movie siren often collected her mail under the cover of night, grasping a cane in one hand and a flashlight in the other.

"Any girl can be glamorous," the actress, once billed as the world's most beautiful woman, told The Associated Press in 1942. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

Miss Lamarr, who was both a Hollywood pinup and a born tinkerer once granted a communications technology patent, was found dead in her home Wednesday. She was 86.

She first achieved international fame and notoriety as a result of the 1933 Czech film "Ecstasy," in which she acted in a steamy love scene and appeared nude in a 10-minute swimming sequence.

Hollywood, while decades away from such frankness, recognized a beautiful face and the value of the publicity "Ecstasy" engendered.

After a few years away from the camera as the wife of Fritz Mandl, an Austrian munitions magnate, Miss Lamarr was signed by MGM and brought to the United States in 1937.

Her American film debut came in 1938 with "Algiers," co-starring Charles Boyer. She played a wealthy adventurer and became a box-office sensation despite grousing by Boyer that she couldn't act.

In its review, the show biz paper Variety disagreed. "She brings to the picture an abundance of good looks, acting talent and enticement," it said, adding that with a little encouragement, "nothing apparently stands between her and success in Hollywood films."

She epitomized smoky glamour in a string of movies in the 1930s and '40s, including "Tortilla Flat," in which she played a woman who was part Mexican; "White Cargo," playing a slave woman; and "Lady of the Tropics."

One of her most successful films was the 1949 "Samson and Delilah," directed by Cecil B. DeMille, with Victor Mature as Samson. She got a rare chance to try comedy in "My Favorite Spy," a 1951 Bob Hope film.

"She was one of the most beautiful women in film and a great pleasure to work with," Hope said Wednesday.

Miss Lamarr was reputedly the first choice of producer Hal Wallis for the heroine Ilsa in the 1943 classic "Casablanca," but the part eventually went to Ingrid Bergman.

The daughter of a banker, Miss Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on Nov. 9, 1913, although some references say 1914 or 1915. Her screen name was said to be an homage to the 1920s screen beauty Barbara La Marr.

She was married and divorced six times — to Mandl, screenwriter Gene Markey, actor John Loder, nightclub owner Ernest Stauffer, oil millionaire W. Howard Lee and lawyer Lewis W. Boies Jr.

She adopted a son, James, and had two children with Loder, Anthony and Denise.

During World War II, Miss Lamarr showed off another side when she came up with the idea of a radio signaling device that would reduce the danger of detection or jamming.

Drawing on her knowledge of military products that she picked up while married to Mandl, Miss Lamarr and a friend, composer George Antheil, developed the idea further and received a patent in 1942.

The method she developed was not used at the time but since the '80s, high-tech versions of the concept, called "spread spectrum," have been used in some cordless phones, military radios and wireless computer links.

"I read the patent," Franklin Antonio, chief technical officer of the cellular phone maker Qualcomm Inc., said in 1997. "You don't usually think of movie stars having brains, but she sure did."

Miss Lamarr said she was "interested in everything."

"When I was a little girl, just 4 years old, I remember my father had a gold watch. And I asked "Why does this in front go around, how does this work?" Miss Lamarr told the AP in 1997.

She once wanted to work at National Inventors Council in Washington, D.C., but was told she could do more for the fight against the Nazis by using her star status to sell war bonds.

"She's been forgotten. But she contributed so much to an older generation. A lot of men fell in love with her. And now the younger generation is benefiting from the unknown creative work that she did," her son, Anthony Loder, said in 1997.

Her acting career faded in the mid-'50s, when she appeared in some Italian productions. Her last film was "The Female Animal" with Jane Powell in 1958.

She said her career suffered because she wouldn't sleep with a VIP just to get ahead. "My problem is I'm a hell of a nice dame," she said in a 1970 interview.

Her 1966 autobiography, "Ecstasy and Me," filled with sexy anecdotes, some of them involving other women, became a best seller. But she later sued, saying the manuscript prepared by the ghostwriter was full of distortions and errors.

A pair of shoplifting arrests — neither of which resulted in convictions — and a series of lawsuits against companies she said were misusing her likeness — caused headlines in her later years.

"I'm sick and tired of being in the limelight," Miss Lamarr told a New York radio station after the second shoplifting incident.