“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” – Hedy Lamarr
Compiling articles about people of everyday character, Hedy Lamarr fits the bill in so many ways. Primarily known for her acting career, and often called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Film,” Hedy Lamarr’s beauty and screen presence made her one of the most popular actresses of her day, but Lamarr’s talents extended far beyond the big screen.
In June of 1941, at the beginning of World War II, at the age of 26, Lamarr, under the name Hedy Kiesler Markey, collaborated with composer George Antheil to co-invent an early version of frequency-hopping spread spectrum. According to the patent application: An object of the invention is to provide a method of Secret Communication which is relatively simple and reliable in operation, but at the same time is difficult to discover or decipher.
Fig. 7 above, is a diagram in plan illustrating how the course of a torpedo may be changed in accordance with the invention… In accordance with the present invention, the torpedo (11) can be steered from the mother ship (10a) and its course changed from time to time as necessary to cause it to strike its target. In directing the torpedo it may, under some circumstances, be observed directly from the mother ship (10), or its course may be followed by an 40 observer in an airplane (18) who communicates his findings to the mother ship (10a). It is also possible to control the torpedo directly from the airplane (18) if the latter is equipped with the necessary Synchronous transmitting equipment in accordance with the invention.
This facet of the application was intended to serve as a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, intended to defeat the threat of communications jamming by the Axis powers.
At the same time Lamarr was engaged in inventing this technology, she was starring in films, like John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, and co-starring with James Stewart, Lana Turner, James Garfield, and Spencer Tracy.
According to the Hedy Lamarr Wikipedia page, “although the US Navy did not adopt Lamarr and Antheil’s invention until 1957, various spread-spectrum techniques are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. Recognition of the value of their work resulted in the pair being posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.”
She also helped improve aviation designs for Howard Hughes while they dated during the war.
According to Yohana Desta’s, How Inventive “Genuis” Hedy Lamarr Became a Hollywood Tragedy (2017), “an unearthed interview features Lamarr discussing her relationship with Hughes, a one-time flame who did everything he could to support her tinkering hobby. More than that, says Lamarr, “He relied on me.”
“At the time, Hughes was trying to figure out a way to make his planes fly faster. Lamarr quickly deduced that his plane’s wings were too square, so she bought a book on birds and a book on fish, analyzing the build of the fastest ones in order to create a new kind of wing shape. “[I] showed it to Howard Hughes and he said, ‘You’re a genius.’””
Lamarr’s personal life didn’t follow the trajectory of success she enjoyed professionally, and she’s quoted on HedyLamarr.com as having said, “I must quit marrying men who feel inferior to me. Somewhere there must be a man who could be my husband and not feel inferior. I need a superior inferior man.”
“Perhaps my problem in marriage – and it is the problem of many women – was to want both intimacy and independence. It is a difficult line to walk, yet both needs are important to a marriage.” – Hedy Lamarr
She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. At 17 years old, Hedy starred in her first film, a German project called Geld auf der Strase. Hedy continued her film career by working on both German and Czechoslavakian productions. The 1932 German film Exstase, featuring a naked Ms. Lamarr, brought her to the attention of Hollywood producers.
It’s her spunk and pursuit of her passions that I most admire.
With this quote in mind, clearly Hedy Lamarr fits this blog as an Everyday Person of Character.
“Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. That’s the way I was. The unknown was always so attractive to me… and still is.”
Celebrity Invention Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communications System, The Atlantic, by Rebecca Greenfield,