movies & entertainment

WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: Hedy Lamarr

Karthika S Nair | Mar 15 2020
Image credits: Flickr

Hedy Lamarr: Stupendous Actress And Secret Genius

"All creative people want to do the unexpected." - Hedy Lamarr

Today, we have a lot of ease in our communication and the world has become small in that process. We have wifi facilities to get internet access. To find out the location of a place or site we want to go to, we have GPS or Global Positioning System. BlueTooth helped us talk to someone miles away with the need for an ear set. 

All these technology and inventions came from the foundations laid by Hedy Lamarr. With her life and work, she set the perfect example of "beauty with brains." Or in her own words, the brain is more interesting than how they look. 

Hedy Lamarr was a star in Hollywood who was involved in the technology side of World War II to help the allies. She is one of the most important inventors of her time. 

Early Life and Career

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, to Gertrud and Emil Kiesler. As a child, she was interested in acting and got the push for it after winning a beauty contest at the age of 12. She started working in films both in minor and major roles. After the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, Hedy and her mother left the country and went to the United States. 

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Image credit: wikimedia

On the ship from London to New York, Hedy caught the eye of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Through various means, she entered mainstream Hollywood as an actress. 

On the suggestion of Mayer's wife Margeret Shenberg, Hedy changed her last name from Kiesler to Lamarr, in homage to the silent film star, Barbara La Marr.

During her acting career, she was dubbed as both "the most beautiful woman" and "sensational star." However, she was typecast as a seductress in most of her films. 

She did films such as 'Algiers', 'Lady of the Tropics', 'Boom Town', 'Come Live with Me ', 'Tortilla Flat', and 'White Cargo'.

A Natural Genius

Hedy Lamarr was typecast as a glamourous seductress in most of her films. In most of her films back then, she just had to show up good looking and barely had any lines. More than anything else, due to the way women were projected as sex icons and toys, Lamarr realised they were not encouraged to think or create. This put her boredom and she wanted to do more. 

Thus, she took up a profession and did things that no one can imagine. She became an inventor and marked the way for many future technologies. She settled in Beverly Hill in Los Angeles. 

She did not have any primary training and learned everything herself. Hedy had mentioned in an interview that ideas come naturally to her and that invention is easy. 

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Image credit: wikipic

 

She created a good rapport with John F. Kennedy and Howard Hughes who helped her run her experiments in between acting by providing equipment to run experiments.

She worked on an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve to create a carbonated drink. The beverage making was unsuccessful, however. 

She briefly dated Howard Hughes who was very supportive of her endeavours and she even helped him in his aviation. 

Important Invention

As World War II was becoming more and more intense, communication was the most important facet for all military groups.  

Hedy was sitting in a comfort zone, making a lot of money while people were dying in the World War. Radio-controlled torpedoes were an emerging technology in the naval war at the time. Lamarr found out that it could easily be jammed. She had an idea to prevent the jamming, which was to make a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked.

Hedy contacted her friend George Antheil, who was a composer and pianist. They both worked on the technology by synchronizing a miniaturized player-piano mechanism with radio signals to create a suitable device. 

Both of them received the patent under US Patent 2,292,387 on August 11th, 1942. But it was difficult to implement as the military was not considering patents from outside the army. 

However, an updated version of the device was used during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Legacy

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Image credit: Youtube

Hedy Lamarr's idea is now worth billions. It paved the way to the creation of GPS, Bluetooth technology and Wifi. Yet, during her time, Hedy Lamarr was able to get the kind of recognition or money she deserved. The U.S military publicly acknowledged Hedy Lamarr's frequency-hopping patent and contributions. 

Her inventions and contributions were recognised during the later 20th and early 21st century. A documentary on her life called ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story' has been made and it specifically details her inventions. 

Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil were jointly honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1997. She received the Invention Convention's BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award and is the first woman to receive the award. 

BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award is also regarded as the Oscars for inventions. 

For frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in the year 2014. 

For her contributions in the film industry, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd in 2013. 

Before her 100th birth anniversary, Lamarr received an honorary grave in Vienna's Central Cemetery.

Actress Gal Gadot will be playing Hedy Lamarr in a limited series.