The Off-Stage Story of Hedy Lamarr: Golden-Age Hollywood Actress and Pioneering Inventor
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🔝 Today’s Featured Story
Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr once said, ‘I can excuse everything but boredom. Boring people don't have to stay that way.’ Lamarr certainly wasn’t boring. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1914, she was to become a movie star who acted in dozens of films and a pioneering inventor.
Lamarr reached America via London, after fleeing from her abusive first husband in 1937. There she met Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer, who was on the lookout for émigré talent. She was soon typecast as the mysterious foreigner, the classic beauty, the temptress, and was swiftly named the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in Film.’
As an only child however, Lamarr used to go on long walks with her father, where he would discuss the inner-workings of different machines, like the printing press or street cars. These conversations guided Lamarr’s thinking and at only 5 years old, she could be found taking apart and reassembling her music box to understand how the machine operated.
Lamarr’s brilliant mind was ignored when she became an actress. Few people knew that alongside her acting career, she was also an inventor, working on everything from the shape of aircraft wings to dissolvable drink flavourings.
Most of her inventions were not widely used, but when WWII broke out, she wanted to create something that would help Allied forces fight the Nazis. Lamarr worked with composer George Antheil to develop a new way to steer torpedoes. She had already discovered that radio-signals used to control torpedoes could be jammed by the Nazis, making them miss their targets.
The pair settled on a system that would randomly switch to different radio frequencies to get around jamming, known as frequency-hopping (FH) spread spectrum communication. While awarded U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 in August of 1942, the Navy decided against the implementation of the new system.
She continued to accumulate credits in films until 1958, but it wasn’t until Lamarr’s later years that she received any recognition for her invention, now recognised as having had a large impact on the course of communications technology. Some have even dubbed her ‘the mother of WIFI’.