The Millstone Times August 2021

Interesting People throughout History Hedy LaMarr- Actress/ Inventor By Pam Teel Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian- American actress was once known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Accord- ing to movie goers, when Lamarr came on screen, people gasped; she literally took one's breath away. Hedy performed in many plays in Vienna and garnered many admirers. She married one of her admirers, Fried- rich Mandl, who turned out to be incredibly controlling of the young actress. Finding her marriage unbearable, and the fact that Mandl was entwined with the Nazi movement, Hedy decided to flee her husband as well as her country. She did this by disguising herself as her maid, going first to Paris, and then London. After arriving in London in 1937, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was scouting for talent in Europe. Mayor became enamored with her. She initially turned down the first offer he made her of $125 a week. Cleverly, she booked herself onto the same New York-bound liner that Mayor was on, and during that trip, she impressed him enough to secure a $500 a week contract. She was persuaded to change her name, Hedwig Kiesler, to distance herself from her a lead role that she played in a sexually controversial film when she was just18. She chose the surname "Lamarr" in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr. She soon became one of Hollywood’s leading ladies with a string of successful films, starring opposite leading men such as Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Charles Boyer, James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Robert Young, William Powell, and others. Hedy was born on November 9th, 1914 into a well-to-do Jewish family. An only child, she received a great deal of attention from her father, a bank director and curious man, who inspired her to look at the world with open eyes.

He would often take her for long walks where he would discuss the inner-workings of different machines, like the printing press or street cars. Those con- versations guided her thinking, and at only 5 years of age, she could be found taking apart and reassembling her music box to understand how the machine operated. Lamarr’s mother was a concert pianist and introduced her to the arts, placing her in both ballet and piano lessons from a young age. Lamarr was not happy with how she was always being portrayed in movies. They focused on her beauty and sensuality, giving her relatively few lines to say. Lamarr’s brilliant mind was ignored, and her beauty always took center stage. The lack of acting challenges bored her, and she took up the idea of inventing even more to relieve her boredom. Lamarr was also paid less than other actresses because she would not sleep with Mayer. Aviation tycoon, Howard Hughes, worked with Lamarr to improve the design of his planes. She suggested he change the rather square design to a more streamlined shape, based on pictures of the fastest birds and fish she could find. Her scientific mind had been bottled-up for a long time by Hollywood, but Hughes helped to fuel the innovator in her, giving her a small set of equipment to use in her trailer on set. While she had an inventing table set up in her house, the small set allowed Lamarr to work on inventions between takes. Hughes took her to his airplane factories, showed her how the planes were built, and introduced her to the scientists behind the process. Lamarr was inspired to innovate as Hughes wanted to create faster planes that could be sold to the US military. She bought a book of fish and a book of birds and looked at the fastest of each kind. She combined the fins of the fastest fish and the wings of the fastest bird to sketch a new wing design for Hughes’ planes. Upon showing the design to Hughes, he commented on what a genius she was. Improving things came naturally to her. She went on to create an upgraded stoplight, a tablet that dissolved in water to make a soda similar to Coca-Cola, and an aid to help those with limited mobility to bathe. However, her most significant invention was engineered as the United States geared up to enter World War II. Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed and set off course. She thought of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked. She conceived an idea and contacted her friend, composer George Antheil, who she met at a dinner party, to help her implement it. Antheil was known for his writing, film scores, and experimental music compositions. He shared the same inventive spirit as Lamarr. She and Antheil talked about a variety of topics, but of their greatest concerns was the coming war. Hedy did not feel very comfortable sitting there in Hollywood, making lots of money, when things were in such a state in the world. Taking the knowledge that she learned from her first husband about munitions and various weaponry, she and Antheil began to tinker with ideas to combat the axis powers. The two came up with an extraordinary new communication system used with the intention of guiding torpedoes to their targets in war. The system in- volved the use of “frequency hopping” amongst radio waves, with both transmitter and receiver hopping to new frequencies together. Doing so prevented the interception of the radio waves, thereby allowing the torpedo to find its intended target. After its creation, Lamarr and Antheil sought a patent and military support for the invention. While awarded U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 in August of 1942, the Navy decided against the implementation of the new system. The rejection led Lamarr to instead support the war efforts with her celebrity by selling war bonds. Happy in her adopted country, she became an American citizen in April 1953. Lamarr’s patent expired before she ever saw a penny from it. While she continued to accumulate credits in films until 1958, her inventive genius was yet to be recognized by the public. She and Antheil pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth commu- nication systems. It wasn’t until Lamarr’s later years that she received any awards for her invention. The Electronic Frontier Foundation jointly awarded Lamarr and Antheil with their Pioneer Award in 1997. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Although she died in 2000 at the age of 85, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the development of her frequency hopping technology in 2014. Such achievement has led Lamarr to be dubbed “the mother of Wi-Fi” and other wireless communications like GPS and Bluetooth. Today, various spread-spectrum techniques are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. In the last decades of her life, Lamarr became reclusive and communicated only by telephone with the outside world.

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