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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Heady Lamarr - A Belated Happy Birthday!

Public domain photo

Yesterday's Google Doodle was in honour of the 101st birthday of Hollywood star Hedwig Kiesler, aka Hedy Lamarr.

I made good use of her story. She appears in two of my children's books, once in Potions To Pulsars : Women Doing Science(long out of print, alas! I wish I could update it and get it republished but Ford Street, my hoped-for market, never got its money back on the only non fiction book it ever published, my own  Crime Time, not because it was no good but because of stuff-ups in distribution) and once in It's True! Your Cat Could Be A Spy. (Still available in POD if you want to read this whole story)

As a young woman, she was married off to an arms dealer who wanted her as a trophy wife and took her to his meetings with Nazi clients. He had underestimated her intelligence and so she was able to listen in carefully and take the information with her when she left him and fled to the U.S.

There, she became a star. One night at a party she was chatting with a composer, George Antheil, about those player pianos and the rolls they put in them.

And suddenly, the two of them came up with a wonderful invention called frequency hopping, based on the player pianos. It could be used to pass information safely between American submarines.

She offered the invention to the government, which didn't bother using it till after the patent ran out some years later and told her that if she really wanted to help, she could raise money selling kisses. This she did, at $20,000 a kiss. There's a delightful cartoon of this in Your Cat Could Be A Spy, drawn by my fabulous illustrator Mitch Vane.

If you're still not sure where this is leading, take a good look at your smartphone. You owe it to a beautiful Hollywood star and a composer. Yes, really! Look it up.

In the 1990s she was given a special award for services to science. "Hmmph!" she snorted. "About tine." Her son went to collect it on her behalf, as she was getting on in years by then. I believe that in 2014 she was inducted into the Inventors' Hall Of Fame.

Hmmph! About time.

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