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Saturday, April 15, 2017

L Is For...Hedy Lamarr: A To Z Challenge 2017


Hedy Lamarr. Public domain image



Hedy Lamarr was a beautiful glamour star in Hollywood in the 1940s. She had been in some German films before fleeing Europe, but her career really took off when she reached the U.S.

But she wasn't just a pretty face. As the trophy wife of an arms dealer working for the Nazis in her native Austria, she was taken to meetings to be shown off. Like other possessors of trophy wives, her husband never thought she might actually be listening to the secrets he and his customers were discussing. No doubt he thought that any brain in that beautiful head was occupied with clothes, make-up and the next party. 

Little did he know...

Hedy - then Hedwig Kiesler - had a very good brain, one she was not going to use in support of the Nazis. She ran off to Paris(there's a story about her drugging her maid in her escape). There, she met Hollywood producer Louis B Mayer, who offered her a contract. 

In the U.S. she wanted to become a part of the National Inventors' Council. Instead, she was asked to raise money for the war effort by selling kisses. She did this, raising a lot of money in one night by selling kisses at $25,000 each! Her lips must have needed a retread after all that... 

Hedy Lamarr was not a spy. What she did was contribute - potentially, anyway - to blocking enemy interference with, or eavesdropping on, submarines. At a party she met a composer called George Antheil. Between them, the composer and the actress worked out something based on player piano rolls. It's called frequency hopping and it's still in use, but not for counter-intelligence or blocking the enemy.

It was not adopted by the U.S. Navy till the patent ran out, well after the war.

Nowadays, you use the invention of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil every day, whenever you use your smart phone. The principles went into WiFi, CDMA and Bluetooth. As a result, the two of them were inducted into the Inventors' Hall Of Fame. 

When the elderly Hedy was invited to come and collect an award for contributions to science, she snorted, "Hmph! About time!"

It certainly was. And nice to know that someone who could have been a femme fatale spy instead became an inventor. 

Tomorrow: M is for Herbert Dyce Murphy, the Aussie Cross-Dressing Spy

13 comments:

Shawna Atteberry said...

I loved when I found all this about Hedy--although I didn't know she drugged her maid! It's amazing how women's contributions always get reduced to their looks. I'm glad her scientific legacy is alive and well and people know her for more than just another pretty face. My post today is bout another woman in science who gets actively ignored: Ada Lovelace (because you know girls aren't as good at math and science as boys, ahem).

Sharon M Himsl said...

Yay for this amazing woman! Hedy was in my Inventions series a couple of years ago. It took awhile but her invention was finally recognized as valuable.

Suzy said...

I think Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful actresses. I didn't know about her life story. Thanks for sharing.

Suzy at Someday Somewhere - Live as if ...

Sue Bursztynski said...

Shawna, I know a bit about Ada Lovelace, the "mother of computer programming." Interestingly, her mother was the maths whiz and had her trained in maths and science so she wouldn't turn out like her good for nothing poet father, Lord Byron!

Sharon, yes, it has taken a while. Her induction into the Hall of Fame was only a few years ago.

Suzy, glad to have been able to let you know a bit more. Her beauty was one if the things that kept her from bring taken seriously.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I'd heard about Hedy before ... but had forgotten - and she was really very intelligent ... to think that we nearly lost her skills - clever woman ... so glad she made it across to the States. Incredible we use her invention today ...

Ada Lovelace too has been recognised in America with the computer program 'Ada' ... thanks so much for this reminder - cheers Hilary

http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/l-is-for-legendary-beasts-of-britain.html

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! Yes, I'd heard about the Ada program. And there's an Ada Lovelace Day in October too, so...definitely not forgotten. Imagine if Hedy Lamarr had stayed in Austria or been caught before she got to the U.S. - the world of technology would be very different. Maybe a subject for a Harry Turtledove novel, eh ;-)

Miss Andi said...

What an interesting woman! I think it's sad that women are still in the background when it comes to inventions. Or at least in my area of knowledge!

Andrea
A Journey To Courageous Living

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Whoa! There had to be a lot of rich people at that party... O.O

The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

Jacqui Murray said...

Great bio--I had no idea she was so clever. I will never look at that beautiful face the same.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Tarkabarka - yes, I have to wonder about that claim. Perhaps some came back for more! It was the era of VERY rich men and she was a star. "Hey, I snogged Hedy Lamarr! Seven times!" would have been something to brag about at a party later. They must have flown in to line up.

Andi - what is your area? Women inventors have been around for a long time and usually they invent things we use every day and take for granted. The film Joy, for example, was about the inventor of the squeeze mop.

Jacqui - she was definitely not just a pretty face!

Deborah Weber said...

What a fascinating story. Hopefully some day we'll reach the point where recognition for one's contributions doesn't take forever.

susanbruck.com said...

And I thought she was just a beautiful actress. What an amazing story--and a lot of money to earn from kisses!
Thanks for sharing her story.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Deborah, we can only hope! Susan, I suspect she would have preferred to do her but for the war effort as an inventor. She was already doing nicely from her acting!