Hedy Lamarr in 1940
Public Domain photo
Hedy Lamarr is best known as an actress, but she had many other talents, too. In fact, she contributed to wireless communication technology that helped win World Wars and has been used in many other applications, including cell phones.
|Hedy in Lady Without a Passport, 1950, public domain photo|
Born in Austria in 1914, Hedy lived in Vienna during the time when Nazi Germany was on the rise. Her original name was Hedwig Kiesler, and she became an actress in the 1920s. She was taken to Berlin for training in theater, then returned to Vienna. She acted both on stage and in films.
In 1933, she married Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy Austrian arms dealer and munitions manufacturer. She was 18, and Mandl was fifteen years older. Hedy later described him as extremely controlling and said she was a prisoner in their luxurious home. Mandl took her to all his business meetings, and it was there that Hedy paid attention and learned about advanced weaponry.
Hedy grew to hate the Nazis. After four years of marriage, she escaped to London. There she met Louis B. Mayer, and he brought her to the United States and gave her a movie contract and a new name (Lamarr).
Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr in Comrade X, 1940
After she came to the United States, Lamarr forged an illustrious career in Hollywood. Among other credits, she starred with Clark Gable in Boom Town and Comrade X, with Spencer Tracy in I Take This Woman and Tortilla Flat, opposite Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy, and Jimmy Stewart in Ziegfeld Girl and Come Live with Me. She appeared in about thirty films during her career.
She met American composer George Antheil, and with him devised a plan to help the war effort. They developed a communications system that could be used in radio-controlled torpedoes to help defeat the Nazis. This worked by manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals. This system could also prevent the enemy from intercepting messages. They received a patent in 1941.
Hedy in 1939 film Lady of the Tropics
Public domain photo
In addition to its usefulness to the armed forces, the technology was a big step forward in digital communications. Cell phones, fax machines, and other modern devices are possible in part because of this system.
In 1997, Lamarr and Anthiel were finally honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. The same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is referred to as the Oscar of inventing.
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Susan Page Davis is the award-winning author of more than eighty novels and novellas in the historical, romance, mystery, and suspense genres. She’s always interested in unusual events of the past. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky.