Hedy Lamarr

January 02, 2010

by Casey
Guest BloggerOn the face of it, a casual viewer might dismiss Hedy Lamarr as just another Hollywood illusion. Hedy is notorious for her dazzling beauty and was rightly tagged as The Most Beautiful Woman in Hollywood . She had a successful film career with roles ranging from the calculating native girl Tondalyo in White Cargo (1942) to the Russian zealot Theodore who steals Clark Gable's heart in Comrade X (1940). Hedy also runs a close second to marriage guru Lana Turner in the husband count with 6, and she divorced every one. While these are the facts that spring to mind at the mention of her golden name, I'd like to spotlight a side she is less famous for: her brain.

Our friend Hedy, was in fact, something of a genius. Her first husband, Fritz Mandel, was an important munitions manufacturer in Austria . Fritz was such a celebrated man, he hosted Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini at parties in his home. He was also a man without principles and sold his goods to all takers (a quality which eventually caused him to have to flee to Argentina ). Before his downfall, he funded research in the field of control systems for bombs. It is presumed that Hedy snooped into this research and learned about a scientific breakthrough.

The knowledge she acquired from her former husband's research department stayed with her and she started coming up with additions to the theory. Many years later, while Hedy was living in Hollywood , she started chatting with a musician neighbor named George Antheil. She shared her idea of "frequency hopping" for radio control of torpedoes with George. George was fascinated and helped her to conjure up a scheme to bring her idea to life.

Frequency hopping was a revolutionary idea at the time. It would allow a torpedo to be controlled by using what appeared to be an unplanned combination of radio frequencies. This would make it practically impossible for an enemy to tap into the control frequency, since the frequency was constantly changing with no apparent pattern. Frequency hopping was controlled through the use of perforated rolls of paper similar to piano player rolls (see the musicians influence here?).

Hedy and George were awarded a patent for frequency hopping on August 11, 1942 - the height of Hedy's film career. Next, the duo attempted to get the US Navy interested in their new weapon technology. The shortsighted reviewers found it impossible to look past the integration of music, and refused to get involved with the idea. Their loss, I say.

But, never fear - this story does not have a tragic ending. At the Sylvania Electronic Division of Buffalo, NY in 1957, the engineers took up where Hedy and George left off, seeing the incredible value in their findings. The Sylvania engineers upgraded the technology slightly and had a version of the Lamarr-Antheil communication system on US ships sent to Cuba in 1962. Today, this technology is used in cellular and wireless networks to prevent the systems from being hacked.

So, next time you flip your cell phone open to take a call or send a text, remember the glamorous Hollywood lady who helped make it possible: Hedy Lamarr, A Gal With A Beautiful Mind.


Casey wrote a fantastic sister post to this one on her blog, Noir Girl. It features a clip from Come Live With Me in which Hedy Lamarr demonstrates how to properly tie a turban -- and Casey dissected the demonstration step by step for the modern vintage girl :-D Here's the link!


Millie said...

Fascinating post, Auntie Casey! Well done! You had me mesmerized from start to finish!

And Kate, GORGEOUS painting!

NoirGirl said...

Aww thank you Millie my dear! :D

KATE!!! This painting is AMAZING! Oh my gosh how thrilling this is!

VP81955 said...

What a nice way to begin 2010. Thanks!

Raquel Stecher said...


I didn't know that about Hedy Lamar. Thanks for enlightening us Casey.

Kate - Amazing work on the portrait!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic job, both of you!

Casey, I really loved reading this! Actually made it a little easier to understand.

Now I will send a thank you to her for my cell phone. *muahahahaha*; all my non classic film friends will see how important these stars were.

Again, fabulous painting and post, Kate & Casey!

BaronessVonVintage said...

Fascinating! Thanks for this! Happy New Year

Elizabeth said...

Really great post Casey! And the painting looks lovely Kate!

Terence Towles Canote said...

One of the things I always admired about Hedy was that she was a genius as well as beautiful. Sadly, this fact is not better known! Great post, Casey, and great painting, Kate.

Sarah Mann said...

I love when you do that silhouette thing with your pictures Kate! :D totally awesome!

Go Hedy. And Buffalo.

KC said...

I love the way you told this story Casey--and the contrast in the portrait is just beautiful Kate!

NoirGirl said...

I'm so happy to see this many Hedy lovers out there! :D Thanks to all of you and my dear non-fleshie Kate for the chance to share some Hedy love!

The Vintage Vamp said...

Her co-invention is one of the reasons I was always so obsessed with Hedy! I love that she's the ultimate Beauty and Brains package. GREAT portrait! xoxo!