Wednesday, August 12, 2009
In 1938, an Austrian film actress, who had been called the most beautiful woman in Europe came to the United States as part of the wave of artists like Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre, who left Germany to pursue their craft in America.
Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva marie Kessler in Vienna Austrian to a haute bourgeois Jewish family in 1914. She started acting in films in the early thirties and soon made a reputation for herself as a major German cinema star. In 1934, she shocked Europe in the Czechoslovakian film, Ecstasy where she appeared in nude scenes and probably portrayed the first orgasm ever filmed in a movie. She later claimed that the acting in the scene was abetted by the director, Gustav Machaty, who poked her with a safety pin to induce the expressions he filmed.
She married a Viennese Jewish Arms manufacturer, Freidrich Mandl, who was extremely possesive of her and tried to curtail her career. He even bought up copies of the Ecstasy film to try to prevent it from being seen.
She was confined in his castle and in spite of his Jewish background, Mandl frequently entertained German officials, including Hitler and the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini who attended his parties..
Bored and extremely intlelligent, she sat in on her husbands meetings. She was a very gifted mathematician and soon learned much about military technology.
In 1937, she decided to leave Mandl and in an ruse that would have made a great film plot in itself, she persuaded Mandl to let her go to a party decked out in her most expensive jewelry. She drugged him before she left and got out of the country with the jewels and made her way to London, where she obtained a divorce.
She met Louis B. Mayer in London, who invited her to Hollywood. Immediately, she started making films and was called one of the most beautiful women in the world.
Some of her biggest films were Algiers, Boom Town, Tortilla Flats and White Cargo, which is an iconic film which I remember seeing many times just for it’s over the edge campiness.Probably her biggest success was in DeMilles epic, Samson and Delilah.
But there is another Hedy Lamarr, this was the woman who in 1942 along with George Antheil, an avant garde composer who had invented a method to have multiple player pianos play his scores, invented the concept of Frequncy-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology.
It was based on technology she had learned in Vienna at the Castle of her arms manufacturer ex husband. He had been trying unsuccesfully to develop radio controlled torpedos.
Lamarr and Antheil envisioned a secret communications system for the US Military which would be impossible for enemies to detect or jam. Their early system used a piano roll from a player piano to change between 88 frequencies. Why 88? That’s how many keys there are on a piano.
This was way ahead of its time. They were granted U.S. Patent 2,292,387 and gave the technology to the American military, but it languished forgotten and unused until the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis in the early 60’s by the Americans who made use of it during their blockade of Cuba.
By this time the patent had expired and neither Lamarr or Antheil, who died in 1959, made any money.
Lamarr was finally honored in 1997 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Today, Lamarr and Antheil’s Frequency-Hopping Technology is the basis for modern spread spectrum communication technology, such as COFDM used in WIFI network connections and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.
Lamarr wantred to join the National Inventors Council, but wasn’t taken seriously as a glamorous female movie star during the war, so she went out and raised money selling war bonds.
She raised over $7,000,000 at just one event.
Three years after Lamarr was finally honored for her work, she died in 2000 in Altamonte Springs, California. Her son, Anthony Loder, took her ashes back to the Weinerwald Forest in Austria, where they were spread...