A lot of inventors are primarily known for their breakthroughs and contributions to the field of science. However, there is a beautiful Hedy Lamarr who is known mostly for being an elegant actress. She was one of the MGM stars during the “Golden Age” and she was a well-known face in those years. Apart from being a crowd darling, she helped invent spread-spectrum communication techniques as well as frequency hopping which is a necessary part of wireless communication back then before mainstream computers were famous. This technology is still used today, and it was the Austrian actress inventor who contributed to its pilot development.
Hedy Lamarr was the screen name for which the actress was known by. She was born on the 9th of November in 1914 to parents Emil Kiesler and Gertrud or “Trude” Kesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Her birth name was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. She was of Jewish descent since her mother was a Budapest native who originally came from the “Jewish haute bourgeoisie,” while her father who was born in Lemberg was a secular Jew.
Career—in Entertainment and Science
She was 17 when she first appeared in a film which was called Geld Auf Der Strase—a German project. Her career in entertainment made a strong presence in the Czechoslavakian and German productions during those days. The film called Extase from 1932 Germany brought Hedy to the attention of Hollywood producers. A few years later, she became an MGM contract star.
When she entered Hollywood, this was when she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and her first film came out in 1938. It was called the Algiers. Lamarr had a successful career in entertainment and was known as “the most beautiful woman in films” back in those days. She even had an autobiography called “Ecstacy and Me” which discussed her private life as well as details about the film Extase which became notorious for sensual scenes.
Her first husband was Friedrich Mandl, the man who was reputed as the third richest in Austria at the time. He had objected to the distribution of Extase and said it was exploitation of the expression on Hedy’s face. In Lamarr’s autobiography, she had described her husband as an extremely controlling man who prevented her growth in her acting career. She also felt imprisoned in their castle-like home where parties were held and which notable people like Hitler and Mussolini attended. Also in her autobiography, she had stated that she devised a plan to escape the controlling marriage and said she disguised herself as her maid and then left for Paris where she subsequently blossomed as an actress.
George Anthiel, an avant-garde composer who happened to be Lamarr’s neighbor when she lived in California was the son of German immigrants. He had been experimenting with the automated controls of musical instruments especially for the music he made for the Ballet Mecanique. It was during the Second World War when Lamarr and Antheil discussed how radio-controlled torpedoes being used in the naval wars could be intercepted by broadcasting a particular interference at the signal’s frequency control which would ultimately get the torpedo off course.
Together with Anthiel, Lamarr developed the “Secret Communications System” which was designed to help counter the Nazis. They achieved this feat by manipulating the radio frequencies at irregular intervals during reception or transmission. Their invention formed a kind of unbreakable code which prevented classified information and message transmissions from being intercepted by those who aren’t their allies.
Lamarr earned her knowledge about torpedoes from Mandl and she used her knowledge from him to help develop this invention. With Anthiel who incorporated the use of a piano roll, they were successfully able to pull off frequency hopping. They used the 88 piano keys to randomly change the signals within the range of 88 frequencies.
It was in 1942 when the patent for the invention of Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey (her married name then) was granted. However, the early version of the frequency hopping technique they created was met with opposition by the United States navy and therefore was not adopted. Their idea was not used by the navy until 1962 when the military used it for a Cuban blockade after the patent had already expired.
In 1997, the invention was honored because the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr credits—although belated, for her contributing work for the technology. Today, the work done by Lamarr and Anthiel is the basis for the modern spread-spectrum communication technology. It is the idea behind Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connections, and CDMA. Later in her life, Lamarr expressed her wanting to join the National Inventors Council. However, it was said by the NIC member Charles Kettering that she could help with the war efforts better if she would use her celebrity status for selling war bonds.
Later Years and Death
In April of 1953 Lamarr became a naturalized American citizen at the age of 38. Her “Ecstasy in Me” autobiography had earned negative reviews especially after her account of having had sexual intercourse with a man inside a brothel she was hiding in when Mandl was searching for her after her escape. According to her, these accounts had been falsely made by the ghost writer Leo Guild.
Even in her older age come the 1970s, she had been offered scripts, commercials for television, and even stage projects. None of these offers, however, appealed to her and these years became her years of seclusion. In 1981 and with her failing eyesight, she chose to retreat to Miami Beach in Florida.
In January 2000, Lamarr died in Florida due heart problems, namely arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic valvular heart disease, and heart failure. Because of her contributions especially to the world of entertainment, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Despite not being highly recognized for her contributions in the field of science since women were not treated as equally back then, her invention together with Anthiel had paved its way to modern times and continues to persevere to this day.