The stereotype of Hollywood woman is not brilliant inventor and Hedy Lamarr certainly did not follow the stereotype in any way.
Labeled the “most beautiful woman in the world,” Lamarr deserves her Monday “Google Doodle” for more than her acting and her looks on the silver screen.
Here are a few interesting fast facts about the actress-inventor who ran away from an unhappy marriage in Austria at the start of World War II to make it big in Hollywood and also pave the way for you to use the Wi-Fi you are using to read this.
Her “orgasm” face in “Ecstasy” was from a pin prick
Lamarr first hit international recognition for her role in the 1932 Czechoslovak film “Ecstasy” which was considered too racy to be permitted in the U.S. without some serious editing. While Lamarr, at age 17, did a nude scene the part everyone got upset about was her up-close face shot. Lamarr’s husband, who married her a year after the film was made, did not know about sex scene in the film and was outraged at what appeared to be an orgasm on screen. He decided to use his considerable wealth to buy up as many of the movies as he could get his hands on, adding to the notoriety. But the whole thing was acted, and not to the directors satisfaction, so he used a safety pin to prick her in the but to get the desired facial expression.
She learned about military technology from the Nazis
Lamarr’s possessive rich husband was an arms dealer, and in 1930s the biggest buyers were the Third Reich. Then as now networking was key and as Lemarr’s husband frequently invited leading officials of the Nazi regime to his home for dinner. As a trophy wife her job was to look pretty, but she also listened. The discussions included the latest developments in submarines and missiles, and the problems involved in guiding torpedoes by radio signals, and disguising it from the enemy. While Lamarr’s husband kept her under constant surveillance he was also known to ask her advice on business, just never in front of anyone.
She escaped in disguise to travel to the U.S.
There is a rumor that she managed to get her husband to unlock her jewelry for a fancy event and then disappeared while wearing all of it. The more likely story is she took advantage of her husbands absence on a business trip and drugged a maid. Using the nondescript outfit she then crept out of the mansion. Considering her husband was known to have bugged multiple rooms in the house to make sure she never again asked for help escaping this was a considerable feat. She later used her acting skills to sneak on a boat headed from London to the U.S., and while on the ship she secured a five-year deal with MGM.
Hollywood star by day, inventor by night
Despite being a high profile actress in Hollywood from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, Lamarr did not drink, party or do any of the standard activities of a famed actress. Instead, Lamarr went home to a lab full of engineering reference books and would sit down at her drafting table and begin tinkering. Her inventions ranged from better tissue boxes to a new traffic signal. Not content with having her photo be the most desirable poster by American soldiers Lamarr decided to use her background knowledge on Nazi weaponry for her new homeland.
The woman behind Wi-Fi
It is rather fitting that Google would celebrate Lamarr’s 101st birthday. She is the brain’s behind Wi-Fi today. Lamarr and composer George Antheil together designed a way for the new technology of wireless torpedo control to avoid jamming by enabling the sender and receiver to jump between multiple channels, or Spread Spectrum Technology. The two patented their design but turned it over the Navy.
The New York Times mentioned their invention as “Red Hot” and so vital to national defense the government would not let details be released. Unfortunately her invention was dismissed and she was told to use her looks to sell war bonds, and it was shelved until the Cuban Missile Crisis. When her invention was declassified in 1970, the wireless revolution was built off of Lamarr’s technology. It is critical for cellphones, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to function, but Lamarr was a faded star forgotten as just another Hollywood beauty by that time.
Three years before her death in 2000, she became the first woman to receive the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed “The Oscar™ of Inventing.”