09 November 2015

Google Celebrates Hedy Lamarr

A new Google Doodle debuted today of birthday girl Hedy Lamarr. What a lovely way to pay tribute to a woman who was not only one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen but who was an important inventor as well. 

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. She began working in the movies in her teens including playing a bored housewife at age 18 in the Czech film The Ecstasy (1933), which included a scandalous nude scene. That same year she married a wealthy munitions manufacturer who did business with Mussolini and had Hitler over for dinner. Four years later, Lamarr fled her husband and ended up in Paris. Later in London she met Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, who changed her name and brought her to Hollywood.

There Lamarr made her American debut in Algiers (1938) opposite Charles Boyer. She would go on to star in a series of films with some of the screen's biggest stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, and John Garfield. Lamarr was typecast as the beautiful seductress, often of unnamed foreign origins. 

The talented Hedy Lamarr

She quickly grew bored with filmmaking and started working on inventions in her home. One evening during World War II, she met composer George Antheil and the two talked about torpedoes, something Lamarr had learned a lot about during dinner parties with her first husband (she would be married six times in total). Lamarr and Antheil were soon working on her idea that if you could learn how to make radio frequencies hop in a random pattern, you could keep the enemy from detecting and jamming frequencies used to guide torpedoes. The result of their collaboration was a frequency-hopping technology for which they received a patent in 1942. Yet their work wouldn't be used by the military until the Cuban Missile Crisis 20 years later. By that time Lamarr's acting career was over and Antheil was dead.

It was only toward the end of her life that Lamarr began to get attention for her work. In 1997, when she learned she was to receive the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award her response was, "It's about time." She passed away on January 19, 2000.

Lamarr and Antheil's invention became the basis of 
spread-spectrum technology, which is used today in cell phones and wireless networks. For this, we all have reason to give thanks to Hedy Lamarr.

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