During the height of her Hollywood career, Hedy Lamarr was considered “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Her stunning looks landed her, and limited her, to Hollywood movie roles where her main purpose was to be eye candy. But Lamarr’s legacy goes far beyond her looks. Tired of Hollywood and wanting to help the war effort, Lamarr invented what would be the precursor to the internet, Bluetooth, and GPS.
Richard Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, tells Lemarr’s story in his new book,Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. The book talks about Hedy’s intellectual side, which was largely overshadowed by her looks during her life.
Rhodes explains that even though Lamarr appeared in more than 40 films during her career, she was often bored with Hollywood life.
“Hedy didn’t drink. She didn’t like to party… Her idea of a good evening was a quiet dinner party with some intelligent friends where they could discuss ideas — which sounds so un-Hollywood, but Hedy had to find something else to do to occupy her time.”
NPR reports that Hedy had a drafting table installed in her house where she could work on inventions.
“She was constantly looking at the world and thinking, ‘Well, how could that be fixed? How could that be improved?'”
Lamarr was also fascinated by WWII and wanted to invent something that could help the war effort. She focused on radio signals. Lamarr thought that if she could make radio signals to hop around randomly they would be harder to block.
Lamarr and George Antheil invented “spread-spectrum radio.” Her invention didn’t help the war effort, since the Navy disregarded the idea at the time and filed it away, but after the war they used “spread-spectrum radio” to build a “sonobuoy,” a device which used sonar to detect submarines.
“They resuscitated the idea of frequency-hopping and built it into the sonobuoy. And after that, the whole system just spread like wildfire.”
But Hedy Lamarr didn’t receive too much credit at the time. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Lemarr’s work was recognized.
Here’s a tribute to “The Prettiest Face in Film.”
Did you know about Hedy Lamarr? Do you think she’s the most beautiful geek in the world?