On this week’s episode we are talking about a gal who was promoted by Louis B. Mayer as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” Her patent, with George Antheil, is the blueprint for a technology we all use today. It’s called Frequency Hopping and it’s used in cell phones, blue tooth and in wifi.
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Hedy Lamarr acted in a little over 30 films and had her fair share of scandal in the press. Off screen she was complex woman who fled her home country, married half a dozen times and spent her free time inventing things.
She was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary as Hedwig Kiesler in 1914. She was an only-child to two Jewish parents. She was discovered as an early teen by theater producer Max Reinhardt. Still a teenager, her breakout film was a notorious and racy film with captured the attention of a rich and powerful Austrian military arms merchant with Nazi ties, Friedrich Mandl.
Hedy and Friedrich married in 1933. Hedy was treated like a doll to entertain guests as they talked about military munitions. She wasn’t happy but she was always listening.
In 1937 she fled to London and got a meeting with Louis B. Mayer. Mayer signed her on a short-term contract with the conditions: she got divorced, she changed her name, she learned English better, and her look would be overhauled and screen tested.
She quickly became a product of Hollywood Golden Age. She was branded by Mayer as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” Her first Hollywood film was Algires where she had a small but crucial role, she was a break out. She was in 26 more films including Boom Town with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable White Cargo with Walter Pigeon. She made her final film in 1958.
At a dinner party in Hollywood she met composer, George Antheil. Their conversation focused on the current situation with World War II and Hedy had an idea. Perhaps from listening into to dinner conversation while with Friedrich Mandl, Hedy talked about the need for better torpedo guidance systems. She honed in on the use of radio guidance but knew the frequency’s could be hacked.
Hedy and George came up with idea that was patented in 1942 as a “Secret Communications System”. The device was a transmitter and receiver that would hop from frequency to frequency to avoid being detected. They used the idea of a player piano roll as a key for the transmitter and receiver to know what frequency to be on and when. (Phoebe breaks down the amazing science in the episode.)
They signed over the patent to the US military who could only visualize a player piano strapped to a torpedo and told Hedy her time would be better spent selling war bonds than silly inventing.
Hedy did go on to sell a lot of war bonds and the military did get around to using the technology…when tech became digital. By then the patent had expired. Hedy and George got no money and very little recondition for their invention until 1997 when they were awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award. Hedy is the first woman ever to win the Bulbie which is hailed as “the Oscars of the inventing world.”
Kate & Phoebe talk about her inventions, her film legacy, her relationships and how beauty and brains shouldn’t be seen as opposite sides of a coin. Listen Here.
Your Gal Friday is a weekly podcast with supplemental video and article profiling and amazing gal of our galaxy that we can all learn from.
Your Gal Friday also ties into Gal’s Guide school outreach. Gal’s Guide offers a K-University presentations of Women You Didn’t Learn About in School. Showcasing 14-26 amazing gals to classrooms and assemblies, the presentations spotlight these gals where the podcast goes more in depth of your new favorite gals every Friday.
- #3 Coco Chanel
- #4 Bessie Coleman
- #5 Ella Fitzgerald
- #6 Harriet Tubman
- #7 Jane Addams
- #8 Ada Lovelace
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