Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Inventor in the World
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 04:14 PM
Hollywood likes to cast model-type stars as high-level scientists (remember Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in a James Bond movie?). In this case, it’s true.
Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood starlet billed as the most beautiful woman in the world — and a pioneer of modern telecommunications. Richard Rhodes, an historian of World War II, tells the story of her double life in his new book, Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
Rhodes stopped by Studio 360 in 2006 for a special episode about the atomic bomb. He explained that the war brought science home to many Americans: "Like many others, adults and children alike, I began to be interested in science and began reading about science."
Lamarr became interested as well. A successful Hollywood actress in the 1940s, Lamarr had previously been married to an armaments manufacturer and had taken an interest in torpedoes, specifically the problem of torpedo guidance. She took her ideas to a composer friend, George Antheil, who had recently discovered a method for rigging pianos to play simultaneously. The two filed a patent combining their ideas. The result was spread spectrum communication — the telecom technology used for cell phones, GPS, and Wi-Fi many years later.
The story of Lamarr and Antheil’s collaboration could make for its own wacky Hollywood screenplay. You can hear that tale (spun by Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky) here:
You can also listen to Kurt's conversation with Rhodes about the atomic bomb and its effect on American culture here: