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Warfare History Network » Hedy Lamarr: Allied Inventor and Actress


Actress Hedy Lamarr made essential developments in frequency-hopping techniques with the goal to defeat Axis radio jamming.

by Eric Niderost

Hedy Lamarr was probably the most lovely actress of her era, a celluloid diva who was the epitome of Hollywood glamour, sensuality, and class. However there was one other aspect of Lamarr that has solely been revealed in recent times. The display goddess was additionally an excellent inventor who devised an early type of spread-spectrum communications to stop Axis transmitters from jamming Allied radio-controlled torpedoes. The digital model of this idea is employed in all our trendy cell telephones.

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Beginning Her Profession as an Actress

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria, on November 9, 1913. Her father, Emil Kiesler, was a outstanding banker, and younger Hedwig loved all of the privileges of the higher courses within the previous Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whilst a toddler she confirmed an mental curiosity far past her years. As soon as whereas analyzing her father’s watch, she requested, “Why does this in entrance go round? How does this work?”

The putting younger magnificence discovered all of the fundamentals from a collection of tutors, then was despatched to a succession of personal faculties. However these faculties have been meant so as to add polish, not put together a lady for a profession. As she entered her teen years, her future appeared predictable and hardly totally different from some other younger Viennese society woman.

It was usually anticipated that she would marry nicely and spend the remainder of her life as the right mom and hostess. Hedwig had different concepts. Turning into an actress appeared a great way to each make a dwelling and free herself from the shackles of conference. Luck was together with her; she attracted the discover of German director Max Reinhardt, who took her to Berlin for coaching within the dramatic arts.

After a modest stint as a script woman she started appearing in 1930. Her display debut was a bit half within the German movie Geld auf der Strasse (Cash on the Road). Extra movies adopted, forgettable productions that did little to reinforce her popularity or additional her profession. However then Czech director Gustav Machaty forged her in some of the controversial films of all time, Extase (Ecstasy). The 1932 opus was some of the sexually frank movies ever made, although maybe tame by 21st-century requirements.

Ecstasy featured Hedwig as a younger lady trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man. At one level the 19-year-old magnificence goes for a nude swim, a 10-minute sequence that showcases Lamarr’s bare type. Later, Hedwig’s character meets a younger soldier they usually quickly make love. The digital camera lingers on Hedwig’s face in tight shut up in the course of the encounter.

Married to a Domineering Husband

Lamarr quickly found that fame is a two-edged sword. Ecstasy cemented her fame as a display “goddess” of nice magnificence and sensuality however made it more durable for individuals to simply accept the truth that there was actual intelligence behind the stunning façade. On the time, although, it appeared that Ecstasy was Lamarr’s farewell to the cinema. Her mother and father thought it excessive time for her to marry and take her place amongst Vienna’s social elite.

Leaving nothing to probability, her mother and father insisted that she marry Fritz Mandl, the top of Hirtenberger Patronenfabrik, a number one armaments agency. Although it appears unimaginable on reflection, the independent-minded magnificence did as she was advised and married Mandl on August 10, 1933. On the floor, it appeared a fairy story union. She had social place, cash, jewels, and actually dined off gold-plated dishes. The couple lived in a chateau and had a military of servants to cater to their each whim. However the picture of fairy story happiness was extra fiction than actual.

Mandl was a person who positioned revenue over morality and was favored by the brand new crop of right-wing dictatorships that have been arising throughout Europe like malevolent mushrooms. Hedwig discovered herself enjoying hostess to a gentle succession of arms sellers, producers, and political figures. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was a dinner visitor, and it was stated that Hedwig additionally met the brand new German Führer, Adolf Hitler.

Her husband made no secret of his right-wing fascist leanings and was prepared and prepared to promote to the Germans or anybody else who would pay his worth. Mussolini was a daily buyer, and it was stated the Italian Military was largely outfitted with Mandl weapons throughout its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Hedwig was passionately anti-Nazi however needed to hold her emotions hidden beneath her dazzlingly lovely façade. Mandl was insanely jealous, domineering, and possessive, even ordering servants to spy on his younger and delightful “trophy” spouse. The arms producer additionally made a determined and unsuccessful try to purchase up all present prints of Ecstasy. Mussolini personally owned a replica of the movie and politely however firmly refused to promote it to his good friend.

Mandl’s possessiveness had a constructive aspect, at the very least on reflection. Hedwig was always at his aspect when he attended enterprise or improvement conferences and stored her eyes and ears open, absorbing a lot technical knowledge within the course of. After 4 years of marriage, she lastly couldn’t take a minute extra of what had turn out to be a gilded jail. Hedwig drugged the maid who had been assigned to observe her, donned the servant’s uniform, and slipped away to freedom.

Off to America With MGM

Hedwig, now Hedy, discovered herself in London, the place she resumed her appearing profession and located work on the stage. Although she didn’t understand it, her timing was good and doubtless saved her life. In 1938, barely a yr after her escape, Hitler took over Austria. Austrian Jews have been persecuted, and later many died within the Holocaust. Hedy had Jewish blood, and it’s extremely unlikely that her estranged husband would have accomplished something to assist her.

As luck would have it, Hedy caught the eye of Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studios, who was in England on the time. One among Hollywood’s main energy brokers, Mayer beloved to groom new actors and was all the time looking out for individuals so as to add to his secure of stars. The film mogul had found Greta Garbo and Greer Garson whereas on European journeys, and this tour was no exception. Mayer provided Hedy a $500 every week contract to start out however cautioned her that she must change her identify.

Mayer was a person who passionately espoused what would as we speak be referred to as household values. An odd mixture of hardheaded businessman and mushy sentimentalist, Mayer liked to have a very good cry on the films. He liked preachy, saccharine movies, particularly people who concerned youngsters, idealized teenagers (Andy Hardy), or cute animals (Lassie). This was, in fact, mild years away from Hedy’s steamy, continental model of sensuality—however on this case, Mayer the businessman overcame Mayer the guardian of American morality.

Hedy accepted Mayer’s supply and boarded the French liner Normandie to start her new profession as an American film star. Through the voyage MGM publicist Howard Strickland handed Hedy an inventory of attainable final names to select from. Hedy picked Lamarr, the surname of an MGM star who had died of drug abuse within the 1920s.

The newly christened Hedy Lamarr arrived in Hollywood on the peak of its Golden Age. Film attendance was at an all-time excessive. In 1939, 50 million People went to the films at the least as soon as every week. Including occasional moviegoers to those totals, weekly attendance figures have been boosted to some 80 million individuals. When one considers that the inhabitants of america was round 130 million, the impression of the films turns into readily obvious.

Hedy’s first American movie was Algiers, launched in 1938 and co-starring French actor Charles Boyer. Boyer is Pepe Le Moko, underworld king of the unique native quarter referred to as the Casbah. Lamarr is Gaby, a sultry Parisienne who reminds him of house. Boyer complained that Lamarr couldn’t act, however a lot of the drawback got here from the very fact she merely didn’t know English properly. She needed to study her strains phonetically, however she shortly mastered the brand new language.

Algiers was successful, resulting in different starring roles. She was a fantastic cypher at first, however as time went on she matured into a very good, if not nice, actress. MGM tended to forged Lamarr as an unique temptress, fiery wanton, or “different lady.” In White Cargo (1942) she was memorable as Tondelayo, slinky native woman, and in Growth City (1940) she was Clark gable’s mistress.

Hedy Lamarr’s Epiphany

By 1940, she was a longtime member of the Hollywood group. Conflict had damaged out in Europe, and it was clear to Hedy that it will solely be a matter of time earlier than america would turn into concerned. She was not a citizen but (she turned one in 1953), however she needed to do one thing for her adopted nation. Lamarr remembered how she had accompanied Mandl to screenings of torpedo area checks within the mid-1930s. Removed from boring her, such technical workouts truly stimulated her to consider torpedoes and the supply of warheads to a goal.

Regardless of very actual successes in World Warfare I, submarine warfare was nonetheless an toddler science within the 1920s and 1930s. Submarines might solely keep submerged for a relatively brief time. There have been issues with weaponry as properly. As soon as a torpedo was launched, its path couldn’t be altered or adjusted. There was no assure a torpedo would hit its meant goal; currents might alter its course, or a ship may take evasive maneuvers. Radio management was one attainable reply. If a torpedo was distant managed by radio, there was a a lot better probability of attaining its goal.

A film score composer, George Antheil worked with actress Hedy Lamarr to develop a radio frequency hopping system that was the forerunner of technology that remains in use today.

George Antheil.

However there was a complication. If the enemy detected the frequency of the torpedo sign, the transmission might be jammed or blocked. With out radio steerage, a brand new torpedo can be simply as “blind” because the previous. This was the issue that Hedy determined to deal with.

It started in 1940, when Hedy Lamarr attended a cocktail party on the Hollywood mansion of actress Janet Gaynor. In the course of the course of the night she began to talk with George Antheil, a movie rating composer. Lamarr didn’t endure fools gladly, and she or he was drawn to Antheil’s apparent mind. Right here was a kindred spirit so totally different from the shallow Hollywood varieties she was used to coping with. At one level they have been sitting at a piano, Antheil pounding away and Hedy playfully following his notes.

Then, in a flash of brilliance an important fact all of a sudden got here to her. Regardless that Antheil was hitting totally different keys, she might hear them and reply in sort. Every pressed key had a unique sound—in a way, a special tonal frequency—but Hedy was receiving the message with crystal readability. Eager to pursue the matter additional, Hedy informed the composer to provide her a name. She shortly scribbled her telephone quantity in lipstick on his automotive windshield, a quantity many male followers would have beloved to obtain.

Antheil referred to as the subsequent day and was invited for dinner in her Benedict Canyon residence. Lamarr acquired a word pad and began jotting down her concepts in speedy trend. A torpedo guided by just one radio frequency could possibly be simply jammed. However what about 10 frequencies? How about 40 or 50 frequencies? What then?

In Hedy’s idea a sign can be broadcast to a launched torpedo over scores of frequencies, the transmission leaping from frequency to frequency seemingly at random and at split-second intervals. The impact can be like spinning a radio dial; by the point the enemy honed in on one frequency, the sign would have already moved on to a number of others. Frequencies can be altering at such a mind-numbing tempo they might be subsequent to inconceivable to pin down.

Constructing a Machine for the Principle

It sounded good on paper. However what mechanism might be positioned inside a torpedo that may hold it in sync with the radio transmitter’s frequent altering instructions? Antheil was generally known as an avant-garde composer who was well-known—or infamous—for his musical improvements. In 1926, his “Ballet Mechanique” was so highly effective it blew away the viewers, virtually actually. He managed to synchronize a minimum of 16 participant pianos, 4 xylophones, 4 bass drums, a siren, and two airplane propellers. It was the latter, when revved as much as full energy, that nearly knocked the viewers out of their seats.

A page of from the patent application submitted by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil reveals the complexity of the radio frequency system that the two proposed to the U.S. Navy.

A web page of from the patent software submitted by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil reveals the complexity of the radio frequency system that the 2 proposed to the U.S. Navy.


Antheil took a leaf from his personal e-book and recommended perforated paper rolls, not in contrast to these in participant pianos, to synchronize the varied jumps in frequency. The slotted holes in every transmission roll would parallel these of the roll positioned within the torpedo, a carbon copy that may guarantee each transmitter and torpedo receiver can be precisely on the identical web page always as a gentle stream of frequencies was shortly modified. It’s no coincidence that the invention referred to as for 88 frequency modifications, the precise variety of keys on a piano.

Antheil and Lamarr referred to as their invention “Secret Communications System” and commenced drawing up detailed descriptions and diagrams. In December 1940, they formally submitted their plan to the Nationwide Inventor’s Council, a authorities clearing home of concepts despatched in by most of the people. Although some council members have been lukewarm, the invention had sufficient benefit to warrant additional exploration. A number of the bugs have been labored out, and the idea additional refined.

On August 11, 1942, a patent for the Secret Communications System was collectively granted to Lamarr and Antheil. Formally titled Patent No. 2,292,387, the doc is signed beneath Lamarr’s authorized married identify on the time, Hedy Kiesler Markey. Sadly, the U.S. Navy rejected the thought, claiming the perforated roll idea was clumsy and unworkable. It’d nicely have labored, however the Navy merely was not and shelved the idea.

The Legacy of Lamarr’s Frequency-Hopping System

Lamarr accepted the Navy’s verdict and commenced serving to the conflict effort in additional conventional methods. She bought conflict bonds and auctioned off kisses for the trigger. In a single memorable rally, she is claimed to have bought a minimum of $7 million in warfare bonds. She remained a well-liked actress and continued her profession after the struggle. Maybe her most memorable postwar half was within the Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic Samson and Delilah. As Delilah, she was as soon as extra the raven-haired temptress, solely this time her female wiles have been photographed in splashy Technicolor.

Striking an alluring pose in the 1949 Cecil B. De Mille film Samson and Delilah, actress Hedy Lamarr was both beautiful and intelligent. Her drawings initiated a revolutionary concept in radio frequency management.

Actress Hedy Lamarr strikes an alluring pose within the 1949 Cecil B. De Mille movie Samson and Delilah.

The 1950s noticed many modifications within the movie business, together with elevated competitors from tv. She remained lovely as ever, however the “unique” sort of persona was much less well-liked within the Eisenhower period. Her final main movie of observe was The Feminine Animal (1957). That very same yr engineers on the Sylvania Electronics Techniques Division in Buffalo, New York, developed a frequency-hopping system that changed piano rolls with transistors. Two years later, the Lamarr-Antheil patent expired.

In 1962, the transistorized frequency-hopping system was positioned aboard the U.S. Navy ships that have been blockading Cuba through the Cuban Missile Disaster. As know-how advanced, Hedy’s frequency-hopping idea, now referred to as unfold spectrum know-how, modified with it. With the digital revolution of the 1990s, Hedy’s concept turned the idea of wi-fi Web transmission and mobile telephones.

At present, frequency hopping can also be extensively utilized in GPS mapping and in Wi-Fi methods all through the world. Like many stars of Hollywood’s golden age of the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr’s star slowly started to fade by the 1960s. She additionally largely misplaced her seems, partly due to botched cosmetic surgery. Her magnificence principally gone, Lamarr turned a semi-recluse.

On March 12, 1997, she was lastly honored with an award for her contributions to frequency-hopping know-how. The award was given by the Digital Frontier Basis in recognition for her contributions to science. Hedy Lamarr died on January 19, 2000, at her house in Florida. She was 86.

Hedy didn’t obtain a penny for her invention, a lot much less a authorities thank-you for her efforts. The actress graciously accepted the tardy accolades, however when pressed by a reporter admitted, “It’s about time!”