Print this page
BOOK REVIEW:

Hedy's folly : the life and breakthrough inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world

0
Call Number: 
812.092 L216Rh

Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous actress with a sultry demeanor which gave the impression of a self-igniting fire. She was also known for the line, “I am Tondelayo” from the 1942 version of the film White Cargo. The image of her speaking that line still makes some men more than a bit giddy. Not just another pretty actress, at one point she was called, “The most beautiful woman in the world.” Lamarr also had a brain and it was for the scientific and technical. During her Hollywood career it is possible to imagine people advising her not to worry her pretty head over things like that and just leave it to the men. She did find one man who was a worthy partner in her technical and scientific explorations. Their joint innovations and how these were not readily accepted during World War II is the main theme in Rhodes' biography.

Viennese by birth, Hedwig Kiesler was the only child of assimilated Jews. She was precocious, energetic, with a mind of her own, and became an actress in her early teens. Eager to be on the stage or in film, she starred in the film Ecstasy, which featured a young Hedy running naked through the woods and in a simulated sex scene. Mild by today's standards, it was a film that became both famous and infamous.

Escaping a dreadful marriage to a very wealthy munitions manufacturer, Lamarr booked passage on the luxury liner Normandie, where she met Louis B. Mayer, and thus began a successful Hollywood career. All that Hollywood had to offer was not enough for a woman who kept a drafting table in her living room and worked on her inventions in the evenings. There was one party that she did attend in order to meet George Antheil, an avant-garde composer. The 1926 premiere in Paris of his musical piece, Ballet méchanique, caused a near riot. These two iconoclasts were made for each other, at least for the type of work each found compelling.

Over the years, the actress and the composer worked on a radio-controlled spread-spectrum communications system that included frequency hopping. Rhodes explains all of this in very clear language that is understandable to the most scientifically challenged. Fast forward, and these innovations/inventions would prove important in cell phones and GPS technology. Even though a patent was granted to them on August 11, 1942, it was a hard-sell to convince the military that an actress and a composer had created anything that would be of value in World War II.

Because of the efforts of retired U.S. Colonel Dave Hughes, a battle veteran with a Distinguished Service Cross, The Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation was awarded to Antheil and Lamarr. It was a posthumous award for Antheil. Hedy Lamarr was still alive on March 12, 1997, and pleased to be finally acknowledged for " . . . her pioneering invention of frequency-hopping spread spectrum."

Hedy Lamarr : the most beautiful woman in film by Ruth Barton is another excellent book on the actress and focuses more on her acting career.

Top