Real Women of the Apocalypse Series: Hedy Lamarr
Friday/September/11 2009 Filed in: Science / Technology
Ecstasy, White Cargo and the Cuban Missile Crisis
"I am Tondelayo."
With that sentence the world's most beautiful woman set the silver screen on fire in 1942. But it wasn't the first time she had fanned the flames of desire in a darkened movie theatre.
Ten years before, she had appeared in the Czech art film Extase, or Ecstasy. That cinema classic was banned in the US not because of its nudity but because an orgasm in one scene was so vividly portrayed by the lead actress that audiences were unsure whether or not it had been the real thing.
Such is the legend of Hedy Lamarr.
In the film White Cargo, she played the mysterious and exotic Tondelayo. The scorching primal excitement of her character is captured by the line:
"It wasn't the heat that drove Ashley crazy. It was Tondelayo!"
Hedy Lamarr's most successful film was Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature in 1949. But her true claims to fame have nothing to do with Hollywood. Without her, those few survivors left might this year be marking the 46th anniversary of World War III and there might never have been an iPhone 3GS for you to lust for.
Escaping the Nazis
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, Ms. Lamarr, in 1933, married Fredrich Mandl, an arms merchant who was controlling and possessive. Mandl forced her to attend his business meetings, during which the mathematically adept Ms. Lamarr learned a great deal about the munitions industry.
But when her husband began consorting with the Nazi high command and holding grand parties for Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Ms. Lamarr sought escape.
According to some accounts, during a Nazi celebration, she drugged her husband, disguised herself as a maid and fled the country. She made her way to Hollywood by way of London and Paris.
Hedy Lamarr and the Cuban Missile Crisis
During World War II, when her film career was in high gear, Ms. Lamarr had a conversation with composer George Anthiel that helped change the course of homeland security and human communication.
Anthiel, a Hollywood neighbor of Ms. Lamarr, was fascinated with the automated mechanism of player pianos that caused them to play the right notes at precisely the right times. He and Ms. Lamarr, who had learned quite a lot about torpedoes from her munitions-merchant husband, started trading ideas.
The two collaborated to develop a guidance protocol for torpedoes that couldn't be jammed by enemies of the Allied forces. The result was a patent for a process by which radio transmissions hop rapidly across 88 different frequencies like notes on a keyboard.
The Patent Documentation for the Frequency Hopper, in Ms. Lamarr's then-married name H(edwig) K(iesler) Markey:
The US Navy thought it was a good idea but ahead of its time.
They were right. It was 1962 before the US military used the technology to aid in the blockade of Soviet ships carrying nuclear weapons components during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And it was 1997 before the very same concept became an integral part of the spread spectrum technology that makes your cellphone and Wi-Fi network possible today.
Hedy Lamarr was once considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world but we salute her today as a Real Woman of the Apocalypse.
As an artist she revealed new frontiers of artistic expression of human intimacy. And as a scientist, she helped to save the world when it teetered on the brink of a thermonuclear Armageddon.
Thank you, Ms. Lamarr.
Apocalypzia has two questions:
1 - Why hasn't Hedy Lamarr's Hollywood made a definitive movie about her fascinating and inspirational life?
2- When they do make the bio-pic, who should play the role?
Read our Top Ten Women of the Apocalypse post.