Hi, readers of FIRST Ladies! My name is Dinah, and I have been doing robotics for almost four years. I am currently a member of the Marlbots 3526, a team of girls and other gender minorities based in Los Angeles, and this is my blog about the incredible Hedy Lamarr.
I love all things STEM-related, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps more importantly, I love old movies; if you’re feeling fancy, you can call me a “cinephile,” but most of my friends prefer the term “film-bro”. Whatever I am, when I heard the story of Hedy Lamarr, two of my great loves fused, and I thought I would share her incredible story with you.
Hedy Lamarr, born in 1913, was an Austrian-born Hollywood star during the early 20th century. After gaining fame in Europe by starring in films such as Geld auf der Strasse and Ecstasy, Lamarr escaped her overly possessive husband and came to the United States in 1937. In 1938, she appeared in Algiers, a classic romantic drama. From 1938 to 1945, Lamarr was under contract with the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor and made a plethora of movies, some showcased her talent while most showcased her incredible beauty. In 1948, after unsuccessfully attempting to create her production company, Lamarr starred in Cecil B. Demille’s Samson & Delilah, returning to her classic femme-fatale aura.
Lamarr eventually retired from acting in 1958. She did have a few public court appearances after being arrested and later cleared of shoplifting charges. She also sued the co-writers of her autobiography Ecstasy and Me for misrepresentation and sued the director Mel Brooks for including a character named Hedley Lamarr in his movie Blazing Saddles (1974). Although married a total of six times, Lamarr died alone in 2000.
However, Lamarr was much more than a beautiful face with stunning dark hair on the shining silver screen. Although she invented several things that were never used, Lamarr wanted to create a device to help the Allies fight the Nazis during WWII, because of her Jewish relatives. Thus, Lamarr partnered with the composer George Antheil to find a method to steer torpedoes. During the war, torpedoes often missed their targets because German forces would jam the radio signals that steered the torpedoes. Lamarr and Antheil created a device that was similar to a piano: it included 88 different radio frequencies that the torpedo could randomly jump to prevent the Nazis from intercepting them. This method of radio-hopping called the "Secret Communications System” prevented Nazis from decoding Allied messages throughout the war. This later became an important part of developing the technology of cellular phones and military communications to ensure their security.
Hedy Lamarr, although her scientific work often went unnoticed, was both an integral part of Hollywood and an integral part of modern technology. She is a key example of the layered role that STEM can play in our lives and demonstrates the enormous possibilities and potential of life in STEM. Just like Hedy, I can pursue my love for science and my love for movies at the same time.
“Hedy Lamarr | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2023, www.britannica.com/biography/Hedy-Lamarr. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.
Aron, Jacob. “Hedy Lamarr.” New Scientist, 2021, www.newscientist.com/people/hedy-lamarr/. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.
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