Culture

Hedy Lamarr film celebrates Hollywood star as Bluetooth pioneer

By Kitty Knowles 13 November 2017
Hedy Lamarr film to hit cinemas. Image: CC/Flickr/kate gabrielle/Classic Film Scans
Hedy Lamarr film to hit cinemas. Image: CC/Flickr/kate gabrielle/Classic Film Scans
Summary

Silver screen's Hedy Lamarr has scientific prowess documented on film.

Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr was often heralded “the most beautiful woman in the world”.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s the film star brought audiences a brave new brand of on-screen siren: in addition to appearing nude, Lamarr became the first mainstream actress to fake an orgasm in the name of art. (For her efforts, she was also the first to be decried by a Pope).

But while all eyes focused on her cinema appearances, the actress was also making huge advances for the world of technology.

Unwilling to be boxed solely into either the ‘sexpot’ or ‘scientist’ worlds, Lamarr even invented a communications systems that pre-empts modern day Bluetooth.

“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think,” Lamarr once famously said.

Now a film is due to showcase just how bright the bombshell really was.

A different kind of Hedy Lamarr film

Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story will focus on the invention that saw Lamarr inducted into the the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 – a frequency-hopping technique capable of transforming secret wireless communications.

Lamarr created this after learning how the radio-controlled torpedoes of World War Two could be easily ‘jammed’ to take the weapons off-course.

To solve this, she joined forces with composer George Antheil to develop a new signal system inspired by the mechanisms used in self-playing pianos (she used lipstick to leave her phone number on his car window after a party).

Lamarr filed a patent for this secret messaging system in 1942, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that similar systems started to be installed on military ships.

Other inventions Lamarr devised included a new kind of traffic stoplight, and a dissolvable tablet to carbonate drinks – she even helped airline mogul Howard Hughes streamline his aircraft design.

“Inventions are easy for me to do,” she said in later life. “I suppose I just came from a different planet.”

Be excited

The Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story documentary, which has already aired at global film festivals, is due to be released in the US this month, with further releases in tow.

Lamarr – who died in 2000, aged 85 – sadly won’t get to see her scientific achievements celebrated on screen.

But we hope her story inspires more women to recognise their potential in the world of science – and to never feel confined to one box.