I originally wrote this post two years ago, but recently I had been thinking about the Hedy Lamarr and wanted to do further research into her brilliant mind and life. Coincidentally “Hollywood’s Brightest Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” was aired on the same day I had thought about Hedy (with no knowledge that the documentary was going to be on) – so I have edited this post a little to add new information learnt about Hedy! – The documentary is fabulous, I suggest you all watch it.
One of my most laughable facts is that my bachelor degree is a BSc – I’m a scientist. A philosophical one. I am secretly proud and smug about my title, mainly because I was terrible at science at school. Back in my final year of my undergrad (it feels so long ago now) I took a module named “Gender, Science and Knowledge”, a super interesting course which put the issue of ‘Women in Science’ at the forefront of discussion.
My thesis for my assessed essay surrounded the traditional concept of ‘rationality’ and knowledge and how, (wrongly) it was associated as an exclusive male trait – a concern as, sadly, it is often reiterated in present day.
Basically it all stems from Ancient Greece; Plato put forward a division between the higher mind and lower body. This was then taken to be a metaphor between the superiority of men and inferiority of women; with intellect corresponding with the masculine mind and the female body acting as a material, means to an end. In sum, women were viewed to not be capable of knowledge or reason as it was a ‘masculine’ domain. I know – ridiculous isn’t it!
In doing my research for this essay, I finally had the confidence to add a little bit of my own style to my essay – incorporating vintage, specifically an alternative perspective of Hollywood “glamour.”
There is no better ‘Woman in Science’ to talk about other than: Hedy Lamarr (Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, in Austria 1914)
You may recognise Hedy as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies in the 1930s and 40s. Her unique combination of features, the dark hair, pale skin and vibrant red lips became the inspiration for Disney’s Snow White and at age 18, and under her birth name, Hedy Kiesler, she starred in the controversial and erotic film Ecstasy (1933) – which was denounced by Pope Pius XII and banned in America and Germany.
Hedy was considered as the “World’s most beautiful woman”; her stage name being nod to 1920s silent film star Barbara La Marr who was also known as “the girl who is too beautiful.”
Hedy’s physical beauty and her film appearances were what she was known for within the 20th century, an idea which reinstates the traditional concept of women being inferior, a material body, rather than the intellectual mind. It is obvious that Hedy was not enthused about her label of beauty, famously quoting “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” Hollywood ‘beauty’ can be viewed as a means to an end, as Hedy’s successful acting career peaked in the 1940s with only minimal castings in the 1950s.
You may be reading this post on a Wi-Fi connection, you may use Bluetooth and GPS on a daily basis – without Hedy Lamarr this may not be the case. Hedy’s alternative, and first passion was science; she was a phenomenal inventor, her curious and intellectual mind being well ahead of its time. When acting she also invented; she experimented with chemistry, creating a bouillion cube which formed a soft drink when mixed with water. She also developed ideas of rejuvenation, applying movements of an accordion to tighten and mould the face. Other inventions include elements within traffic lights.
However Hedy’s most prominent invention occurred in the early 1940s. During the war, and alongside her rising acting career, Hedy was secretly involved with the technological developments in the war effort. She worked alongside her friend and fellow inventor, George Antheil and the pair used their scientific knowledge to produce a particular signalling system: The Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum. This system was to be used in the radios in torpedoes, aiming to interfere with the signals of the enemy – the same techniques used in wireless systems nowadays. Anthiel was a musical composer and utilised his pianist knowledge to change radio frequencies using piano keys while Hedy had gained knowledge of torpedoes from her ex-husband, Frizt Mandl.
Although created and patented in 1942 the device wasn’t implemented until 1962, where it was used in naval ships in the Cold War. Various modern day articles about the invention state that Hedy’s involvement was not recognised until present day, yet the above extract from 1945 depicts Hedy’s explanation of her input to a public audience. Perhaps her involvement was overlooked, or the report within the newspaper manipulated with Hedy’s input being more than a creative consultant and on an equal standing to Antheil.
Hedy appeared to detach her life as an actress with her life as inventor, signing the system’s patent in her married name. (Hedy Markey) Perhaps this was for legal reasons, or to be taken more seriously. (Hher husband was a high ranking Naval Officer, creating a route of access for her invention to enter military ground) A further consideration, and the one I am inclined to agree with, was to remove further stereotypes, namely the typical Hollywood actress and her credit as the World’s most beautiful woman.
Not only are women more than their physical beauty but the technology we use all day everyday and surrounded by constantly – was created by a woman.
Tradition is overturned and we should all strive to do what inspires us, ignoring stereotype. That may not be just one thing but various outlets – such as Hedy’s acting and her inventing!