Hedy Lamarr: Orgasm Pioneer, Hollywood Bombshell, Wartime Inventor

They just don't make movie stars like they used to. The Elizabeth Taylors of the world are all gone and we're left with the Lindsay Lohans, the Bradley Coopers and the occasional Angelina Jolies, sandwiched somewhere between the Snookis and the Kim Kardashians. But back in the good ole days of the Hollywood studio system, you couldn't throw a tantrum without hitting a genuine movie star. And that star could legitimately sing, dance and act -- none of that half-assed Jennifer Lopez business. In the case of Hedy Lamarr, not only was she a gorgeous screen siren -- but she escaped the Nazis, was the first woman to simulate an orgasm on-screen and basically invented the basis for Bluetooth. Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan can't stay out of jail long enough to simulate a career. 

 

In his new book, Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Richard Rhodes dips his quill into the actress' inkwell of kookery to detail her long-neglected contributions to modern science...and badassery.

At 18, Lamarr starred in 1933's Ecstasy, a highly controversial Czezh film featuring a nude Lamarr and filmdom's first depiction of a female orgasm. Around that time, Lamarr unhappily married an Austrian arms dealer -- it's just something you do once breaking down sexual taboos before hitting legal drinking age. The Austrian arms dealer husband would invite Nazi generals over for a little tea and tyranny where they would discuss weapons -- and Lamarr eagerly listened.

Perhaps not too keen on being a Nazi war bride, the time came for Hedy to escape her marriage. She claimed she dressed up as a maid and jumped out the window to freedom, but in truth she hopped a steamer that had one of the most, if not the most influential man in Hollywood at that time -- MGM's Louis B. Mayer. By the end of the trip, she had a seven-year, $3000/week contract with the studio. Sure it's no $20 mil per film, but that was big money then...hell, it ain't that bad now.

According to Rhodes, Lamarr "was keenly aware of the coming war. She was glued to the newspaper, reading the stories. ... When German submarines began torpedoing passenger liners, she felt at that point, 'I've got to invent something that will put a stop to that.' " Along with the avant-garde composer George Antheil, she conceived and patened a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system in 1942. Seven years later Hedy accomplished another equally-impressive feat when she won the Sour Apple Award for Least Cooperative Actress at the now defunct Golden Apple Awards.

Antheil and Lamarr gave their invention to the U.S. Navy, which was openly unimpressed. Those swarthy sailors buried the invention for a while and the patent eventually expired. Then in 1962,  during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy resurrected George and Heddy's idea, but by then Antheil had already died. Finally in 1997, Lamarr was recognized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- she died three years later at  age 86.

Although Lamarr doesn't enjoy the same level of esteem given to many of her contemporary movie stars, her frequency-hopping invention is the basis for a lot of wireless technology including WiFi, cell phones and Bluetooth. Not bad for a girl who got her start faking it for a pay-Czech.. [LA Times Blog]

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