When she wasn’t starring as the sultry star of the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr created innovations that served as the basis for wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and GPS.
The former glamour girl joined actress Sylvia Miles and art patroness Ethel Scull in hosting an exhibit to benefit ART Inc. (Artists Rights Today) on June 3, 1975, at Cecil’s, a private club in Manhattan. The organization seeks to further legislation affecting the arts. Wearing sunglasses following a cataract operation in both eyes, Lamarr said she found her eyesight failing while gambling. “I couldn’t see the dealer’s cards. I was going 90/90 blind. I even lost 20 pounds. Dr. Charles Kelman did the operation. He’s also a singer. He made his singing debut this year at a New York nightclub. He was even singing while cutting into my eyes. He has a wonderful voice.” She said she has her own system of gambling. “I win every time. People would follow me like the Pied Piper, watching me win.”
She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to a Jewish banker in Vienna. After becoming an actress, she caused a sensation with a nude scene in Ecstasy. After her death in 2000, the world was surprised to learn that the star of such movies as Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Samson and Delilah (1949) was also a brilliant inventor. According to the Smithsonian magazine, Lamarr, who had a head for mathematics, teamed up with a like-minded music composer George Antheil, a former U.S. munitions inspector, to invent a jam-proof homing system for torpedoes in 1941 to help in the war effort.
They donated their 1942 patent to the U.S. Navy which ignored them, thinking their torpedo guidance system was too cumbersome. Instead Lamarr contributed to the war effort by offering to kiss anyone who purchased $25,000 worth of bonds. Lamarr, hailed by Hollywood as the world’s most beautiful woman of her time, sold $7 million worth in one day. As she said, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
It wasn’t until the U.S. naval blockade in the 1962 Cuba missile crisis that the Navy finally made use of Lamarr’s ideas by fine tuning them. The actress and the composer never received a dime from their patent; they had developed an idea that was ahead of its time. Today their ideas form the backbone of wireless communications. They were pioneers whose work is recognized as a precursor to the “spread-spectrum” wireless communications used in cellular phones, global positioning systems and Wi-Fi technology.