Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Storm In A Water Glass

Born on November 9, 1914, some believe Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful women that ever lived. If you happen to see her pictures online, you might agree with that and understand why she eventually made it into Hollywood. Beginning her career in 1930 with two movies called Money On The Street and Storm In A Waterglass, she promptly landed several other roles in German language films but a controversial film called Extase (or Ecstasy) put her on the map in 1932. The film was racy, about a young woman who's husband is impotent causing her to seek out the companionship of a younger man. In one scene she runs nude through a forest and in a love making scene she appears to experience a climax. The movie was not well received, and the current Pope tried to stop her film career - on the other hand she attracted the attention of a millionaire arms dealer Fritz Mandl who married her in 1933. 

This story seems like a fairly tale at first, with a beautiful actress married to her new husband, complete with a castle home called Schloss Schwarzenau where they hosted lavish parties - until new husband Mandl began showing signs of obsessive controlling behavior. He also had fascist ties to Italy and the Nazis, selling munitions to Mussolini which didn't settle well with Lamarr. Eventually the restrictions of her marriage along with his social ties became too much for her and she fled to Paris only five years later in 1937. Describing her marriage like a kept prisoner, Hedy accounts her escape disguised as a maid. Hopeful she could continue her filming career, Hedy met Louis B. Mayer in Paris who described her as the most beautiful woman in the world. Scouting for talent in Europe, he instantly gave her a contract.


The most fascinating part of Lamarr's story is still brewing however, from times when she joined her husband in meetings where they conferred with scientists and other professionals in military technology. With Hedy's first introduction to applied science she nurtured and created her own inventions (against the Nazi's) including a jam-proof radio guidance system with a composer George Antheil for torpedoes. The pairs plan was to use a piano roll to randomly switch the signal sent from the control center to the torpedo in short bursts among 88 frequency, much like the 88 keys on a piano's keyboard. Was this inevitable fate to which a woman, born to a pianist was destined? Destiny is defined as the a mysterious power that predetermines the course of events. Or was it just chance alone that a woman, born of a pianist, with a brilliant mind would be exposed to the one thing that would give her the most noble cause of her life? 


This invention was granted a patent in 1942 (US patent No. 2,292,387) but the US Navy was not receptive to inventions from outside the military at the time. Much later in 1962  an updated version of this technology appeared on Navy ships substantiating her invention as a type of spread-spectrum communication technology, like CDMA, Wi-Fi and Blue tooth. Eventually it received multiple scientific awards. 


Once known as the ecstasy lady I see Lamarr more like the storm in a water glass. A tempest in a teapot, or a storm in the water glass is an idiom meaning a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion - an uproar about little or nothing - much like her erotic movie which powerful people tried to stifle. Later in time, Lamarr, wished to join the National Inventors Council but her scientific contributions were immediately overshadowed by her hollywood career. Sadly, she was actually persuaded by the NIC to instead use her celebrity status to help sell war bonds. 


Lamaar, a visionary, and inventor, was more than just a pretty face, but never shattered the stereotypes of her Silver Screen exploits. They say people are often confused by the desire to be validated with a desire to be seen but mistakes are how we learn. Three years before Hedy died, in 2000, she was given an award for her contribution to wireless communication. Perhaps she was finally given the validation, visibility and genuine recognition she always hoped for in the end.  Unique women like Lamarr don't come around much which is exactly why I fashioned the heroine in my books much like her. Hedy Lamarr was not an imaginary woman though, she was the real thing. 


"Analysis gave me great freedom of emotions and fantastic confidence. I felt I had served my time as a puppet." - Hedy Lamarr