Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood Bombshell…and Inventor

image via wikimedia.org

Since today is Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday (thanks for the reminder, Google!), I’m re-posting something I wrote about her, three years ago.

Thanks for stopping by!



Fans of old movies know Hedy Lamarr, star of 1930s and 40s American films, such as Ziegfield Girl, and Samson and Delilah.  She was dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and worked with such Hollywood greats as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Louis B. Mayer, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Ah, but you know there’s more, right?  Apparently, Lamarr was one smart cookie, and loved to tinker.  Did you know that, during World War II, she co-invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system?  It was designed to evade the enemy’s jamming devices.  She received the patent for it in 1942.  If you think about it, it’s a precursor to what we now call spread-spectrum communication technology, used in wifi and cell phones.

So how did this come about, and why didn’t the U.S. Navy jump on it when she offered to give it to them during the war?  Check out the following video clip (only 4 minutes) for the fascinating story:

So what do you all think: was the device not taken seriously because one of its inventors was a beautiful, wildly successful actress, or the idea itself seemed too weird?  What about today’s Hollywood celebrities: do they struggle to “cross over” in the public sector, and be taken seriously in other endeavors?  I’d love to hear from you!

For anyone who’s interested, The Atlantic website has an index of links to more celebrity patents.  Check it out here:  Celebrity Invention.  My fave?  That’s a tough one: I’m torn between Lawrence Welk’s accordion ashtray and Bill Nye’s ballet slipper.  LOL!

Until next time…keep tinkering!


…and in case anyone missed it:

Just Released: a new Concordia Wells Mystery!

Unseemly Ambition: book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries


cover by Melinda VanLone
cover by Melinda VanLone

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton have their work cut out for them. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?



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30 thoughts on “Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood Bombshell…and Inventor”

  1. Nigel BlackwellNigel Blackwell

    Hi Kathy

    Heddy Lamar is one of the people I use when I’m doing career day talks at school. I think was was undervalued because of her reputation, but I love to see kids amazed when you tell them that frequency hopping wasn’t a 1930s dance move!


  2. Loree HuebnerLoree Huebner

    Loved learning this about her. Hubby and I are huge classic movie fans. Hedy was beautiful. I love that she was a real smart cookie too!

  3. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    Hedy Lamarr was not given credit for her acting skills either since she was such a pretty face. Not taking her patent seriously, however, is such a shame because she clearly knew her stuff and she desired to help the cause of freedom in the war against the Nazis. I find it fascinating that certain celebrities are incredibly intelligent but are only known for their entertainment value.

    What a fascinating post! And I’m thrilled to learn that Nigel uses her as an example in class!

  4. BillBill

    Boy, there was a lot about Hedy Lamarr that I did not know. It is too bad that she took a wrong turn down the cosmetic surgery path later in her life. And she does have an impressively long list of husbands.

    The Atlantic piece had some good stuff about other unlikely inventors. Lawrence Welk’s ashtray might not have been completely on the up-and-up, but I was aware of Abe Lincoln’s boat patent. He is the only president to hold a patent. (Style question: Why does The Atlantic refer to Lincoln as “the former President” in the teaser? That seems almost diminutive — kind of like referring to Moses as “the former Hebrew leader.” It leads me to wonder what Lincoln has done recently. Okay, just a nit)

    And Mark Twain’s bra-clasp? That would have come in handy in the recent Fashion Friday blog. No loose stays with Mark’s “adjustable and detachable elastic strap.” No siree.

  5. PatrciaPatrcia

    Well that’s very interesting. I’m sure her Hollywood success and good looks had something to do with it, especially given the era.

    I think that Dolly Parton is a very savvy business woman who doesn’t get enough credit. Anyone who hears her name usually thinks of one thing (well 2 things) and it’s not her business mind. She can act and she can sing, but she also very clever and smart underneath all that make-up and fake hair.

    Fun post!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • BillBill

      “Anyone who hears her name usually thinks of one thing (well 2 things) …”

      I’m sorry. Am I missing something here? Her face. Her voice. [maintaining composure with puzzled countenance and a stupid grimace] Was there something else?
      I’m off to Wikipedia.

  6. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    Great post, Kathy! Very interesting, and sad that the Navy didn’t take her seriously.

  7. Gene LemppGene Lempp

    I saw a segment on Sunday Morning (tv digest show) on Hedy and her off-screen activities. I remember thinking at the time what a shame it was that such a brilliant mind was dismissed and kept in the shadow simply because of gender. My wife agreed, in somewhat more vehement terms. Good to see that the truth about this incredible woman is finally coming to light.

    Great post, Kathy 🙂

  8. Perry Block (@PerryBlock)Perry Block (@PerryBlock)

    “I am Tondelayo. I make you tiffin?”

    Many pleasant fantasies have sprung from that movie.

    Thanks for writing about her, Kathy!

  9. nancyelizabethlauzonnancyelizabethlauzon

    This is very cool, I had no idea. My first theory is that yes, she wasn’t taken seriously as a beautiful actress.

  10. Natalie HartfordNatalie Hartford

    What an absolutely outstanding story. I had no idea. Sad that she wasn’t taken seriously. Likely do in part to her gender and station…which is so sad!! But I am thrilled to see that she is now getting the acknowledgement and recognition she deserves. Hopefully she is smiling down from heaven…

  11. Sylver BlaqueSylver Blaque

    Oh, I love Hedy Lamarr! I wish she had received the accolades & respect she deserved while still around to appreciate it. Thanks for sharing her story!

  12. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    Thanks for the encore post, Kathy! Very interesting stuff. Such a beautiful and smart lady!! (Hedy, I mean, and you too, of course.)

  13. Amy KennedyAmy Kennedy

    Had to share this! Fascinating–all of it, her start, her fabulous mind–all I knew was her beauty, seems like the least of it, right?

  14. PhilPhil

    Wow – she was a woman way ahead of her time.

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