Hedy Lamarr may not be a household name anymore, but she probably should be. The Austrian actress was one of the celebrated MGM “Golden Age” stars — and a provocative one at that. Lamarr broke ground in the 1933 Czech film “Ecstasy,” in which she depicted the first-ever on-screen orgasm. That particular scene was a series of close-ups on her face, but earlier in the film she appeared fully nude — definitely buzzworthy at the time.
Being a sex symbol was far from her greatest accomplishment, though.
In a new book, “Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World,” Richard Rhodes discusses the genius mind behind the pretty face.
Lamarr is responsible for inventing the technology that makes wireless internet, cell phones, and bluetooth possible today. Rhodes says in his book that Lamarr was once married to an Austrian arms dealer, and after listening to Nazi generals talk at dinner parties, she came up with the idea to make a signal “hop around from radio frequency to radio frequency,” preventing jamming. It enabled a torpedo to be guided via radio signal.
She and a partner patented the idea, but gave it to the U.S. Navy free of charge. The Navy “basically threw it into the file,” Rhodes writes, but later, that file was dusted off. “Then the whole system spread like wildfire. The most well-known application today is Bluetooth.”
Lamarr gets almost no credit for her invention today. Unlike the signals, Rhodes says, “She was simply lost in the noise.”