For our Women In Tech series, we’re bringing to your attention some of the forgotten heroines of science- and their incredible lives. This time we’re giving you ten lessons we can learn from the brilliant and beautiful Hedy Lamarr. Some people haven’t heard of Hedy Lamarr, apparently. Have you heard of Hedy Lamarr? We hope you’ve heard of Hedy Lamarr. She was in some films a long time ago. And she was incredibly beautiful. Go on, Google her. We’ll wait.
And as well as being incredibly beautiful, and a very talented actress, she also invented the thing that makes it possible for us to have phones, and wifi, and Bluetooth. Yes. Yes she did. I had Bluetooth on my first ever phone. It was pink. It was a Motorola Pebl. I loved it. Thanks, Hedy!
So, here we go. Ten lessons we can learn from the astonishing life of Hedy “Brilliant Scientist, Also Often-Naked Movie Star” Lamarr.
1. Having Lots Of Names (Though Spy-Like) Is More Trouble Than It’s Worth
They called her Hedy “A Hundred Names” Lamarr. Well, they didn’t, but they might have done. Hedwig Eve Maria went through six husbands, taking their name each time- and none of them were called Lamarr. No, Lamarr was in tribute to another famous movie star- and in consequence, almost nobody twigs that Hedwig Keisler Markey, holder of the patent for the “frequency-hopping spread-spectrum”was also Hedy Lamarr, “most beautiful woman in Europe”.
2. People Underestimate Pretty People
…and self-awareness is sexy. Hedy famously said, “the secret to my beauty is to stand still and look stupid”; she apparently gathered scientific intelligence at dinners with, er, Hitler (we’ll get to that later) by shutting up, pouting and (one imagines) secretly taking notes on her napkin. Which nobody twigged, because beautiful. THAT’S HOW WE DO, HEDY. THAT’S HOW WE DO.
3. How To Fake An Orgasm
A judicious and unexpected “safety-pin in the bottom”, apparently. We really think this is all that needs saying for this one, but maybe it’s worth noting that Hedy’s rise to fame was chiefly because of this particular faked orgasm- one of the first on film in the world. Combined with an extended nude scene in a wood, this led to her massive popularity, which led to her making interesting and impressive scientific leaps. From which we can learn, maybe, that taking your clothes off for money isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Or we can learn that we should stop expecting women who take their clothes off and fake orgasms for money to be stupid. After all, that’s what Hitler did. See above.
4. Patent Everything You Can
…in case one day you become astonishingly famous for your beauty, and nobody believes in your genius any more. In which case, it will be useful for your future fans to be able to wave your illustrious patents around as proof of your greatness. Regard:
Us: “Hedy Lamarr invented this thing!”
Reader: “My apologies. You spoke the truth.”
See? It also should guarantee you a bit of cash, assuming you burn through your acting millions (again, we’ll get to that.)
5. Dictators Make Rubbish Friends.
I mean, they weren’t really friends. Not what I’d call friends. If they were Sims (please, please, let someone have made a Hedy-and-Hitler Sim set), Hedy and Hitler were barely even past the little green “Acquaintance” bar. But it can’t be denied that Hitler did come to dinner, often, at Hedy’s home with her first husband. And then he tried to exterminate everyone of Hedy’s religion, which isn’t what I call polite, not at the dinner table. And certainly not friendly.
6. Escaping From Castles Disguised As A Maid Is A Thing That Actually Happens.
Remember how Hitler came to tea? After the whole antisemitic thing, Hedy was not so keen on him coming back. Which seems, you know, fair enough. This was not a viewpoint her husband, arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandl, counted as valid. So he shut Hedy up in his castle. This actually happened! Not even a hundred years ago!* And then…she put on all her jewellery, drugged her maid, stole her maid’s clothes and ran away to be an inventor.
Just to reiterate that: she ran away from her fascist husband, disguised as her own maid, swathed in diamonds, and went to be an inventor. That’s cool, right? That’s SO cool. Hedy!
(*Side note: the author, having also escaped from a castle in which she was locked, feels some sympathy with Hedy here. True story.)
7. Hating Nazis Leads To Good Inventions
So we’ve worked out she hated Nazis. Doesn’t everyone? But unlike the ubiquitous “everyone”, Hedy turned her hand to inventing stuff to ruin them and their dastardly plans. Effectively, here, we’re making Hedy the kick-ass princess, and Hitler the evil witch. Which is totally how the world works. Anyway, that’s how we have phones, and wifi, and Bluetooth, because fighting Hitler. Obviously.
8. Even Techno Musicians Have Purpose
Even we have to admit that she didn’t do it all herself- no, the model and movie star teamed up with, er, the world’s first techno musician. Because of course. We’d be doing her co-inventor George Antheil a disservice if we didn’t mention here that, as well as an avant-garde musician with fans including Picasso, Satie and Cocteau, he was also a murder mystery writer, newspaper agony aunt, self-dubbed “expert” on “female endocrinology”, and general (again self-dubbed) “bad boy” of Berlin. Is NOBODY in this story just one thing? No, obviously not. Right. On we go.
9. Really, We Should Stop Judging Women Who Like Their Appearance, Please.
You know how, at the beginning of this piece, we talked about how everyone thought Hedy was stupid? And you know how we said “let’s stop judging women who take their clothes off and fake orgasms for money”? Well, we’re going to reiterate something like that now- Hedy L. met George A. when she came to him for advice on “enhancing her upper torso”. Because of course that’s what you ask the author of “The Glandbook For The Questing Male”. And then they got chatting, and then they got chatting about torpedoes, and then they got chatting about manipulating George’s mechanised piano system to invent a Secret Communications System. Which they promptly did. And that SCS is the basis of an awful lot of our communications today. How amazing is that? It’s so amazing. You’re amazing, Hedy!
10. Even Beautiful Intelligent Model Scientists Don’t Always Have It All, But Then They Sort Of Do If They Sue Mel Brooks
Look at her. Go up to the top of the page and look at her. Do another Google Image search, if you’d prefer, and lose yourself in that incredibly beautiful face. And then remember that she did everything above. Literally everything. And it earned her thirty million dollars. Which she spent. All of it. And then she started shoplifting sandwiches from pharmacies. Imagine being the policeman arresting Hedy Lamarr for shoplifting an egg-and-cress sandwich from Boots. Imagine being reduced to shoplifting pharmacy sandwiches. At least steal them from M&S, Hedy!
Luckily- and this story, unlike Ada’s, kind of has a happy ending, because it’s a lot more like a fairy tale- Mel Brooks decided to parody her in Blazing Saddles, and Hedy took him to the absolute cleaners.
And she lived happily ever after in a big house in Miami on her (rumoured) $10m settlement. Hedy!
This blog is part of Enternships’ Women In Tech series, within our ongoing commitment to supporting ladies who work in STEM sectors. Want to be involved? Email [email protected] for more information.
Written and devised by Ella Risbridger