Friday, November 9, 2012

Hedy Lamarr at 99

It was 99 years ago today that Hedy Lamarr was born. She is one of my favourite actresses of all time, and not simply because she was incredibly beautiful. Although her acting talent was often underestimated while she was still alive, Miss Lamarr was actually a rather versatile actress. Although she was often cast as exotic seductresses during her career, she could play other roles as well. She played a Ziegfeld girl in the movie of the same name from 1941 and did so quite convincingly. She also played Lily Dalbray, the beautiful spy and love interest in the Bob Hope movie My Favourite Spy. While Hollywood would cast her in only a few certain types of role, she was in enough different types of films to prove that she could perform comedy and drama equally well.

Of course, as many people know, Hedy Lamarr was not simply a beautiful woman (she was called "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" during her career for a reason) or a great actress. She was also an inventor. With composer George Antheil she developed a "secret communication system" that was the direct ancestor of today's spread spectrum devices, from mobile phones to GPS. Given how significant the idea of frequency hopping or spread spectrum technology would be to life in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, Hedy Lamarr's importance to modern society cannot be underestimated. In addition to her invention of frequency hopping, Hedy Lamarr also invented a cube that when dropped into a glass of water would become a cola drink; an attachment to tissue boxes to hold used tissues; a new sort of traffic light; and, also with George Antheil, an anti-aircraft shell fixed with a proximity fuse that would use radar to detect the target and detonate at a predetermined distance away.

As if being the most beautiful woman in the world, a great actress, and an inventor whose invention literally changed the world was not enough, Hedy Lamarr was also the inspiration for the Batman villain Catwoman. Catwoman was essentially a combination of Hedy Lamarr, Bob Kane's cousin Ruth Steel, and a dash of Jean Harlow. That having been said, looking at early illustrations of Catwoman, it would seem that the influence of Hedy Lamarr dominated the character.

Hedy Lamarr was simply an incredible woman. She was remarkably beautiful and also extremely intelligent. While there were many beautiful actresses throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, none of them were quite as singular as Hedy Lamarr.

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