What I learned from Hedy Lamarr

We are 8 months into the pandemic that has taken the world by storm along with all of the other massive issues the world is facing and it has never been more apparent to me that we, as a society need to find our way back to empathy and compassion.  But how does that happen when there is so much negativity out there?  Although I don’t have an answer for that collectively as a society, what I do know is that I can start with MYSELF.

While I have been hunkered down at home (because of my compromised immune system due to my MS, I am not venturing out too far), so I have watched an awful lot of television (much more than I care to admit). I have binge watched a ton of series, I have re-watched movies, I have watched familiar to me shows and I have watched shows that I would never have taken the time to watch before (desperate times call for desperate measures). On one particularly quiet day, my husband turned on a show called ‘Bombshell, the Hedy Lamarr Story’.  Now, if you are like me, you may be asking who the heck is Hedy Lamarr (and if we learned about her in school, it may or may not be a day that I skipped was sick)? Well, let me tell you a little of what I have since learned about Hedy and how some of her story fits in to my theme of finding the way back to empathy, compassion and positivity in a world where there is so much negativity.

Hedy Lamarr was a fascinating and an often times misunderstood woman.  She was born in the shadow of the 1st world war but always wanted to make a strong dent in the world. But what I learned, is that she was a brilliant inventor as well as a talented and successful actress and producer which was truly remarkable in the 40’s.  Hedy Lamarr was a true Hollywood legend.  Some may even know her as the inspiration for Cat Woman and Snow White, in fact she was also billed by MGM as the most beautiful woman in the world and has been described as the Angelina Jolie of her day.  She shared the stage with some of the best including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy & Jimmy Stewart – talk about some pressure to perform.  As many actresses do, she searched high and low for true love (6 marriages didn’t do it for her even though she was associated with affairs from Spencer Tracy to JFK), and she battled with a bout of amphetamine abuse (it has been said that this began when she was told she was being given “vitamins”).

Her first film (Ecstasy in 1933) was condemned by the Pope and banned by Hitler apparently because she was Jewish, but I think it also had to do with the fact that she acted out the first on screen orgasm, in a non-pornographic film.  I don’t know about you but I kind of think they both would have an issue with that. The film was touted as highly, even dangerously indecent by an American film journalist and popular film critic. The film was so controversial that her then husband Fredrick Mandl tried to suppress it by attempting to buy up all existing prints.

Hedy was described as one of the most recognizable faces of her time yet she was never seen as who she was.

She teamed up with Howard Hughes both personally and professionally (who was trying to invent the world’s fastest airplane at the time). Lamarr quickly deduced that his plane’s wings were too square, so she bought a book on birds and a book on fish, analyzing the build of the fastest ones in order to create a new kind of wing shape.  She then showed the drawing to Hughes, to which he said “you’re a genius” and the rest is history.  Remember, this is a woman who had no formal training in engineering or chemistry, she relied on her gifted brain (even though she left school when she was 15 years old) to develop some of the world’s greatest inventions. Another one of these inventions was a compressed cube that would fizz up and make a carbonated drink so servicemen and factory workers only needed water to have a cola, but while that was big in itself (even if it was not a huge success as she even admitted that it tasted like Alka Seltzer), that was not her biggest and most significant invention.

THAT invention came in 1940 (patented in 1942) during the 2nd World War when no supplies were making their way to England.  In an interview with Alexandra Dean – Executive Director and Producer of “Bombshell- The Hedy Lamarr Story’  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rlXHNeQD-s explains that the Nazi’s were eluding their allies attacks because the Germans were very good at hacking or jamming the radio signals that guided their allies torpedo’s. So Hedy Lamarr and her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, developed a radio signal between a ship and a torpedo that couldn’t be hacked or jammed.  Her idea was that instead of using a single frequency for radio signals, the signal would leap from frequency to frequency.  No one knows what prompted the idea, but Antheil confirmed that it was Lamarr’s design, from which he created a practical model.  Dean says that when Hedy gave it to them, [the Navy] said, ‘What do you want to do, put a player piano inside a torpedo? Get out of here!’ And so they didn’t use it during the Second World War. It was after the Second World War that it emerged as a way of secretly communicating on all the gadgets that we use today,” Dean explained. 

The concept of secure radio communications was brilliant and is a large part of what is today known as spread spectrum which is what is in much of our technology today. Bluetooth, GPS and WIFI are the most similar to what Hedy Lamarr came up with long before Bluetooth, GPS and WIFI became an everyday thing, in almost every single household and if you don’t use any of these, I can guarantee that you have heard of them.  Hedy had a patent on the technology, however it was confiscated because she was an Austrian immigrant and was considered an enemy alien so was never compensated for the invention which today is estimated at $30 billion. Some people believed she was a spy and stole the technology to give to the enemy because that theory made much more sense to some than a beautiful actress coming up with the idea herself, partly because she never spoke publicly about her invention or took credit for the work. This theory could very well have carried on except that one day while making a documentary on Hedy, Fleming Meeks a journalist from Forbes Magazine was contacted about his knowledge of the beautiful and smart Hedy to try to put some more facts to the story about her.  The producers of Bombshell found that there was about 75 people alive who had inside knowledge about Lamarr and who could possibly but the conspiracy thoughts regarding her being a spy to rest. Meeks admitted that he found a cassette tape that he had forgotten about behind a recycling bin that basically told the whole story of Hedy Lamarr in her own words that had never been released or written about.  In 2014, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.

Part of her tragic and troubled life included her retreat from the public eye – partly because of a shop lifting arrest that she may or may not have been guilty of and partly because of plastic surgery gone awry. Surgery that she underwent to try to regain some of the outward beauty that she was known for, a beauty that she felt was gone. What I love the most about Hedy Lamarr was even though her life was full of success, tragedy and troubles was that when it was nearing the end, she really examined what she had been through and came out with some wisdom that she shared with her children through a series of voice messages which they recorded and one of those messages was to her son where she recited the following poem which brings me back to my theme of finding the way back to empathy, compassion and positivity in a world where there is so much negativity.  She said:


People are UNREASONABLE, illogical, self-centred – love them anyway

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish alternative motives – do good anyway

The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds – think big anyway

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight – build anyway

Give the world the best you have, and you will be kicked in the teeth – give the world the best you’ve got anyway

I believe she was telling her son that you may get knocked down and be misunderstood, but do it anyway, because it is in the doing of this great thing that may change the world, is where you will find the meaning of your life.  Doesn’t that sound like what the world needs right now? So, I’m taking this saying and using other words to help me get back to being the kind of person that I need to be during this difficult time in the world.

Some of life’s events seem unreasonable, illogical and self-centred – love anyway

If you do good things, think for yourself and make decisions others don’t agree with, people will accuse you of selfish alternative motives – do good anyway

The biggest people with the biggest hearts who give with all they have can be shot down by people who don’t understand – give big anyway

The life you have spent years building may be destroyed overnight – build  it anyway

Give the world the best you have, and you may be criticized, ostracized and kicked in the teeth – give the world the best you’ve got anyway

If you are trying your best and you are told that you can’t possibly make a difference – make a difference anyway

 If you get knocked down by what is happening in the world, when people are unkind or seem to have lost their compassion and common sense , be kind and compassionate anyway.

Here are a few other Hedy Lamarr euphemisms that resonate with me but may not really have a lot to do with anything regarding being compassionate and empathetic but have everything to do with being human, about life and what you decide to make of it, maybe one or two will resonate with you too:

  • My mother always called me an ugly weed, so I never was aware of anything until I was older. Plain girls should have someone telling them they are beautiful. Sometimes this works miracles.
  • I don’t believe in life after death. But I do believe in some grinding destiny that watches over us on earth.  If I didn’t, the safety valve would give, and the boiler would explode.
  • I don’t fear death because I don’t fear anything I don’t understand. When I start to think about it, I order a massage and it goes away.
  • I never go to funerals. To me a person is dead when he breathes for the last time.  After that, your memories should be personal. 
  • I’ve been an important star and lived a full life, yet I only have three close friends. I guess that’s all anyone can expect.
  • I don’t have any guilt over contributing to any unhappiness suffered by my ex-husbands. They were as much to blame as I was.
  • I have not been that wise. Health I have taken for granted. Love I have demanded, perhaps too much and too often. As for money, I have only realized its true worth when I didn’t have it.
  • Because you don’t live by a bakery, doesn’t mean you have to go without cheesecake.
  • Compromise and tolerance are magic words. It took me 40 years to become philosophical.
  • Dates with actors, finally, just seemed to me evenings of shop talk. I got sick of it after a while. So, the more famous I became, the more I narrowed down my choices.
  • Experts always know everything but the fine points.  When I took my citizenship exams, no one there knew how the White House came to be called the White House.
  • I can excuse everything but boredom.  Boring people don’t have to stay that way.
  • Perhaps my problem in marriage – and it is the problem of many women – was to want both intimacy and independence. It is a difficult line to walk, yet both needs are important to a marriage.

Thank you Hedy Lamarr for teaching this old girl something about tenacity and about being humble while staying true to yourself. You never asked for recognition and you never said, “hey world, look at me, look how smart I am, look how beautiful I am, aren’t I wonderful”?  You didn’t do that, yet you were all of those things and more.  I think I can safely say that I don’t think there is one person on earth who hasn’t used the technology that you developed and I would like to think that in heaven you are receiving the recognition that you should have received while you were still alive.

Is there someone you learned about while staying home during this pandemic time?  If so, what should the world know about them?


15 Comments Add yours

  1. She was quite the character Indeed, particularly in latter life. My stepfather was her handyman while she lived at sandy cove condominiums. He supervised the maintenance there in the early 1990’s. By “her handyman”, I mean that she wanted only him to care for any and all of her maintenance needs and a good bit of basic unnecessary chores she might randomly come up with. She liked him. She was persnickety that way. She liked who she liked and made no bones about it on those she didn’t.
    She would call up for some sort of maintenance and it was of no rare occurence to find her floating about or reclining on her bed…butt naked.
    Dad wasn’t one to be easily shocked, rattled or even get much of a raised eyebrow from and I think she liked that about him or at least respected it, that he was unaffected and unmoved by her eccentricities.
    She got caught shoplifting once and had the media in a flurry with sympathy over her “fallen on hard times” and “destitute” . HAHAHA
    We had such a laugh at that as she was anything but either of those things. Indeed, I’m certain it was to her, some excitement in her boredom, perhaps mere sport.

    1. Omg! That’s hilarious! I have to say I had never even heard of her! Sounds like she was quite the character! Thanks for sharing that with me!

  2. Hey, I nominated for you for The Beautiful Blogger Award, check out my site for instructions. Congratulations, you’ve earned it! 🙂

    1. Oh thank you so much! This will be fun ❤️. Thanks for the nomination and thanks for reading

      1. No problem, pleasure was all mine. 🙂 ❤

  3. lifelessons says:

    What a wonderful blog. I knew some of this information about Hedy Lamarr, i.e. developing the code system and had seen some of her movies, but didn’t know all of this. Really well written and researched, and I love the name of your blog.

    1. Thanks so much for reading!! She seems like she was an amazing woman

      1. lifelessons says:

        I just watched the movie on Youtube.. Strange little film..Don’t quite understand the ending.

      2. Ya, I think she had a really troubled life. It’s sad

      3. lifelessons says:

        But someone wrote a comment on your blog that made me think she was pretty fiesty to the end…That made me feel better.

      4. Yes, someone actually knew her and said that

  4. Geri Lawhon says:

    Thank you for posting this blog. There was so much interesting and historical information in it. I learned a lot today.

    1. I’m so glad! Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

  5. Keith says:

    Hedy Lamarr’ story is so compelling. The book “The only woman in the room,” is a compelling read adding color to her impactful true story. Having to escape both a domineering husband and Jewish persecution leading up to WWII is an amazing story by itself. Then you add her staving off the advances of her new movie mogul boss, saying to herself if I can fend off Mussolini, I can fend you off.

    She was a beautiful actress who I saw in “Samson and Delilah” as young lad. But, then comes the inventive side of her life where her invention which started out to be a communicative guidance system for torpedoes is now used in every cell phone today. And, she was a never compensated being maltreated by the US Navy as a woman and a beautiful actress. She was not taken seriously, and went unpaid even though she patented her invention.

    Her story fascinates me and is a must read for many, especially women who will understand the harassment, condescension and maltreatment. Keith

    1. Yes! I hate to admit it, but I don’t ever remember learning about her at all in school although I’m sure I did. I found her to be fascinating and a true pioneer. She was one smart cookie! I always tell my husband that this Covid lockdown is allowing me to learn a bit of history I missed in school. I say I must have skipped school on the day we learned about these things (which, by the way, is entirely possible 🤷🏼‍♀️) Thanks so much for reading 😊

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