Aviation for Women

MAY-JUN 2018

Aviation for Women is the flagship member publication of Women in Aviation International. Articles feature women who have made aviation history, professional development ideas, and current-topic articles.

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22 AviationforWomen M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 8 B ehind most of the social media memes and online documenta- ries about Hedy Lamarr, an actress and the co-inventor of the technology that makes wireless communication possible, is a cliché: Don't judge a book by its cover. Seeming to support this was MGM's promotion of her as "the most beautiful woman in the world." Hedy's take on this was a bit different: "Any girl can be glamorous," she often said. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." From the outside, Hedy's story is but another example that today's spectrum of #MeToo moments have deep historical roots. But given her interests, intentions, and motivations, it's a bit one-sided. There's no doubt that, like all women, most men dismissed her as little more than eye candy. Instead of complaining about or combating this ig- norant dismissal, Hedy wore society's shortsightedness as dust jack- et camouflage to help satisfy her insatiable curiosity. As shown in exacting detail in Hedy's Folly: The Life and Break- through Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, written by Richard Rhodes and published by Doubleday in 2011, Hedy was a curious child, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, in 1914. The only child of an upper-class family, her doting father, a banker, encouraged her interest in how things work. During her childhood, the pair often walked around Vienna. Her father answered Hedy's questions about the operation of what they saw, from streetcars to printing presses. "He made me under- stand that I must make my own decisions, mold my own character, think my own thoughts." As a child, Hedy staged plays with her dolls and dreamed of being a movie star. At 16, she quit school to pursue this dream. In 1931, she landed a supporting role in the Berlin production of The Weaker Sex, a play directed by the renowned Max Reinhardt. She followed Max back to Vienna where she would again play "the Americaness." The director assigned the actor playing her husband, George Weller, to teach Hedy several songs. George "took this as a mandate to make an American out of Hedy Kiesler." But Hedy wanted to act in films, not on stage, so she returned to Berlin where she landed a role in a Czech film, Ecstacy, in 1932. Shortly thereafter, she was offered an American film contract, but turned it down. She wanted to work on her schedule, "to make films or take breaks when I feel like it." In 1933, she took a break to marry her first husband (of six). After reviving the family's munitions business, Friedrich "Fritz" Mandl was the third richest man in Austria. He pursued Hedy after seeing her on stage. He was 33, and the 18-year-old Hedy rejected his advances, until he worked his way in through her mother. Still, Hedy would only see him at the family home. Ultimately, she fell in love with his mind and willingness to share knowledge. "Ask a formula in chemistry, and he would give it to you. Ask him about the habits of wild animals, how glass is made, what the laws of gravitation—politics, of course, since he was so power- ful a figure in the world of politics and—well, he knew everything." But Hedy was a trophy wife. Constantly watched, he made all the decisions, house, furnishings, clothing, and whom she could meet for lunch. Not allowed to act, she lost her identity and became a self- described "doll in a jeweled case." As a trophy, she was a silent display when her husband wined and dined and discussed business with military and political leaders on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, and then the regimes of Mus- solini and Hitler. Given her curiosity, it seems a safe assumption she was a silent sponge. Hedy rarely mentioned what she heard. One exception was meeting Hellmuth Walter, a German engineer, in December 1936. He devised the hydrogen peroxide propulsion sys- tem for submarines and their torpedoes, mini-missiles, and glide bombs. At that dinner meeting, Hellmuth talked about the wire- guided remote-controlled torpedo he was working on. Powered by hydrogen peroxide, its bubbly exhaust dissipated quickly in water, leaving little or no wake. Chafing at the confines of her jeweled box, Hedy decided to es- cape her marriage and immigrate to Hollywood. London was the first stop on this 1937 journey, and there she was introduced to Lou- is B. Mayer of MGM. Taking the next step, she booked passage on the Normandie, which returned Louis to America. When they docked in New York, in exchange for changing her name and agreeing to take English lessons, she had a seven-year contract with MGM. Louis' wife, Margaret, suggested the surname Lamarr. Moving into her first Hollywood home, Hedy turned its drawing room into a den of invention, filled with "unreadable books and use- able drafting tables." In late 1940, the Germans sank two shiploads of British children bound for wartime sanctuary in Canada. To help her adopted country in its battle with German U-boats, she began work on a remote-controlled anti-submarine torpedo. Designing a jam- proof system to communicate with its guidance system stumped her. Frequenzesprungverhahren, the compound German word for hopping of frequencies, was the key to Hedy's jam-proof torpedo. Simply put, "if a radio transmitter and receiver are synchronized to change their tuning simultaneously, hopping together random- ly from frequency to frequency, then the radio frequency between them cannot be jammed." CMG WORLDWIDE INC. H e d y L a m a rr u s e d i t t o a c h i e v e h e r i n v e n t i v e g o a l s B Y S C O T T M . S P A N G L E R GL A M O ROUS CA M OU FL AGE

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