Inventors, Collaborators & Artists = Creativity!

Inventors, Collaborators & Artists = Creativity
Current mood: imaginative
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities


Inventors/Collaborators/Artists - Hedy Lamarr (Actress) & George Antheil (Musician)

As many of you know, I'm a bit of a history buff and I'm always looking for interesting stories, particularly as they relate to arts & entertainment. Even though I remotely remember hearing something about Hedy Lamarr being an inventor, I didn't know about her partner, George Antheil. Here is a great article I found about both of them and their collaboration. I've shortened the article to what I consider to be the more "interesting" points. :-) and of course, added my own comments

Hedy Lamarr was born in Vienna in 1914. She went to Max Reinhardt's famous acting school in Berlin during her late teens, and in 1933 she showed the world her acting skills and most of herself in the film Extase (Ecstacy), which quickly became notorious for its extensive nude scenes. The movie played in America after severe cutting, and in 1937 its leading lady went to Hollywood. And was hired by Louis B. Mayer, of MGM. Some people thought Hedy to be the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, but as an actress she was overshadowed by heroines like Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn. In 1966, she published her autobiography, Ecstacy and Me. P.S. Let's face it, she did the first nude movie ever seen in the US and in those days I'm sure she was considered a "harlot" by most of "tight-assed " society - Go Heddy!

"Any girl can be glamorous," Hedy Lamarr once said. "All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." (I don't think that works for everyone but I definitely know those who've tried!)


The film star belied her own apothegm by hiding a brilliant, inventive mind beneath her photogenic exterior. In 1942, at the height of her Hollywood career, she patented a frequency-switching system for torpedo guidance that was two decades ahead of its time.


Hedy Lamarr married the first of six husbands, in 1933. (You think this chick would've learned her lesson!) During their marriage, which broke up in 1937, she was an institution in Viennese society, entertaining and dazzling foreign leaders, including Hitler and Mussolini. Her husband specialized in shells and grenades, but from the mid-thirties on he also manufactured military aircraft. He was interested in control systems and conducted research in the field. His wife clearly learned things from him, because she and her co-inventor, George Antheil, later went on to invent the torpedo guidance system that was two decades before its time.

Hedy Lamarr's co-inventor, George Antheil, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1900. His parents were from East Prussia. After studying music at what is now the Curtis Institute, in Philadelphia, he went to Europe to pursue a career as a concert pianist, heading first to Berlin and then settling in Paris in 1923. He became one of the top avante-garde composers of the time, writing and playing machinelike, "mechanistic," rhythmically propulsive pieces with names like Airplane Sonata, Sonata Sauvage, Jazz Sonata, and Death of Machines. His Ballet Méanique was scored for sixteen player pianos, xylophones and percussion and was first performed in Paris in June 1926, in a version that had only one player piano but also had electric bells, airplane propellers and a siren. It caused an uproar. (Sounds a little like PDQ Bach, right?)

Antheil knew practically everybody in Paris's literary, artistic and musical circles, but in 1933 he returned permanently to the United States. He became a film composer in Hollywood and a writer for Esquire magazine, producing a syndicated advice-to-the-lovelorn column and articles about romance and endocrinology (interesting!). He even published a book titled Every Man His Own Detective: A Study of Glandular Endocrinology. In 1939 he set an article to Esquire about the future of Europe that proved impressively accurate: It predicted that the war would start with Germany invading Poland, that Germany would later attack Russia, and then the United States would be drawn into the conflict.

He met Hedy Lamar in the summer of 1940, when they were neighbors in Hollywood and she approached him with a question about glands: She wanted to know how she could enlarge her breasts (You gotta love this woman - boobs & brains!!!). In time the conversation came around to weapons (What??? Really??? From boobs to weapons? Well…. Wait a minute… I've had conversations that have gone that way, too ;-) carry on!) Lamarr told Antheil that she was contemplating quitting MGM and moving to Washington, D.C., to offer her services to the newly established National Inventors Council.

They began talking about radio control for torpedoes (Wait… torpedoes & boobs - I get the connection now!). The idea itself was not new, but her concept of "frequency hopping" was. Lamarr brought up the idea of radio control. Antheil's contribution was to suggest the device by which synchronization could be achieved. He proposed that rapid changes in radio frequencies could be coordinated the way he had coordinated the sixteen synchronized player pianos in his Ballet Méanique. The analogy was complete in his mind: By the time the two applied for a patent on a "Secret Communication System," on June 10, 1941, the invention used slotted paper rolls similar to player-piano rolls to synchronize the frequency changes in transmitter and receiver, and it even called for exactly eighty-eight frequencies, the number of keys on a piano.

Lamarr and Antheil worked on the idea for several months and then, in December 1940, sent a description of it to the National Inventors Council. With the help of an electrical engineering professor from the California Institute of Technology they ironed out its bugs, and the patent was granted on August 11, 1942.

Putting the idea into practice was not so simple. Despite the enthusiasm that some Council members expressed, others were skeptical. One examiner at the Inventors Council doubted the clockwork mechanism that moved the perforated tape could be accurate enough. Antheil lobbied for support for further research. He argued that the Germans were superior to the Americans in naval technology and that something had to be done about it. He seemed driven in part by an urge to prove his patriotism after all his years in Europe. Hedy Lamarr meanwhile demonstrated her loyalty by raising seven million dollars in a single evening selling war bonds.

Despite Antheil's lobbying, the Navy turned its back on the invention, concluding that the mechanism would have been too bulky to fit into a torpedo. Antheil disagreed; he insisted that it could be made small enough to squeeze into a watch. And he thought he knew why the Navy was so negative: "In our patent Hedy and I attempted to better elucidate our mechanism by explaining that certain parts of it worked like the fundamental mechanism of a player piano. Here, undoubted, we made our mistake. The reverend and brass-headed gentlemen in Washington who examined our invention read no further than the words 'player piano. 'My god,' I can see them saying, 'we shall put a player piano in a torpedo.'"

In other words, it was a culture clash: the thick-headed brass hats were incapable of considering the idea that musical technology could play any part in a complicated piece of weaponry.

In the United States Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, shunned by the Navy, no longer pursued their invention. But in 1957, the concept was taken up by engineers at the Sylvania Electronic Systems Division, in Buffalo, New York. Their arrangement, using, of course, electronics rather than piano rolls, ultimately became a basic tool for secure military communications. It was installed on ships sent to blockade Cuba in 1962, about three years after the Lamarr-Antheil patent had expired. Subsequent patents in frequency changing, which are generally unrelated to torpedo control, have referred to the Lamarr-Antheil patent as the basis of the field, and the concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today, for example, in the U.S. government's Milstar defense communication satellite system.

Hope you enjoyed another mind provoking story about how an actress and musician changed history by allowing their creativity to be used in different areas of interest. We, as artistic people (I said artistic, not autistic!) , are sooo lucky to have the abilities that we do. Creativity (thinking outside the box) can be used in so many different ways. Unfortunately, (as an x-music teacher) I can tell you all that creativity is not being nurtured in today's children. They are not being taught to think "outside the box" which develops problem solving skills. Instead they are being spoon fed information and are being asked to simply regurgitate what they just ingested. And that's how quickly it goes in and comes out - no retention needed. Just get the good score on the test—it doesn't really matter if you're learning or not! Sorry I digress. You get the point!

Be thankful you have the ability to be a creative and independent thinker. And don't forget the people in your life who allowed you to make your own decisions, mistakes, and life choices because they helped nurture that ability…

Until next time…. xo, G

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