AirTalk for December 8, 2011

The breakthrough inventions of a Hollywood beauty

Hedy's Folly by Richard Rhodes

Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr" (Doubleday) by award-winning author Richard Rhodes.

Hedy Lamarr has long been known as a raven-haired, sultry-eyed Hollywood bombshell and a risk-taking actress who famously bared all at age 17 in the 1933 film “Ecstasy,” but at heart, she was an inventor.

A new book, "Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr" by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes explores how Lamarr, with avant-garde composer George Antheil, invented technology that paved the way for cell phones and GPS devices.

Born Jewish, Lamarr fled her native Austria for Hollywood before WWII, also escaping marriage to arms manufacturer and Nazi sympathizer Fritz Mandl. With knowledge of the munitions industry, and a childhood love of technology, Lamarr sparked a friendly connection with fellow tech appreciator Antheil at a Los Angeles dinner party in 1940.

The two collaborated, obtaining a joint patent with the U.S. for a jam-proof radio guidance system for Navy torpedoes. The invention came to be known as spread spectrum radio, an innovation based on the transmittal of communications signals over different frequencies.

Author Rhodes’ previous books include a series about nuclear history, which snagged him a Pulitzer. How does Lamarr’s life as an inventor mesh with your view of her as a film icon and Hollywood starlet?

Guest:

Richard Rhodes, author of "Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr" (Doubleday)


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