On November 9, 2015, Hedy Lamarr would have turned 101 if she were still alive. To mark the birthday of the Hollywood star who turned inventor, Google decided to commemorate her in a Doodle. Lamarr was once said to be ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. She had a screen presence and beauty like no one else, and she quickly became one of the most famous actresses of her day.
Hedy Lamarr was actually born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, in Vienna, Austria, in 1914. When she was just 17 years old, she landed her first leading role in Geld Auf Der Strasse, a German production. She then starred in another German movie, Extase, and this was what got her noticed by some of the producers in Hollywood. It didn’t take much long for her to land a contract with MGM.
When she settled in Hollywood, she had her name officially changed to Hedy Lamarr. In 1938, she starred with Charles Boyer in her first Hollywood movie, which was “Algiers”. After that, Hedy continue to land impressive roles alongside some of the most talented and popular actors of those days, including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart. Hedy acted in various movies including “Tortilla Flat,” a 1942 adaptation of a John Steinbeck story, as well as 1942’s “White Cargo,” 1949’s “Samson and Delilah” by Cecil B. DeMille and 1957’s “The Female Animal”.
However, what truly made Hedy Lamarr stand out was not just her beauty and amazing screen presence. Yes, she was hugely accomplished in Hollywood and its productions, but she was also a very important inventor. In 1942, she patented the Secret Communication System.
The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.
In fact, her invention was pivotal to not just the ability to have secure military communications, but also to the mobile phone technology we know today. Hedy did have some military munitions background and, at the start of the Second World War, she wanted to help the Allied Forces as much as she could. Specifically, she wanted to find a way to fight against enemies who blocked the radio controlled missiles’ signals. This was why she joined forces with George Antheil, a composer and a friend. Together, they used the system that is used by player pianos in order to come up with a way to stop the German submarines from interfering with and jamming the audio signals sent out by the Allied Forces.
At the time, technology was not very advanced. As a result, people were reluctant to accept that Hedy’s idea could possibly work. However, the patent for so-called ‘frequency hopping’ turned out to be hugely important and is actually what today’s GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi technologies are based on.
Their spread-spectrum technique is today called “frequency hopping” because the transmission jumps from frequency to frequency. Initially, spread spectrum remained a military communications technology, and even today the Defense Department of the United States has a huge investment in spread spectrum of a frequency-hopping type now, just like Hedy Lamarr’s, which protects our assets all over the world.
Google has long been committed to demonstrating successful women’s achievements, particularly in terms of technology and science. One of the ways they achieve that is through their Doodles, which change regularly. On November 9, 2015, the Google Doodle turned into one that celebrates the life and achievements of Hedy Lamarr. They have also explained this in their official blog post.
We love highlighting the many good stories about women’s achievements in science and technology. When the story involves a 1940s Hollywood star-turned-inventor who developed technologies we all use with our smartphones today… well, we just have to share it with the world.
On January 19, 2000, Lamarr was found dead at the age of 85 in her Casselberry, FL home, where she been living out of the spotlight for some time. Numerous death causes were listed on her death certificate, being arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic valvular heart disease and heart failure. The day of the death was also her daughter Denise’s 55th birthday. Lamarr was cremated and, according to her last wishes, her son Anthony Loder spread her ashes over the Vienna Woods. In 2014, she was awarded an honorary grave in Vienna’s Central Cemetery. She left behind six husbands, one of whom was actually her divorce lawyer, and three children, one of whom was adopted.
The new Doodle is an animated version and it goes through the entire life of Hedy Lamarr. The background track has been created by Adam Ever-Hadani, a well-known composer. The Doodle makes small nods to Lamarr’s Hollywood career, for instance by presenting it as a movie. Additionally, it has really tried to capture the way 1940s fashion looked and felt through the movie. This has been deduced from ancient film posters and from fashion illustrations. However, the content of the Doodle is very much about Hedy’s passion and intelligence, and about the fact that her work is still of such vital importance today. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that Google is so inspired by this woman.
Lamarr has kind of a mythical status at Google, and I was pretty excited at the chance to tell her story in Doodle form. Sketching storyboards on a yellow notepad helped me figure out how to show Lamarr in very different scenarios – movie star by day, inventor by night – which we then animated.
The Doodle is likely to be only available on November 9, 2015 and it is not clear what it will be replaced with. It cannot be seen in Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and the United Kingdom, however. Those who do want to see the Doodle but are in those countries can check it out on the Google blog website itself.